Diversifying Gender Equality

You know when you first hear something and then suddenly see it everywhere?

Lately I’ve been experiencing this with gender equality and awareness. I don’t know if there’s suddenly an insane amount written on the topic, or if I am just keenly sensitive per recent professional experiences.

It’s probably a little of both.

As evidence of gender inequality, most in the U.S. point to the female/male income disparity and the percentage of women in boardrooms and senior management roles in corporate America. While in less developed countries gender inequality impacts basic human rights, U.S. rankings relative to other developed countries are embarrassing. And we now have data to show how lack of gender diversity leads to suboptimal business and political decisions.

I think we all believe in gender equality. We value diversity. We are inherently smart, good and fair people. We want to get there.

But we get stuck along the way.

If I were a man, I might feel attacked or threatened, as if 51% of the U.S. population feels that I am the problem. As a woman, the burden to fix the divide feels placed on us– we should “lean in,” find female mentors and sponsors, and form female empowerment initiatives to support one another.

I celebrate the attention towards gender equality and diversity. But I hope it doesn’t divide us.

Because I love working with men.

My studies and career choice (math and investing) mean the majority of my classmates, colleagues, and bosses have mostly been men. Here’s the math:

• In 22 years, I’ve had nine bosses; five were for one year or less. For the investment industry, this is a great ratio and I consider myself fortunate.
• Three bosses were 5-8 year partnerships, and all were men; two I’ve known for over 20 years, and I still consider each a mentor and sponsor. By sponsor, I mean they’ve gone to bat for me (probably even more than I know).
• I’ve only had two female bosses, totaling two years. While the tenure is short, it’s because each stretched me to do new things elsewhere. I’ve known each for over 20 years, and they were mentors.

Why did my three long-term male partnerships work? They were built on trust, friendship, and a shared passion for what we were building. Our styles complemented each other, and some of that was gender-based. I’m best making a decision when I sleep on it, which meshed with one boss for whom negotiating is a sport. My “who will do what by when” mentality was the perfect compliment to two other bosses who sometimes believed that team members would just know what to do.

What about the male bosses that didn’t work? In all cases, trust was lacking, likely in both directions. I would spend time reconciling inconsistencies in conversations and strategizing on how to get him to hear me on simple things. We could never get to friendship or even agreement on what we were creating.

Having had time to reflect, the lack of trust stemmed from simple gender differences. For example, a recent boss concluded that I was not a strategic thinker. This stung, as I have always been known for being strategic and uniquely “connecting the dots” towards achieving goals, both professionally and personally.

In an article by gender intelligence expert Barbara Annis, I read about a successful female executive who had the exact same experience. I came to understand how we came to two different definitions of “strategic.” A traditional male definition is more linear, while my web-like thinking is a very common trait of female leaders. Both are valid. But it takes openness and awareness from both sides to see it.

And that is where I join Emma Watson who in her now famous speech to the UN General Assembly launched the HeForShe campaign and formally invited men to join the fight towards gender equality.

Research shows that the more men know about gender inequality, the more likely they are to lead efforts to close the gender gap.

And so to the men that I have studied with, worked for, collaborated with, or who have worked for me–I ask that you help us mainstream gender awareness and sensitivity.

I believe we all need gender awareness training, in the same way we have trained on racial bias and sexual harassment. While biases and erroneous behavior will never fully be eliminated, think of all the things that might have been said years ago that you could not even imagine saying out loud today. Continued reinforcement raises awareness and gets us there.

As Emma so eloquently said to the men in her audience, “gender equality is your issue, too.”

Having been surrounded by more men than women over my adult years, I’ve seen that men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

As a woman, I am perhaps a more trusted colleague, and men share with me their personal and professional frustrations. A lot centers on what constitutes male success. For many, there is a feeling of almost imprisonment. Having personally made a very freeing professional decision, I’ve found that it has opened the door to even more intimate male conversations.

And I love it. I invite it. But let’s include other men.

Because to end with one last quote from Emma “when they (men) are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.”

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