*This article was originally written for our Swiss market, it may contain Swiss references.
Yova CEO Tillmann Lang on how to create a gender-balanced workplace.
I consider myself an open-minded and progressive man. I have always advocated for gender parity and strongly believe in the advantages of gender-balanced enterprises and households. I have always been surrounded by strong women – in my career as well as in my personal life.
However, I don’t have to look far to see biases towards women. I can see them in my own thinking just as I see them in others (by the way: in men and women alike). Yet, I keep being surprised at how little I know and see, until I am shown and told.
To name just a few common examples:
- If I take my son to a work meeting, I am modern and open-minded. I’ve seen female colleagues do that and being criticised for their inability to organise their lives.
- Women in power are perceived differently to their male peers. Think of the word «bossy» – who comes to mind, man or woman?
- When a female manager is interviewed, journalists often ask how she copes with family and work. Have you ever seen a male manager being asked such a question?
At Yova, we experience this first hand. We are a diverse team in many dimensions, one of which is gender (in fact, more than 50% of the Yova team are women; we have our imbalances, too). And we benefit from this every day, by having more viewpoints, more complementary skills and more experiences feed into our daily work.
Remember: not every difference is necessarily bad. But it’s worthwhile reflecting – or at least acknowledging that it’s there.
Okay, but why is this article directed mainly at men? Firstly, the discourse around gender equality often excludes men. And that’s a mistake! Surveys show that companies make much greater progress in achieving gender equality when men become involved, too.
Secondly, even if men know about certain issues, they often don’t know how to face and tackle them. This can sound like an excuse. It’s often not. I am speaking about myself here. And about countless male peers I’ve talked to. In fact, being aware that gender inequality can be a problem might actually make one more insecure to do or say something. After all it’s always easier to simply not get involved rather than stepping on someone’s toes. Showing ways of action can help solve this problem.
So here are four ways how you as a man – or a woman – can contribute:
1. Open your eyes to inequality – don’t roll them!
Did you know that many products get optimised for men? Seat belts for instance used to be tested on male crash test dummies only – as a result, the University of Virginia found out that women were 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries in car crashes because safety features weren’t designed for their bodies. Another example is finance. Most investing solutions are designed for men, with 90% of all financial advisors being male.
Talking business, inflexible working environments prevent women from aligning motherhood with their career AND they prevent men from doing their share, even if they want to. Just think about the canton of Zurich in Switzerland which considers itself progressive while giving dads a one day (yes, 1 day!) paternal leave.
As a result, the average career break of young mothers in Switzerland lasts five years – and this break typically happens in the late twenties and thirties, which is a crucial time period for one’s career.
So before rolling your eyes when you hear the oft-used term «gender equality», get your facts straight! Acknowledge that gender imbalance is real – and that there might be barriers and boundaries for others, that don’t exist for you. Actively learn about your own biases and uncover them, for instance with these fun tools developed by Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn organisation.
2. Talk about equality & learn from your peers
Don’t get defensive in conversations about gender. Instead, speak up when you realise that biases play out at work or elsewhere. One of the most effective actions is to simply draw attention to what’s going on and bring biases to the surface. Have you ever talked about gender equality with your male friends? You probably have.
Have you talked about it to women? They might not only be appreciative but actually help you find out what to do. Have you talked about it in a business setting? Chances are that others – again men and women – are quite open to the topic but simply don’t know how to become active. Start a dialogue! Learn from each other.
3. See gender equality as an opportunity
Let’s think business for a moment again. Although women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing – the people that design, market, and manage the brands they buy from are often men. In fact, some hierarchy levels in companies are made up exclusively of men.
Just think about the economic opportunity of having more women influencing business strategy, product development and generally calling the shots in business. In fact, a Credit Suisse report revealed that large-cap companies worth over $5 billion with at least one woman on the board outperformed their competition who had no women on their boards by 26% in sales over six years.
But although the wealth of women is growing and the number of female graduates is increasing, many large companies don’t have even one woman on the board – let alone a fully gender-balanced business. And it will take time to achieve more balance. This might seem paralysing at times, but there are very effective ways to support this process.
One of the most powerful steps you can take is actively investing in companies that champion gender equality. This is why and how your investment can make a difference.
4. Give (and take) equal opportunities
And lastly, embrace gender equality as a way to improve your own life and unlock improvement by giving everyone around you the same opportunities. At work for instance, put together diverse teams, or actively promote family-friendly set-ups (and make use of them, too!).
As a man, make use of parental leave and make it a point to finish work on time to pick up your kids. If you don’t, it makes it harder for your female colleagues to do the same without judgment.
Equality is a strong driver for quality of life, prosperity and a more sustainable future for all of us. So whether you listen and talk to people, support women around you, invest in gender equal businesses or just share this article: Every action you take now helps making our environment a more diverse, content and powerful one for generations to come.
Let’s get it started!
Invest in Gender Equality
Studies show that gender balance has the potential to add CHF 12 Trillion to the world’s economy by 2025 – making it one of the biggest investment opportunities of our time. This is one of many reasons the Yova team was driven to take action.