Want to be heard in 'macho culture?' Speak up, says Richard Edelman at Hall of Femme

Some advice from the CEO of the largest PR agency in the world at PRWeek's 2017 Hall of Femme event.

L-R: State Street's John Brockelman, Richard Edelman,  W2OGroup's Jim Weiss, Schneider Electric's Tony Wells
L-R: State Street's John Brockelman, Richard Edelman, W2OGroup's Jim Weiss, Schneider Electric's Tony Wells

NEW YORK: If women don’t feel their voices are being heard in the corporate world, they need to speak up more loudly, said Edelman CEO Richard Edelman at PRWeek’s Hall of Femme event in New York on Thursday.

The chief executive of the world’s largest PR firm said it might sound "silly" to give adults the advice to "speak up," but it is a "learned behavior" with which even professionals in their 40s struggle.

Edelman recalled that he recently asked women on his executive team why they are quiet during meetings. Their response: it is because of the room’s "macho culture."

"I asked them, ‘How are we going to fix that? Either you’re going to speak up, or I’m going to have to hammer the guys,’" said Edelman. "They said, ‘Hammer the guys first,’ and I said, ‘You speak up first.’"

He also advised that women should not let others drown them out "just because they are guys and talk loudly," adding that if there is a problem, it should be corrected by management.

Speaking up can also get women opportunities they might otherwise miss. Another panelist, John Brockman, global head of marketing and communications at State Street Global Advisors, said one staffer recently approached him and laid out her background when the company kicked off a strategic initiative.

"She said, ‘You may not remember, but I have worked in TV news, I have been at a PR agency, I have corporate experience,’" he recalled. "I had forgotten about that; I didn’t have as much exposure to her background. She got the role and took over the job."

Brockman said he would not have considered her for the role if she didn’t make her case.

Panelist Tony Wells, SVP and CMO for North America at Schneider Electric, also shared a story about a female coworker who stood up at a leadership meeting and challenged U.S. CEO Annette Clayton to change the company’s maternity-leave policy, which she described as "atrocious." As a result, Wells said, Schneider has a new and improved policy.

"My point on this is speak up, be visible, be vocal," said Wells. "When something is not right, let people know, because change is good."

To ensure pay parity and career advancement for women, Edelman advised setting specific benchmarks for the number of women in senior management.

"Five or six years ago at Edelman it was 30%; now it’s 40%," he said. "You have to reject the stereotypes like, ‘She is too aggressive; she doesn’t know how to get along with people.’"

Company leaders also have to make sure women are asked—at all—if they want a certain opportunity. Don’t make an assumption, for example, that a woman won’t move her family to Singapore for a global role, Edelman added.

Wells said Schneider has a policy of making staffers declare whether they are open to a physical move or to moving into a management position, and it does not make assumptions based on whether they have children, for example.

This story was updated on June 1 to correct the identity of Schneider's U.S. CEO.

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