By Natasha Pratap—
The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2020 projects it will take us 99.5 years to achieve gender parity. A mind-numbing figure like that can stop you in your tracks and make you give up what you believe in.
Yet Loren Eiseley’s starfish story inspires us otherwise:
A man walking on the beach noticed a young boy swirling his arms, throwing something into the sea. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Throwing back the starfish while the tide is high,” said the boy. “If I don’t, they will die.”
The man stopped to notice the starfish washed onto the sand. “But, son,” he said, “the beach stretches for miles and there are so many starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The boy picked up another starfish, raised his arm to throw it back into the sea and said, “I can to this one.”
If generations before us had not played their role in bringing women to the forefront then, who is to say, the hundred year figure might have been a thousand.
Make your life count. Based on the personal stories of global leaders I’ve met or read and international studies, I’ve culled micro and macro steps you can take to effect change.
#1: Redefine Traditional Gender Roles
B. P. Biddappa, Hindustan Unilever’s Executive Director of Human Resources, points out that, “The tip of the iceberg is the processes and the system. If you go deeper, you come to the value system, which effectively asks, “What are the roles that you play in your house?”
“We sowed, we cooked, we washed, we cleaned—we did everything!” he shares and so he continues even today. No wonder then that when women managers take time off to have a child, he requests to meet their husbands. It’s critical to ask, “not about how much time he gets off, [but the] jobs that he is going to take on as a spouse.” That throws light on whether the woman will likely come back to work or not.
So if you have a son, get him to help with household chores—you may be blessed by his wife thirty years from now. And if you’re in an organization, catalyse conversations that break the hold of traditional role.
#2. Aim To Be Or Invest In A Company In The Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI)
In 2018, Bloomberg created a comprehensive framework that included policies, products and services, statistics and community engagement, to assess a company’s standing on gender equality. Companies with a market cap of over USD 1 billion and a security listed on a US exchange can voluntarily disclose the measures they are taking and if they score above a globally-established threshold, they are included in the Gender Equality Index or GEI.
The index is managed straight from Bloomberg Chairman Peter Grauer’s office by the dynamic and passionate Kiersten Barnet. In just two years the number of companies included in the GEI has more than tripled from 104 to 325 with representation from 42 countries across 52 industries.
As you set goals for your organization, inclusion in the GEI could be a great one to aim for. If you are not elegible, the framework can be an inspirational tool to set priorities within your company. Investors increasingly consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors when making decisions. As a conscious investor, put your money into companies that share your values.
#3. Make Her Elevator Pitch
How do you introduce your bestie, your colleague or even a leader you admire? I have been introduced by referencing my alma maters, as a best-selling author, as a meditation teacher, a spirited corporate coach, a close friend, and as, just Natasha. Each introduction has a different impact and sets the tone for future interactions. Having experienced this, I’m more conscious now of how I introduce others. Women are multi-faceted. When presenting someone, take the time to understand the opportunity she’s most seeking at the time, so you know exactly what to highlight. Making her first impression count.
#4. Be And Seek A Mentor
Proactively identify and reach out to a mentor for career advice. Neha Singh, Co-Founder, Tracxn!, and a fellow Stanford alumna, effectively connected with extremely senior business leaders likes Ratan Tata, former Chairman Tata Sons and Nandan Nilekani, Co-Founder and Non-Executive Chairman of the Board, Infosys. Her advice: rather than requesting to meet, say, for coffee, be highly specific. Say for instance, “I would like to get your thoughts on how to structure my organization or incentivize sales.”
Mentors in turn can promote open conversations. When Presha Paragash, Founder & CEO CrediFiable, was an analyst at UBS, her MD had regular lunches with the women in the house providing an opportunity to air concerns. But hers, which were about a boss who overworked her, had nothing to do with being a woman. So don’t get so caught up in gender that you forget being human.
#5. Create Sponsors, Build Leaders
Over a decade ago, Herminia Ibarra—currently at the London Business School and then Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning at INSEAD—shared the idea in an Harvard Business Review IdeaCast that men got more promotions than women because women are over-mentored but under-sponsored.
After observing over 4,000 people with credentials such as an MBA degree through a study conducted with Nancy Carter and Christine Silva of Catalyst, she found that for men “there was a significant relationship between having had a mentor two years before, and having had a promotion two years later.” For women, “having a mentor had no correlation whatsoever with whether they got promoted or not.”
This led them to establish the distinction between sponsoring and mentoring. While a mentor may simply play an advisory role, a sponsor takes responsibility for the growth of an individual. She would actively identify and nominate the person she sponsors for opportunities that would enable her to showcase her talent and grow. A sponsor, therefore, is necessarily senior, influential and consciously and consistently engaged with his protégé.
Ibarra spoke of IBM Europe’s sponsoring program in which if a person doesn’t get promoted, it “reflected on the failure of the sponsor, and not of the candidate.” A sponsor had to ensure her protégé’s talent and skill were noticed by decision makers and that her overall profile was raised in the organization within a designated time frame.
The situation is win-win: research done by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), New York, indicates that active sponsors are more satisfied with their own career prospects, more engaged at work, and more content with their ability to deliver on challenging projects than leaders who do not sponsor others.
#6. Spin It On Social Media
An effective comment versus a passive like on social media can have a subtle or significant impact. Shamina Singh, President, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth agrees. As I sat in her downtown Manhattan office along with several other women entrepreneurs who were part of a delegation put together by the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, she spontaneously shared her experience from that morning. A friend had announced she would be taking up a leadership position in a new organization. Instead of just “Congratulations,” Shamina posted a comment congratulating the organization for recognising the immense value her friend would bring and making the right move by hiring her.
#7. Change The Surround Sound
This is a wonderful phrase I first heard used by Rashmi Daga, Founder, Fresh Menu. “You don’t need to work. Your husband earns enough,” is what she always heard. “It took me a while to figure out I don’t work for money,” she shares. “Women undersell themselves,” by thinking they don’t have the time or skills. “Make the time and skill up!” urges Rashmi.
Be the voice of change—vocalize your support for women who work and change the surround sound around you and others!
#8 Hire More Women—Boost Your Company’s Growth & Everyone’s Income
Discussing an IMF staff study in a blog post, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director and Chairwoman of the International Monetary Fund, explained that 20% of the gain in the GDP growth that comes from adding women to the workforce can be attributed to the diversity of skills they bring to the table. This means that hiring ten women is not the same as hiring ten men—there is a real economic difference that diversity carries. The resulting increase in overall productivity could also mean a higher income for men. So consciously recruit more women at every level and ensure they stay.
#9. Demand What You Deserve & Pay A Woman What You’d Pay A Man
The gender pay gaps remain wide globally. The New York Times reported that in Britain in 2018, major fashion and beauty brands were the worst offenders despite the fact that they cater primarily to women. Men hold the top executive roles, while women dominate the entry-level jobs.
Organisational and individual breakthroughs must be made. Indian actor, Deepika Padukone, who was on the TIME 100 list in 2018, spoke to the magazine on the pay gap at the New York Gala. “For years, we’ve been made to feel we should be okay with settling for less, with sometimes a promise of getting something more later on. But you should get what you think you deserve. It’s okay to fight for it.” The actor purportedly demanded and got more than her male co-stars for her lead role in Padmaavat. Padukone also refused a film when the director said he couldn’t pay her what she thought she deserved as he had to accommodate the male lead.
#10. Make Diversity & Inclusion Count When Choosing External Partners
In an interview with Bostonia, fellow Boston University alumna, Salle Yoo shared that when she became General Counsel at Uber, she was conscious about whom she supported even amongst external agencies.
“I always look for the best lawyer for Uber—but I am careful about who I call at the firm, so that lawyer can claim us as a client…. When we rolled out our preferred counsel program for Uber last year, we asked each firm to share the number of women and diverse attorneys on their management committee for the past five years. We asked what they were doing to increase diversity….I asked each firm to have either a woman or a diverse attorney as the relationship partner.” Widen your vision, widen your impact.
#11. Negotiate Unique Terms For Unique Circumstances
If you were a pediatric cardiologist and your six-year old daughter asked why kids at the hospital were more important than she was, would you quit working? Dr. Sunita Maheshwary, Co-Founder & Chief Dreamer, RxDx & Teleradiology Solutions, was advised just that by two colleagues. But for her there were two non-negotiables: continuing to work and being there for her family. So she negotiated a unique work arrangement: Wednesdays off and three hours off on Saturday and 4/5 of her salary. In addition, she “learned to ignore barbs from male colleagues.” Her mantra for life? “Don’t take it personally!”
#12. Take The Panel Pledge
The Panel Pledge is the brainchild of Elizabeth Broderick, co-chair of the Women’s Empowerment Principles Leadership Group and Former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She set up Male Champions of Change, a coalition of Australian CEOs, Non- Executive Director and community leaders who actively work towards tackling inequality. Taking the pledge means that one would not agree to host or be on an all-male panel. The alternatives would be to recommend a woman colleague, encourage the organisers to invite one themselves, or then simply decline stating the reason. “One of the things I’ve learnt,” states Elizabeth, “is that if you don’t intentionally include, the system unintentionally excludes.” Take the pledge and champion this initiative in your country!
Don’t give up on gender parity. Hope is what we create. One person, one organization, one nation at a time.
Natasha Pratap, based in India, is a writing and wellness coach and Founder of WAO. She was a member of the First Women’s Delegation of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce to the US 2018.