A Lesson on Striving for Gender Equality Learned at Home
Like many others, I was in awe of the democratic groundswell that culminated in this year’s Women’s March on Washington. Despite the name, these demonstrations spanned the globe and they certainly weren’t gender exclusive. Instead, they were an inspiring and moving display of “people power” driven by one unifying theme.
As a social media spectator, I’ll admit, I loved seeing Twitter’s reaction to Piers Morgan’s childish defense mechanism and blustering. But, more importantly, I paid attention to the response of my 5-year-old daughter who joined the London march. When I asked her why she was marching, she gave me an answer that made me proud, and that captures a sentiment I hope she retains forever. She said “I’m marching because there’s a Pig Man and he wants to tell us what to do.”
This not only resonated with me as father, but served as a reminder of how important it is for male leaders to remain allies to women in business, a designation I gladly embrace to improve gender equality in the workplace. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, promoting a more inclusive, gender-equal world, this role is even more important. Some may have their issues with a man championing a traditionally women’s issue like workplace diversity. But if I’m judged for my positions and opinions, that’s fine. I’ll take it and I’m very happy to debate.
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers to solving diversity issues for all businesses. I just try to set the right example, to listen more than I speak, and to create the right environment for progress. These are a few of the many lessons I learned from my daughter. They may not offer a complete solution, but I think they offer a glimpse at a path to a better working world as we all strive for equality and empowerment.
Listen and encourage the message.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change,” calling on all of us in business to take meaningful action that ushers in the greatest change for women. While I agree that it’s important to enact policies with a goal of achieving the “greatest change,” talking to my daughter about the issues important to her also taught me that we -- men, especially -- should pull up a chair and hear out what changes are needed prior to taking action.\
Remember leaders, you have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion, irrespective of who you are speaking with or sitting alongside. If world events of the last six or eight months have taught us anything, it’s that experts are not always right in their predictions. Fresh voices are as meaningful and relevant as established ones. Keep quiet, listen and be prepared to learn.
Related: 3 Men Leading the Fight for Equality
Nurture diversity from within.
According to a new McKinsey & Company report, “only nine percent of employees see managers recognized for making progress on gender-diversity goals.” Meanwhile, “less than half of all workers see managers taking advantage of the diverse strengths of their teams or considering a diverse lineup of candidates for open positions.”
The message is clear. Leaders need to do a better job of visibly fostering diversity and female leadership from within. As a father, this makes perfect sense. I know that creating a sense of empowerment and ambition in my daughter begins at home. Why should it be different for women in business, who count on the workplace to be a nurturing environment?
At Brand Union, for example, we have reset our management teams in Paris and New York under female leadership. At a time when female leaders are still experiencing a glaringly uneven playing field, we have established benchmarks and ambitions for gender equality across the business. As a result, we perform way ahead of the industry and are near parity across functions, markets and compensation levels. It’s vital that industry leaders maintain a commitment to equality and make it personal.
Walk the walk.
When is comes to setting the right tone and encouraging progress, there is nothing more powerful than simply living the values you’d like to see. In our family, my wife sets an amazing example. The goal in being a strong role model is really simple: as our children get older, we just want them to remain the great human beings that they are now, with the same opportunities, the same outlooks, the same optimism.
Most businesses could benefit from the same thinking when it comes to diversity. Male leaders need to not only participate in the discussion about diversity issues, but also move with urgency to build the models for change that others can follow. By encouraging female leadership, companies can also give up-and-coming female leaders the mentors and examples they can look to and learn from.
Take a stand.
The simple fact is that across our industry, men outnumber women at the executive level. According to a recent Peterson Institute for International Economics survey, only 11 percent of the nearly 130,000 corporate board members in its database are women, who also represented a mere 4.5 percent of the CEOs of the roughly 22,000 firms involved. This means it’s harder for biases and gender stereotypes to be avoided, and for female voices to be heard. Men have a great tendency to align behind loud voices, and not always for the good.
For leaders in business, it’s time to break out of the traditional mold and “be bold for change,” whether it’s for equal pay or diminishing the gender gap from entry-level to C-suite. If my young daughter is prudent enough to march for change, there’s no excuse for us as leaders to raise our voices and actually create change.