Open Invitation To Executives Who Are Fathers Of Daughters
As a man, there’s a before and after having a daughter. Before, you may not have been aware of or even cared much about gender gaps or policies that negatively impact women. After? Well, you have a vested interest in the issue. Suddenly, it becomes unimaginable that your daughter would make 83% of a man’s salary for the same job. Or that she wouldn’t be picked for a position for which she’s undoubtedly the most qualified candidate.
I’ve seen this dynamic operate in my own family. My dad is an orthopedic surgeon in Argentina, a country where machismo is strongly woven into the cultural fabric. My mom was a kindergarten teacher. My dad worked long hours, traveled the world to present at medical symposiums and handled all the big financial decisions and negotiations. My mom stayed home taking care of my two siblings and I. All in all, it was a typical setting for my parents’ generation. So why am I telling you this?
Because, on the one hand, I grew up with a family mandate to go to college, marry a man with a bright future, have children, and be the second income if I was inclined to work. But on the other hand, my dad, who married a woman he could count on to stay at home, has always been one of the instigators of my independence, my risk-taking and my self-confidence. And despite his dislike of my moving to New York, he has supported every one of my entrepreneurial ventures since I emigrated. Most shockingly, he’s been a big advocate of my most recent business venture, the Red Shoe Movement, a leadership development company powered by a movement of women who support each other for career success. Yep, he’s gone feminist on me.
As surprised as I am at my dad’s support for my work and how proud he is of my achievements, I really shouldn’t be. Research has shown that men who have daughters run more socially responsible organizations and are women’s best allies to get behind gender inclusion initiatives. It makes sense. You always want the best for your kids.
So, this is an invitation to those executives who have daughters to come out of the closet and support women in very visible and vocal ways. You are key to moving the needle faster at the top.
Here are four concrete interventions you can easily implement.
1. Make flexibility the default.
It’s more effective to evaluate people’s productivity based on objectives and results, rather than on the hours they clock at the office. Respecting their judgment and fostering autonomy and accountability, you also improve retention. One of the secrets for this intervention to work is to make sure that executives, particularly men, take advantage of flexibility policies. When your high-level executives don’t make use of these benefits, the signal they send (primarily to women) is that their career progression will suffer if they do. So, even when you have the policy in place, women may feel that they can’t really take advantage of it.
2. Extend benefits to men.
True, extending maternity leave is a great way to help women with work/life balance. But equally important is for you to have a robust paternity leave and to encourage your male employees to take it. Why? A couple of reasons: 1) Men are subject to the social norm that expects them to be the provider and protector. As a result, they’ve missed out on their chance to enjoy family time. 2) As women become equal partners in the workplace, men must increasingly become equal partners at home. When you only offer extended maternity leave to women, you reinforce the stereotype that only women are responsible for child-rearing.
3. Avoid putting women in situations that force them to be competitive.
Research shows that women’s inclination to compete is lower than men’s. Pair this with research that confirms men tend to be more confident than women at all levels in their careers and you have insights to help you modify some of the policies and procedures that may be interfering with women’s growth potential. Here’s a practical example of a conversation that took place during a recent conference call I had with a male president of one of my large corporate clients and two of his female executives.
Female executive: "When they gave me the position, they told me I was on probation for six months. So in reality, they didn’t trust me."
Male president: "They say that to everyone. They told me the same thing when they promoted me to this role."
See, telling a man, “you are on probation,” ignites his competitiveness and drive to prove himself. Saying the same words to a woman may make her feel doubted or untrusted, and could stir her desire to quit before she even starts.
How many opportunities do you have to avoid putting women in unnecessary competitive environments? With this in mind, review your job postings, your evaluation criteria, and the words you use in your daily interactions with female employees.
4. Redecorate your office.
It’s a simple intervention yet an effective one, according to behavioral economist Iris Bohnet, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. If your boardrooms or hallways are covered with the pictures of past CEOs, who are mostly or entirely men, employees are constantly reminded that this is not a job for women. Women may see it as such a competitive career track that they wouldn’t want to get into it -- or, that once they get to the top, as the only one in that position, they would feel like they don’t belong. Why not hang up pictures of leaders you admire or partners of other organizations you work with or support? As Dr. Bohnet says: “Seeing is believing.”
As a leader with a vested interest in gender equality, you can make a big difference in your organizations to move the needle faster in gender balance at the very top. Will you do what it takes?