Girls, the Future is NOW!

Not long ago, one of my customers wrote to inform me that she had decided to take a career break and was handing her duties as internal communications manager over to someone new. She had hinted at this possibility a few months earlier, so the news of her departure didn’t come as too much of a surprise.

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Still, I was disappointed to see her go. I had been supporting her team for almost three years by that point and really felt like an extension of the team more so than simply an outside supplier or consultant. My engagement in her team’s work was a direct result of her strong leadership skills, and beyond that, I was grateful for all the opportunities she gave me to learn and gain valuable experience.

I expressed this gratitude in my response to her initial message, and she replied to my thanks and praise modestly, adding that most would just call her ‘bossy’. Her comment wasn’t all that surprising, but reflected the fundamentally backwards thinking that too often prevails in the professional world when it comes to women in leadership roles.

Why does a woman have to be considered bossy to be a strong leader, whereas a man with similar traits is generally seen in a more positive light? Why do women have to emulate men to succeed? Does a woman have to be bitchy in order to be taken seriously in a leadership role?

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If these questions seem weird to you, you’re probably a man. Women still get paid less for doing the same job as men, are still considered risks because they might decide to have children (and are then expected to be their families’ primary caregivers), and their looks are often judged alongside their relevant skillsets.

Many have been saying the future is female for some time now, but for a lot of us the future is already here, regardless of whether expired stereotypes still prevail in workplaces around the world. And even if evidence proving that women are assuming a greater portion of leadership roles is lacking (and it is, because progress is being made too slowly), there’s a lot to suggest that diversity, inclusiveness and forward-thinking attitudes on this topic are not just a matter of doing what’s right, it’s about doing what’s good for business.

A Closer Look

A 2017 McKinsey & Company report on women in the workplace points out that American women remain underrepresented in the business world even though they’ve earned more college degrees than men have for the past 30 years (and counting). Despite this and many other facts put forth in the report that reflect the reality that progress isn’t happening at an adequate pace, it does provide a roadmap for gender equality, which is pretty straightforward and wouldn’t be overtly complicated for any business to implement.

It comes down to raising awareness (both among men and women), investing more in employee training, empowering managers to drive change, and making sure that hiring, review and promotion processes are done fairly. We’ve talked about investing in wellness and mindfulness in the workplace on this blog, and have made the connection between these initiatives and individual development, stronger teams and ultimately, better profit margins. There’s a valuable comparison to be made between these two topics (while still respecting the fundamentally different challenges each face).

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Morgan Stanley’s Investor’s Guide to Gender Diversity delves deeper into the topic as it relates to successful businesses, asserting that gender diversity can deliver returns with less volatility, stating, “More gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”

There are other arguments being made that assert more women in leadership roles would help address pay equity, or that more diversity means more voices and better solutions, and that women are better bargainers and mentors, the latter being critical for the growth of women in leadership roles.

What’s Next?

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Time and again this blog has concluded that doing what’s right or good is profitable. Whether it’s engaging in CSR initiatives, growing sustainably, redefining success by challenging traditional business models, or investing in personal wellness, as mentioned above; it’s truly exciting to see the ways in which our collective perceptions of value are changing. Moreover, with consumers and all types of businesses ‘voting with their wallets’, the idea of the best businesses rising to the top now includes criteria that are beneficial to us all. This is a big part of why Brite strives to support businesses that are committed to doing good; what’s good for the world is good for business.

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Chiara Caligara, Brite’s Managing Director and co-founder, is a prime example of a woman occupying a leadership role who refuses to wait until the statistics surrounding gender equality catch up with the fact that equality is good for business. She is building a diverse network of talented professionals who want their work to reflect their values and to make a positive difference in this world, no matter how big or small. Through Brite, she partners with like-minded women and men to initiate a positive loop that is also conducive to growth and profitability.

In this context, the question of whether she has to be overtly bossy or somehow make up for the fact that she’s not man is irrelevant, as it should be. These questions don’t need to be posed or answered in any context, and ultimately reflect the fact that there’s a sociocultural element at work here that is part of the problem, and not the solution. It can’t be both. The future needs to be female because up until the present, it’s been anything but, and now businesses are seeing that diversity can spell the difference between success and failure.

Bradley Castelli