Celebrating International Women’s Day: Businesswomen and their allies
For B2Bee’s first International Women’s Day, we asked business leaders in our network about their experiences and perspectives on diversity in the workplace. We were surprised by the number of answers we received, and the breadth of what people had to say, so we’ve decided to turn this into a monthly series!
We believe we should celebrate diversity and inclusion everyday, with our intentions and actions. Although one day in the calendar jolts our collective memory about the need to bring balance and be truly inclusive, we feel this should be an everyday effort.
The interviews that follow will show you how business leaders are tackling inclusivity in the workplace and the challenges they’ve faced throughout their careers. Tune in for more perspectives from both men and women next month!
B2BeeMatch: What role have you had in furthering diversity and inclusion in business?
Annick Paradis, Partner, Strategy and Operations Leader, National Sales Office, Deloitte, Canada:
It is important for me to be a mentor and sponsor for talented women in the firm who want to grow in their career. I want them to speak up about their aspirations and feel that they can have equal opportunities in our firm. I have been involved for many years with our women’s group and other inclusive communities and have recently taken on the leadership of our women’s group this year in Québec and NCR. As a woman partner in an internal service within a professional services firm, I feel that the firm has always been very inclusive. I want to help other women to fully develop within the firm and aspire to key leadership roles.
Christine Moses, Marketing Director (Consultant), Kent, UK:
I work with SMEs helping them develop and execute their growth strategies. As a consultant with multi-sector experience, I bring fresh perspectives, challenge their thinking and accelerate growth. For me diversity is just that: different viewpoints and skills around the table. Inclusion is about listening and acting differently as a result of those different viewpoints and skills. So if the expertise of a consultant, an “outsider” like me, can be transformative, then surely there is room for others’ viewpoints, expertise and skills in the business.
Mohan Yogendran, Director, Rockpools Global Executive Resourcing & Consulting, London, United Kingdom:
I personally began my career in the field of diversity and inclusion. This included working for a UK regional charity that worked with local communities and local employers to help bridge gaps in understanding of opportunities and skills; and working for two large regional public bodies (local authorities), where we proactively put in and pursued initiatives to raise female representation at senior levels through flexible working policies, diversity training, mentoring arrangements, childcare facilities and childcare vouchers, and career events.
In my career in the commercial world, and particularly at Rockpools, we advocate for diversity on each client engagement we have—and I believe we do this in a non-flag-waving manner but rather in a practical, case-by-case way, sometimes without even using the language of diversity and inclusion.
Russ Shaw, Founder, Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates, London, United Kingdom:
Tech London Advocates has several key working groups that focus specifically on encouraging participation and collaboration in technology among minority groups in the industry. Our Women in Tech working group is the largest such group in the sector with over 4,000 Advocates. There are also thriving groups focusing on Black Women in Tech, Tech for disAbility and LGBTQ communities, created so that everyone has pathways available into the tech sector and an opportunity to belong to an inclusive environment in a traditionally one-dimensional sector. Tech London Advocates also launched the Diversity in Tech Manifesto for London, to encourage action from both public and private sectors to address the lack of industry diversity.
B2BeeMatch: What challenges in your industry are caused by the lack of inclusivity in business?
Morgane Gouyon-Rety, FMR General Manager, FSG Technologies Inc. Infrastructure & Technology, Montréal, Canada:
In my industry, which is everything dealing with infrastructure and technology, and is primarily staffed with engineers and scientists, the proportion of women has always been low, though this is less true in a country such as Canada than it is in Europe, the US or the Middle East. This goes back all the way to the typically low proportion of women choosing an education path in science, technology, engineering or math (known as STEM). For illustration, when I was in engineering school in France in the early 1990s, the proportion of female students was only 13%, which was quite typical at the time in top-tier engineering schools there. Even though the proportion has been steadily increasing since that time, it is still far from parity unlike in, say, business schools.
This situation has at least two negative consequences. First, the industry is cut off from close to half of the talent pool in the workforce, which is a big enough deal in itself. Possibly worse, this reduces the diversity in approaches among engineers and managers in the industry. The industry has historically been very able to draw talent from all over the world, particularly in the UK and North America, and provide a welcome diversity in cultures and training. But despite this cultural diversity, the industry is still massively male-dominated. This is important because, without exaggerating the differences between male and female brains, we do bring different approaches and sensitivities to the table, which only make our companies better and stronger.
Patrick McCaully, Director of International News Domination, Pointman News Creation, Toronto, Canada:
To a surprising level, I believe that the best and brightest counsel may be dismissed because of an underlying bias against diverse consultants. I have witnessed this myself in dealing with client pitches in which the client completely ignored the advice of consultants who are women or people of colour. As a middle-aged white consultant, I just seem to be immediately accepted—I’ve seen non-white consultants ask essentially the same questions and be criticized for not being prepared enough for the meeting. This is in a small group of cases but it’s shocking nonetheless.
I am in the executive recruitment industry and within that, my business operates on a retained search basis rather than as a contingent agency. Our core business is finding senior or specifically skilled people for our clients. In essence, we are attracting people to consider an opportunity that they would otherwise not consider. So this chimes very well with the drive to attract diverse people into roles where they have traditionally been under-represented. However, this depends on our client understanding what this means.
We love to gently challenge our clients to think beyond the immediate, to enable us to attract people who bring something different to the offering by virtue of their career history, their personal backgrounds and life experiences. This usually means we can attract women into roles, including senior roles, traditionally held by men. In terms of getting our clients to go for this, it sometimes works—and sometimes it doesn’t. Moreover, in our industry, a lot of firms will go for the path of least resistance as it is often easier and less time-consuming, and potentially more commercially lucrative, to attract people who are just like their clients. That’s the challenge we face.
Today’s world is no longer defined by the white male gaze, something that has historically impacted the tech sector more than most. Unfortunately, we are still seeing some tech businesses failing to reach their potential due to a reticence to diversify their workforce and build a more creative, cohesive working culture. With tech businesses responsible for developing AI, it’s even more important that the sector has a diverse workforce, to ensure that gender biases do not manifest themselves in the algorithms we create.
Diversity equates with ideas and improvement in a company’s performance and productivity. Therefore, there’s an urgency for businesses who are lacking in diversity to adapt to today’s demands. Failing to do so will compromise the characteristics that organizations need to thrive in a digital and collaborative society.
B2BeeMatch: Why do you think gender imbalance persists in the workplace?
The saddest thing is that this imbalance is largely rooted in tradition rather than capabilities. Most positions in this industry do not require any particular physical strength, and women have demonstrably excelled in STEM disciplines in school. Because of my particular life trajectory—I am a trans woman—I am particularly aware of the weight of expectations and perceptions in shaping education paths and careers. When I was in high school in France, I was leaning toward studies in history and archaeology. But since I excelled in math and sciences, and was identified as a boy at the time, I received considerable pressure from all quarters to opt for the STEM path instead, and I eventually did so.
I am certain that had I been correctly identified as a girl back then, there would have been much less, if any, such pressure at the time, since this was, and still is, perceived as a typically masculine field of study. I eventually went on to graduate from one of the top engineering schools in France and on to a fairly satisfying career, mostly in the rail industry, but history remains a lifelong passion for me.
As I was climbing steadily toward senior management positions, I regularly received feedback that I was not the typical (male) manager. In my MBA, I learned to shed stereotypical management approaches and instead just “be myself, with skill” (as we were taught). So especially after that, I was known for being a good listener, for my ability to build common ground and shape a common vision, for my care for my staff’s development, for relying on persuasion rather than naked authority. All qualities which tend to be typically associated with women. For good reason…
As I finally came to terms with my internal struggles, accepted who I really am, and transitioned two years ago, I am often asked if my managerial style has changed. My answer is always the same: “No. I’ve always had the same approach, it was only perceived differently.” I believe that qualities typically perceived as feminine are valuable in any managerial position, from junior level to CEO.
B2BeeMatch: How do you think businesses and workplaces could improve inclusivity moving forward?
Cathryn Boudiak, Global Brand Director, Champagne GH Mumm, Reims, France:
There are two key points here: structural and philosophical. Businesses that can remove administrative and regulatory barriers to drive inclusion will be the ones that can restructure business and drive change. Leaders that embody a more inclusive philosophy and have a more human and open-minded view will nurture the culture within the organization. Together they will be able to accelerate the way business is done today. I am encouraged specifically by companies in the wine and spirits industry that are making changes.
Business large and small need to shift mindsets from having differences to embracing and uniting through differences in order to be inclusive. We need to change the way we act and behave —move away from having differences to embrace and come together through differences. Inclusion is about creating an environment in which all individuals feel valued and connected, regardless of their differences. An inclusive environment is one where individuals feel comfortable bringing their authentic and full selves―their ideas, backgrounds, perspectives―to work. This is what businesses need to demonstrate in actions. Leaders need to set expectations for specific, inclusive leadership behaviours. We need more diversity in leadership and we need to deliberately build a more diverse pipeline of leaders in our organizations.
Where do I start?! Perhaps to summarize, too often when organizations embark upon improving inclusivity, they focus on the supply side―initiatives to raise the profile of the organization and its opportunities with groups, including women, who are under-represented; mentoring schemes; and training programmes for those under-represented. Nothing wrong with that at all.
However, often the biggest challenge to improving inclusivity is on the demand side. That is, what do senior leadership think “good” looks like when hiring or promoting people to senior roles? What unconscious biases exist amongst them? What employment policies exist that hinder inclusion, including, for example, on flexible working, business travel, childcare and eldercare? And what features of the workplace culture might make some people feel excluded? I’d encourage organizations to work on both supply and demand side, and be practical and commercial about their decisions. In that way, inclusivity improves and business performance improves too.
In conclusion, inclusivity and diversity are still not a given in 2020. This is why we at B2BeeMatch care about member companies’ inclusion of women in leadership positions, their attention to diversity, and the results this yields. We have many more perspectives worth reading, so we encourage you to check back each month this year to read more about gender in the workplace.