April 10, 2015

What My Son Taught Me About Gender

Stepping up to the diversity conversation

Not a week goes by without an article weighing in on women in leadership. “Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others”, “Women are Poised to Lead us to a Better Place”, “Gender Issues Won’t Go Away.” Progress is being made. Yet, we have miles to go before we achieve true gender diversity in the workplace.

Think about this – having more women at every level, particularly in leadership, means higher performance for them; for you; for your organization. Teams will be stronger. Products better.  Outcomes greater. Solutions more creative. Why? Because success and innovation require diverse perspectives. It is critically important to have people and points of view that differ from yours – and important to have them in roles where they can both be heard and can make a difference.

How do we achieve the potential that comes from more women at all levels including in the C-Suite and the boardroom? We need awareness, participation, and stepping up.  

Which brings me to my oldest son, Matt. From pre-school to high school, he has always pushed our boundaries and made us accept different styles. (He spent a fair amount of time in the principal’s office and has many tattoos.) Two years ago he graduated with a degree in women and gender studies. His passion for his work has educated our whole family. Now at our house, there is no use of ‘man up’. We never say ‘throws like a girl’. We talk of partners, not girlfriends. Our home has always been a place with a fair amount of balance and sharing of jobs and duties, but now there is heightened sensitivity to roles and equality. This amplified appreciation of gender issues has infiltrated many aspects of our lives – our conversations at home, relationships with friends, and interactions with colleagues – and has made all of us better for it.

Last year, my colleague, Kathy Wagner moderated a lively panel discussion of four talented and passionate women on balancing work-life issues and facing leadership challenges. The hall at the national conference was standing room only. Women shared their stories, frustrations, and strategies for success. Amazingly (at least to me) there were fewer than ten men in the room. Surely balance is an issue for us all.

I know righting gender imbalance is more than just a women’s issue. If there is going to be meaningful change, more men need to be in the room and be a part of the conversation. Progress requires participation. Men should be partners, not competitors. Collaborators, not critics. Awareness is a step. Listening and understanding is a start. But stepping up will make a difference. We can all – men and women – do something to make a change.

What will I be doing to foster change? Stepping up to encourage open dialogue, establishing forums to share stories and frustrations, offering opportunities for connections and creating environments for the exchange of ideas.  

What can you be doing? Actively promote greater diversity. Use language that values. Respect balance. Ensure equity in compensation. Encourage advancement. Build each other up. Make space for women…in the room, at the table, and in your leadership circles.

In a twist of roles, after sharing this story with Matt, he shared how proud and excited he was that I wrote such a piece. At 24, he’s determined to make a change. At 49, I share his belief that with meaningful dialogue the future holds great promise with executive suites and boardrooms that mirror those we are serving.


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