When I lived in Italy from 2009-2012, International Women’s Day was always a widely celebrated holiday with yellow carnation flowers given to women to celebrate them on this day. It was a very normal thing for this gesture to be extended and the holiday was held as a highly regarded and meaningful acknowledgment of the women who help make the world go ’round. But I have never seen such a gesture in all my years as an American; in fact it almost feels like there’s even been an overcompensation of dues being paid for all the years without those yellow carnations.
The more I think about it, it’s not a surprise that we’ve had such cultural turmoil as of late when it comes to horrific stories of sexual harassment, or the challenges in breaking through the ‘layer of men’ at the top. My trade of advertising has seen its’ fair share of PR buzz around this issue, with many companies promoting women to reinforce their position as a company that values women leaders. But it shouldn’t take a horrific PR narrative to mobilize women in the workplace.
As a female I obviously have a stake in this conversation and movement, but let me be clear that I am not a ‘nasty woman’ feminist that is marching at all the parades and so forth. No offense to anyone that does, but that is not my thing and I believe that the most powerful weapon is action thorough being a prominent and respected figure in the workplace AND developing solutions for future female leaders to navigate professional environments. This was evidenced in a forum I was lucky enough to attend with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, last week.
As part of an immersion session, a group of ~30 female bloggers and I had two days to get acquainted with all the fun stuff P&G does from a product development perspective, their position around sustainability and social impact, and gender equality. We stayed at the very cool 21C Museum Hotel, and we were fortunate enough to attend P&G’s #WeSeeEqual Forum at the end of our immersion, exploring the journey that women in the workplace have experienced and what lies ahead to create a more gender-equal world. I should add that P&G’s legendary campaign ‘Like A Girl’ for their brand Always was recognized throughout the ad world and beyond as one of the most moving and inspiring campaigns that empowers women. It won big at every award show I attended in recent years, and if you haven’t seen it, have a look at the end of this post.
Seneca Women, a global women’s leadership community, co-hosted the 700+ attendee event which highlighted how businesses, organizations and communities can work together. Award-winning journalist Katie Couric (who is just the most phenomenal and charming speaker – you can’t not love her) and and P&G North America Group President Carolyn Tastad opened the session, followed by conversations with P&G executives, employees, business partners, and organizations who are working together to dispel the myths that hold women back from being fully represented in the workplace and in the world.
Here are my key takeaways and learnings from the #WeSeeEqual Gender Equality Forum:
- Get people comfortable with being uncomfortable – often we don’t want to speak about what needs to be spoken about! That needs to change, otherwise how do you expect to grow?
- Immigrants are critical to the continued success of our country – it’s easy to hate from far away but it’s hard to hate up close. Don’t be a judge of what you don’t know.
- We’re seeing a seismic shift in the tech revolution – but what are the repercussions? Take AI for example; we’re on the cusp of AI infusing everything we do. But if AI has teachers that are not diverse the ripple effect is massive. Early versions of smart speakers couldn’t hear female voices because they were designed by men! In Turkish no make female pronouns exist; voice search algorithms will categorize genders by bias roles (‘engineer’ is referenced as a ‘he’, a ‘nurse’ referenced a ‘her’). BLEH.
- Women get compartmentalized easier than men – this sexism has been a struggle. The fact that we are must still push for equality clearly justifies this statement.
- Be explicit upfront in your wants and needs to feel your best in your job – as the first female solo anchor, Katie Couric considered herself a powerful medium for gender roles and requested a 50/50 delegation with Bryant Gumble – she said no cooking shows, or any other stories that would leave her in a box for ‘women related’ topics. I give her major kudos for having the chutzpah to tell the man (literally), what she wanted.
- Male allies can give you the support you need – don’t ignore them as advocates for gender equality. It’s not just women for women.
- It takes a multi prong approach for women to really crack the glass ceiling – this means: women in leadership positions, diversity of all kinds in roles, HR attitudes to change, better paid family leave, and more policies that make it easier for women to succeed (*see my position above!).
- VC firms need to fund more women – currently, men get funded more and women receive less than 2.19% of all venture capital funding. WTF. And to be fair, there have been some very cool platforms that have emerged by women (cough, Bumble, Minibar, Lola, Glossier, Lumi, and so many more).
- Studies show that the more TV a girl watches, the fewer the opportunities she believes she has. But the more TV boys watch, the more sexist they become. This stat was uncovered by Geena Davis, having spent more than two decades campaigning for gender equality in the entertainment industry. Her study (commissioned in conjunction with ad agency J Walter Thompson) proves that people can be inspired or limited by what they see. If people see women doing brave things, (ahem, Wonder Woman) it impacts us greatly. Furthermore, another frighting stat: when applying for a job, hitting 4/5 criteria for women meant that they wouldn’t apply. For men if they hit only 2/5 they still raise their hand assuming they can figure out the rest. The problem is that we believe both of these sides. This KILLS me, mostly because the lack of confidence that plagues many women.
- One of the greatest myths out there is the Pipeline myth – aka ‘not enough qualified women in the workforce to take on senior level roles’ . This is a MAJOR piece of BS. C-suite leaders must internationally understand their own pipeline – who are the stars and when can they advance? The current HR model is built on how we access talent, it’s a systems issue; we need to break the model and look elsewhere to expand what the right ‘skill set’ actually looks like.