International Women’s Day has been observed for over 100 years in some countries, in 1945 the United Nations officially recognised March 8th as IWD but I’m embarrassed to say it wasn’t until 2018 that I actively (reactively) got involved on the day – having been called out by a woman I’d worked with, to join a discussion panel (as the ONLY man) loosely based around #No Glass Ceiling.
I say loosely as the first question was context by #MeToo #TimesUp. Two campaigns that if I’m honest failed to achieve half the impact that The Presidents Club Dinner in London had on me. Perhaps that was because as a UK businessman with 30 years in international companies I recognised how some men might have behaved as reported.
In the late 80’s I was involved in hosting some major customers at a major racing event, when towards the end of the afternoon my wife complained to me that one of the larger customers (who was a little worse for drink) kept brushing up against her. I explained to one of my Directors how I want to handle it and with his support I let the customer (discreetly) know, that I knew what he was doing (within earshot of his wife) and then we physically distanced ourselves from him for the rest of the day.
The point of the story, Company Culture is KEY – my Director supported me in doing what was right.
Hands up how many of you (back then or even today) would have been told by your Boss to ignore it, or not to make a fuss or just to keep out of the customers way; after all the customer is always right – well not in this case!
Prior to the panel discussion, I’d listened to three women in their 50’s share their engaging stories (without man bashing) of how they had coped with “men behaving badly” physically, emotionally and mentally over the decades of their respective careers. How many times had they taken home the patronising, dismissive and condescending comments of their male colleagues ringing in their ears; to return the following day to prove their resilience and inner resolve to do their job as well as the next “man”, I can only imagine.
As tweets from one woman half their age read “What some of them have been through many of my generation will (hopefully) never experience, and it’s encouraging to see these women still speaking out today to ensure this industry is a better place to be for the next generation of women.”
But for me the whole experience of preparing for the debate, hearing the stories and listening to the opinions in the room reinforced my view that it’s not just about changing women’s lives but changing men’s lives too!
In terms of our attitudes, opinions and behaviours…
- If there comes a time when you feel all is lost in your work culture and you can’t change the culture, then change cultures – get out and find a culture you’ll be happy working in.
- The challenge is to educate and change opinions and in my experience 1-2-1 engagement works better with men than campaigning.
- Utilise the headlines on workplace issues such as Gender Pay, Harassment, Behaviour and Professionalism, to initiate conversations at the photocopier and in the boardroom. Did you see the news last night and the story on xyz. Have you ever had an experience of it in your working life? What happened? How did you handle it? Have you ever come across it here? What do you think should be done about it?
- Recruit the best people for the job every time, rather than fill vacancies to hit quotas (it’s your managerial responsibility).
- Support the organisations who are helping the disadvantaged in the workplace – provide work experience, training, finance, sponsorship, job opportunities, invest in potential and become one of those organisations (it’s your social responsibility).
- Develop Senior Leadership habits and behaviours by introducing your potential Leaders to experienced Leaders of both sexes, because at some point they will have to perform in mixed gender meetings and board rooms.
- Provide support for the women who want a career and a family life. It’s not beyond the “wit of man” to offer shorter working weeks, flexible working hours, job shares, home offices, cyber meetings, longer holidays in the school holidays – generally where there is value there is a way.
- This man’s view on a woman in the workplace… Be authentic, resist trying to be one of the men and BE YOURSELF
It’s not just about changing women’s lives but changing men’s lives too!