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Gender Equality: Highlights from Bentley on Bloomberg
Gender equality is a much-discussed and debated topic these days. With people facing critical issues such as work/life balance, family leave and the wage gap, it's an ever-present subject of conversation from social media to the stock market. But where are the solutions? How can we work together for a better future, now?
Through an ongoing partnership with Bloomberg Radio, Bentley University and President Gloria Larson have interviewed many powerful, smart and progressive men and women on these issues and shared ways we can implement meaningful change in the workplace.
Here are nine of their top action items.
Learn more about the Bentley on Bloomberg radio series.
- Own Your Skills With Confidence
Historically, men have never had a problem touting their accomplishments, even exaggerating their skills or preparedness for a project or a promotion, or the validity of a business plan. Women, however, struggle with confidence -- even when they're overqualified, overly prepared and more than worthy of investment in their ideas.
According to Windsor Hanger Western, president and co-founder of HerCampus Media, "The approach needs to be not who's going to let you, but who's going to stop you, from achieving your dreams." (Listen to Western’s radio segment for more advice.)
During a January 2015 Bentley on Bloomberg show, President Larson discussed a gender parity study from Bain & Company that shows a precipitous drop in confidence among women as they approach mid-career -- one that has nothing to do with marriage or family planning, and everything to do with getting the same support from managers and mentors as their male peers.
“The common thinking has been that efforts to promote gender equality should focus on the classroom (the individual), or the boardroom (the senior management team),” said Julie Coffman, one of the Bain report’s authors. “Our findings confirm that a lot more emphasis belongs in the conference room -- that is, during employees’ formative years in the workplace. Frontline managers can -- but often don’t -- play a critical role in helping to shape and support women’s career aspirations and to reinforce and bolster women’s confidence.”
- Be Visible as a Female Leader and Transparent About Your Unique Skills
The more women leaders we have out there in the business world showing a diversity of background, leadership styles and ages, the faster we can change the established perceptions held by CEOs, boards and VCs.
This is especially important as research from the Bentley PreparedU Project revealed that more than 50 percent of millennial women don't see as many opportunities for themselves as for their male peers.
We need more female role models: women advanced in their careers, who have proved that not only is it possible to lead and rise to the top, but you don't have to 'be one of the boys' in order to get there. This will increase confidence and motivation at crucial turning points in the careers of young women.
"Broadening the definition of what a successful leader and what a successful entrepreneur looks like is going to benefit women both within businesses and starting businesses," said Kathryn Minshew, CEO of The Muse, in her interview. "I was one of those women who was a programmer at a young age and I stopped because I didn't see role models for women in computer science that were doing things that looked like what I wanted to do. Looking back, I realize those women were out there, but I didn't necessarily get exposed to them at 15 or 16 years old, so that visibility is tremendously important."
Read this roundup of ways the media and major multinational brands can have an impact by either discounting or reinforcing chauvinistic stereotypes.
- Bring Men to the Table
Men (and their bosses) just might be the secret weapon to helping women's careers. Studies show that dads who do the dishes raise more ambitious daughters, and millennial men -- with their willingness to share the domestic load and even move for their wife's career -- can lead by example to achieve gender parity both in the professional realm and the domestic one.
Bentley president Gloria Lawson asked that if women are leaning in, and men are leaning in, what can corporations do to lean in?
If women are leaning in, and men are leaning in, what can corporations do to lean in? -Pres LarsonTWEET THIS
Susan Adams, fomer senior director at the Bentley University Center for Women and Business (CWB) and a professor of management, believes that it's encouraging to see how both genders are now fighting back against the pressures that companies are putting on people, and that millennials and even Gen X-ers are now pushing for a life beyond work:
"Men are starting to step up and say, 'Hey, I'm leaving at 4 today because my son has a football practice.' And that actually is helping move the whole workplace a bit...We're starting to see senior executive men role-modeling that way, and that's very helpful. But they can't just do it alone. It has to permeate the entire organization. The messaging needs to go from top to bottom and at every level; every manager needs to be held accountable."
Bentley's research on millennials also found that the number of men and women using flex options for work, to have more time at home with family, is converging rapidly.
"Men want to be involved fathers," shared Adams. “They want to be soccer coaches, they want to help with the laundry, whatever it takes. And so they need time [off] as much as women to do that."
Check out our roundup of news stories showing proof that twentysomething men just might be the key to ending gender inequality.
- Keep the Issue of Gender Equality Top of Mind
Raising awareness is the first step to fixing the problem. From subliminal bias to actual misconceptions about effective leadership styles, we need to change the conversation and the outcome by keeping gender bias top of mind and ever-present in workplace discussions.
"A big piece of what needs to be untangled now is what McKinsey called the 'Gordian Knot' -- corporate structures that lack flexibility, family-friendly workplaces, subliminal discrimination at all levels...but also the self-limiting things that women continue to do with their mindsets and lifestyle choices that go to this notion of confidence and losing confidence," discussed President Larson.
Right now the corporate world is still largely male at all critical management levels. "It almost doesn't matter if it's Mars and Venus. The point is, we need all the [female] talent we can muster in the corporate world, as in the public sector," Larson shares.
- Admit There's a Problem
As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, the workplace and the world are gender biased. Work/life balance and gender identities/roles are the elephant in the room. But deep-seeded gender bias is also now impossible to ignore, thanks in part to this recent series of behavioral studies performed jointly by female researchers from MIT Sloan, Harvard Business School and UPenn's Wharton. This research, cited by The Muse CEO Kathryn Minshew in our interview, proves that gender discrimination unequivocally exists in entrepreneurial pitches to investors.
"Businesses need to change their thinking,” shares Adams. They need to acknowledge that there's a biased workplace (which is hard for some companies to figure out). We also need to admit that change isn't going to be easy, and that support systems (for both men and women) are needed to manage the transitions necessary to achieve gender equality.
"I worry that it's going to be forced on this younger generation,” continues Adams. Men are having to take on new roles. We're shifting gender identity, which is a difficult transition. Women may be prepared to take on the traditionally male roles, but men can the take on the tradionally female roles (parenting, caregiving, etc.)?
- Show Corporate America that Gender Equality Is Good for Business
When the government leads with proven results, the private sector will often follow. One such ambassador and role model is former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, whose senior leadership was 49 percent female, including members of the cabinet and agency heads. While the private sector lags far behind in similar statistics, Governor Patrick acted as CEO of the state, hoping that the results would have a cascading effect on his male peers from the private sector.
In partnership with Bentley's CWB, Governor Patrick launched the Women's Leadership Fellowship, an initiative to reverse trends by giving female graduate students leadership opportunities in upper levels of government around Massachusetts.
"It's taken off like a rocket," shared Rachel Kaprielian, former Secretary of the Massachusetts Office for Labor and Work Force Development, during a January 2015 Bentley on Bloomberg radio segment. “My fellow secretaries have come up with some very interesting job descriptions at upper levels in their organizations to give these highly educated, highly motivated women leaders a real shot at making policy changes and strategic decisions, so that they'll have a ton of experience."
“That's why this important initiative that the Governor inaugurated with the help of the Bentley Center for Women and Business is really so vital," says center founding director, Betsy Myers. "We think this is a great experiment going on in Massachusetts that others can learn from. If it's good for business, [the private sector] will follow. The customer has changed, and in order to give the customer what they want, you have to have a diversity of talent, including women."
Learn about the fundamental disconnect between male-dominated leadership and the female consumers who buy their products.
- Network Constantly
In the battle to overcome gender inequality, there's strength in numbers, as the Mass Conference for Women has proved time and again in the last decade. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the conference (which now boasts more than 10,000 attendees and more than 1,600 participating companies), founding member President Gloria Larson reflected during a Bentley on Bloomberg radio show on the conference's primarily goals and the importance of networking for women in business at all stages of their careers. Larson said that networking needs to be about not only making your own career and life better, but also how we can work collectively together for the broader community of women.
Take a look at our analysis of why some female executives are ditching the "Old Boys' Club" and starting their own.
- Make a Commitment to Fighting Inequality
In an effort to hold companies accountable for their efforts to make progress on gender equality issues, Bentley's CWB launched the Corporate Challenge, a product of former governor Deval Patrick's Women in the Workforce initiative and a model for gender diversity in the workplace with 100 participating businesses -- well-known companies, banks, insurance companies.
"It's not just a handshake, it's a commitment," shared Myers during a January 2015 Bentley on Bloomberg show. "These companies are all at different places: some are just getting going, some have been working on [gender equality] for a few years, some have been working on it for 20 years, and we really haven't cracked the nut. So we wanted to make this initiative a way that everyone, no matter where you were, could play, could be involved." Companies choose an area to concentrate on and commit to. They also appoint someone to this work on this initiative -- someone who has the ear of the CEO, because unless the CEO believes it, supports it, talks it, then it's not going to happen."
The impact of knowledge sharing by these companies is immense. "It's no longer about ‘should this be done,’ but how ‘fast can we accelerate progress.’ It's walking the walk," said President Larson. "You wouldn't have 100 companies participating and opening their data with transparency if they didn't want to see change."
- Create Runways
From the corner suites to the entry-level positions, we need more formal structures in place to enact change in order for gender parity to occur in the workplace. Public and private organizations alike need to build runways for young women, so that they can more easily see their career path to leadership positions, and we need to create development and sponsorship programs for women so that they actually get recognized and promoted.
"Ten years ago, McKinsey started studying this issue, and something that the Fortune 1000 companies have all done is create 'tone at the top' for corporate women, creating a runway that works, investing in the development of women, the sponsorship of women so they can be promoted,” shared Bentley’s President Gloria Lawson in a Bentley on Bloomberg radio show during January of 2015. “Formal structures in place to make it happen."
At major multinational corporations like Coca-Cola, more men in leadership positions are proving that gender equality can easily exist within their organizations, and are advocating for women economically -- starting at the top. Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent has shown immense leadership in proving to the corporate world that promoting women isn't just right, it's smart and good business.
More From Bentley on Bloomberg
For additional information on gender equality, listen to these Bentley on Bloomberg radio shows:
Learn more about the Bentley on Bloomberg radio series, including additional topics that have been discussed.
Melissa Massello is a journalist, editor, blogger, serial entrepreneur and former start-up executive who is passionate about issues facing women in business, modern workplace culture and urban communities. For the last seven years, she's served as the founding editor of Shoestring, a modern online lifestyle magazine covering personal finance, budget living and consumer interest stories of importance to Gen X and Gen Y. A Boston native, she currently resides in Austin. Follow her on Twitter at @melissamassello.
Learn more about Bentley’s PreparedU Project, which examines challenges facing millennial workers, the companies that employ them and the colleges and universities that prepare them.
In the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s Best Colleges 2017, Bentley University is ranked #3 among “Best Regional Universities - North.”