When my daughters were five, seven, and nine years old, they said something to me that at once opened my eyes. As worldly and open minded as I tried to be, in one sentence they showed me how I had unknowingly neglected to recognize an entire segment of history’s greatest contributors. Here’s how they taught me about gender equality…
You see, one of my passions is for collecting historical documents, and I had just added a new piece to my collection when the girls came into my office. I was so excited to show them everything hanging on my walls.
“Look at these,” I said. “These are historical documents that tell you about change.”
I pointed to a letter from Mahatma Gandhi, and one from Martin Luther King Jr., another one from Albert Einstein, and one from Thomas Edison. I showed them a document from Abraham Lincoln, a letter from President Obama, and even a letter that former President Jimmy Carter wrote to me.
“See,” I said to them, pointing to Gandhi, Einstein, and Martin Luther King, Jr., “here’s a Hindu, a Jew, and a Christian, and all of them were working for peace.”
When I finished, they simply looked at me and said, “Are only men famous in history?”
I was stunned. This whole time, the fact that my treasured documents were only from men never even occurred to me… Yet with one question, my daughters completely altered the way I saw the world. It was as if I had never seen the color blue until that day.
From that day on, I not only focused on acquiring more significant documents from female historical figures, I also vowed to be a part of shifting this unfortunate and archaic worldview. Even as the world has progressed in many areas of equality, it still isn’t where it should be. While family businesses in general seem to be doing better at supporting female executives, achieving leadership opportunities is still an unnecessary mountain that our female counterparts have to climb.
“We Need the Three Ws”
The issue of gender parity was a leading topic at the 2016 World Economic Forum where it was discussed along with climate change and refugees.
“Men have a unique opportunity in this [gender parity], as we still make up 80 percent of the executive ranks and even more than that at the CEO level,” said Mercer CEO Julio A. Portalatin during the forum. “We have a unique obligation to be out in front on growing women in the workforce. It’s not a women’s issue: this is a workforce issue.”
Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent expressed a similar sentiment, stating that, “We need the three Ws: women, water, and well-being.”
It’s true. To thrive as a business, the equal integration of men and women and the talents that they bring are critical.
“It’s hard to ignore the mounting evidence that more gender-balanced leadership teams correlate with better business performance,” said Kate Barton, vice chair of Tax Services for EY Americas. “There are fascinating studies of the different ways in which women and men assess risk and make decisions that reinforce the conclusion that promoting gender equality is just smart business. I’m not suggesting that one is right and one is wrong, but diversity leads to balance, and balance—particularly when considering risk—is healthy business.”
Follow along in future articles as we continue to address this timely, relevant, and critical topic.