Men must lend their voice to gender disparity debate

To become reality, gender equality requires the commitment of women and men

Barri Rafferty spoke on a panel at the United Nations.
Barri Rafferty spoke on a panel at the United Nations.

How can governments, companies, and individual leaders shatter the glass ceiling and pave a better path for gender equality? As Vincent Molinari, CEO Gate Global Impact, put it, "The channels need to be created and trails need to be blazed."

His comment was part of a discussion at the United Nations on a topic that’s very important to me: conversations with men about helping women reach leadership positions. The event was hosted at the United Nations by Impact Leadership 21, an organization committed to transforming women’s global leadership at the highest level of influence.

Joining me in the lively discussion was a panel of distinguished men and women – all of whom share the vision of a world that sees gender equality as a given, and who also share the belief that it requires the participation of both sexes.

The panelists included: Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund; Michael Drexel, Senior Director, Head of Investors Industries, World Economic Forum; Molinari; and Douglas Ellenoff, partner at Ellenoff, Grossmen & Scholle.

Three critical themes surfaced around gender equality:

Gender equality is improving, but there’s still more progress to be made.
"Gender equality isn’t as bad as it used to be 50 to 70 years ago, but there’s still a long way to go," Michael Drexler said. The number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 has reached a record-high—but that’s only 24 out of the 500 CEOs. Osotimehin agreed, and said, "We must encourage men to embrace gender equality principles. If the tone isn’t set at the top, then people will find a way around it." 

Progress can only be made in this area if we work together. It will take the combined efforts of women and men to end gender inequality.

Men need to have this conversation with other men.
"I’m looking into the room here and where are the men?" Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin asked. "We’re talking to ourselves now. We need men to sit here so we can have a proper conversation. I want to tell my daughters that they’re equal to men and they’re not inferior to anyone. In order to achieve that, men need to shed the fear of having this conversation and embrace the possibilities." 

This brought up an interesting thought: Should we approach men or should men approach us with this conversation?

Don’t fight the tribe, be a part of it.
"Instead of clashing with the ‘boys’ club’ stereotype, let’s make it a goal to become a valuable member of the organization. Everyone has something different to offer and they need to demonstrate it, regardless of gender," Drexler stated. You have to think about how you’ll get to the top and if people are there to support you. If not, focus on a company that will, and don’t overlook entrepreneurship. "Talented women are entrepreneurs now and they’re planting the seeds for others," Ellenoff said. He continued, "…women are raising money for other women entrepreneurs and are creating an environment where we don’t have to keep going back to the ‘boys’ clubs’ around the world." 

Once you’ve become a cultural leader, you’re establishing a new path for other women to follow and succeed.

During the session, Michael Drexler said, "Diversity in every organization is huge and makes it more successful." I agree, and gender equality is a key part of the diversity mix. In fact, a recent study found that the companies with the best financial performance are those with greater numbers of women in leadership. It has been predicted, judging from the historic rate, that it will take 50 years for gender equality in government, and 81 years for gender equality in the economy. That is an unacceptable rate of change. It is the responsibility of every man and woman to shift the paradigm. Some argue that policies and quotas are the only way to bring about change. I would say that while policies and quotas can play a role, until attitudes have shifted there will not be true progress.

Barri Rafferty is senior partner and North America CEO at Ketchum.

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