EmployeeWith voices around the world calling for women to be educated, paid and treated the same as men – it’s easy to feel frustrated and that slow progress is being made. According to McKinsey and LeanIn.org, it will take more than 100 years for women to reach economic equality.
This is disappointing considering that women’s contributions to the global economy would be an estimated $28 trillion, roughly the size of the economies of the United States and China combined, if women fully participated in the workforce, according to a separate McKinsey report.
So how can we speed up progress without becoming full-time activists? I spent most of my career in investment banking and from the start, I believed that I could do anything, and I thrived. It was only when I reached my 30s that I started to see that a glass ceiling for women and other groups exists. The further I moved up the corporate ladder, the more I noticed that women and minority groups needed to exhibit special qualities that somehow were less expected of men.
Driven by their employees, by ordinary colleagues like you and me – businesses often have global reach to encourage the communities in which they operate to strive towards equality for women and minority and repressed groups. See more about the Open for Business campaign that supports global companies such as EY, Google, IBM, LinkedIn, Linklaters, MasterCard, McKinsey & Company, Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Chartered, Virgin Group and Thomson Reuters to influence finance and treasury ministers to re-think policies in countries where homosexuality is illegal.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. For workplace activists this might be phrased: “You must be the change you want to see in the workplace.” So what can you do from the comfort of your own offices that can really make this world a better place for you and your colleagues – male and female?
- You could be a role model – if you’re open about your sexuality at home, could you be open about it at work? Or offer yourself as a mentor? If you’re successful in your role – even if you’re not a leader – could you support a colleague to upskill the next generation so they can take that next step? Or be a role model by simply leaving the office on time so the parents who have to do so feel your solidarity?
- Could you volunteer to help a charity that supports women and girls or join the Board of one? I’m on three such Boards, and they give me great satisfaction.
- Could you join (or start!) an affinity network or business resource group, even if you’re not from the same background? These groups such as Women’s networks or Employee Disability Networks highlight the needs of people and their customers from diverse backgrounds, and show the value they bring to a company. Sometimes just showing that you’re an ally to your colleagues and attending a group is hugely appreciated.
- Or if you’re a team leader could you bring more people with diverse backgrounds onboard?
I know that there are people, genuine heroes, the Melinda Gates and Warren Buffets of this world, who will do more, be more and be famous for their activities to improve the world, for their passion to help people. But in fact, by coming together in small ways in our offices – we can all be agents of change – regardless of gender. We can all advance women, and certainly in less than a century. What are you doing? I’d love to hear about the part you play.