Diversity & Inclusion

Securing a Gender-Equal Future with Boldness and Respect

I believe differences are meant to be celebrated and in the strength of many. When a unique mix of people come together with different experiences and are comfortable sharing their perspectives, the outcome is fruitful. How else can we expect to shed light on our blind spots? How else can we learn and apply new, improved strategies?

A diversity-first mindset is critical to the modern enterprise. Diversity allows businesses to push forward on innovation and long-term growth. Diverse companies earn 2.5x higher cash flow per employee, and inclusive teams are more productive by over 35%.

Diversity is multifaceted, extending beyond race, sexual orientation, gender, upbringing, industry experience, and functional expertise. Furthermore, the encouragement of diverse views and backgrounds can lead to more holistic solutions to complex problems.

Every leader has the opportunity to create space to celebrate the successes of women and the unique gifts they bring to the workplace. Women in the workplace battle endless stereotypes that often are meant to berate, belittle, and deter them from contributing as equals. And because women have to constantly swim upstream in the workplace, especially in male-dominated industries like finance or tech, there’s a lack of women in leadership roles. Many women today seek healthy women role models but are left empty-handed.

This month, let’s strive to be bold women and advocate internally for gender equality. Let’s work on the right side of history and show up for other women who need strong leadership and role models. A gender-equal future must be our mission for the benefit of all.

Be Bold and Proud

I’m a huge proponent of being unashamed of who you are, as well as understanding where everyone else comes from. My dad lost his eyesight when I was very young, and he doesn’t cover his eyes, which I applaud. I remember being in a store with him once, and there was a woman just gawking at him. I said to her, “This is my dad, and he’s a real person. Yes, he’s different, but he’s a real person.” From then on, I swore to myself I would never be afraid to speak up for what’s right. To truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society, we have to be respectful of others. And as leaders, we need to unapologetically demand respect when respect is due.

Despite what many women have been raised to believe, we shouldn’t be afraid to demand respect from others. There’s an overwhelming double standard for women in the workplace that claims they mustn’t be assertive or else they run the risk of being labeled “difficult,” “bossy,” or a multitude of hurtful profanities. However, I believe we should own the fact that we have the podium and that we play a major role in shifting the narrative around women in the workplace. We can be bold in our mission to help create more inclusive environments where everyone has meaning. We must make the conscious decision to do things differently than some of our male counterparts. For me, that means encouraging a healthy work/life balance for myself, my teams, and my colleagues because I understand, as a woman, how important yet challenging it is to set boundaries. I use that unique perspective to lead more effectively.

Stop and Listen

Many of us feel we’re too busy and too preoccupied to really pay attention to many of the things going on throughout the day. Weekly Zoom meetings, quarterly earnings calls, and even teambuilding exercises are sometimes viewed as not worthy of our full attention. But I’m challenging that thought. To truly show up for other women, we have to be present; we have to stop, listen, and pay attention to everything. As we build toward a gender-equal future, we must ensure we don’t become “too busy” for the things that matter to other people, especially fellow females.

Everyone should stop and listen more often—that’s an important factor in showing appreciation and respect to each other. But it goes a step further when we’re speaking about women in leadership roles. Women tend to be more emotionally perceptive and nurturing than men and score higher than men in areas of empathy, interpersonal relationships, and social responsibility. That can be an extreme advantage for women in leadership roles. We can use our emotional perceptiveness to rise above those stereotypes and lead with purpose and authenticity.

Our ability to stop, listen, and support colleagues and peers in an authentic and interpersonal way can move the needle on overall acceptance in the workplace and overall productivity, too. I believe that a gender-equal future, in many ways, has become an overcomplicated topic. “Gender equal” should mean just that: valuing the person as a person and for what they contribute to their company, industry, or community and not based on the demographic category they fall in. Taking time to listen to people without the distractions of stereotypes is critical for business leaders. 

Invest Big Upfront

The finance and tech sectors have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality, but a lot of their problems can be solved by investing more upfront for future gain. If you were to pull up any tech company’s “About Us” page and scroll through the headshots of its leadership team, it’s typically going to show a more male-dominated team. An extremely small number of companies have women equally represented at that level.

As a leader at a large tech company that invests in its future, I think it’s important to make sure we’re always looking for ways to build the best team. That naturally comes from seeking out the very best candidates with the very best experiences and is going to result in a lot of diverse experiences with different types of people. Many companies take shortcuts when it comes to hiring because they aren’t willing to put in the work to go out and find the very best candidates, ensuring that in doing so, they’re building a diverse pool to choose from. Building the best team means companies need to make the effort upfront by refusing to default to what’s already right in front of them. Companies need to work upstream if they truly want to prioritize diversity at its core. They need to make sure they’re getting an adequate population of what they’re striving for.

The Gender Landscape

Many innovations have led to advancements on a gender-equal future. For one, working from home has benefited working parents (typically women who are balancing the majority of both child-rearing and career responsibilities) because it’s introduced more flexibility in terms of work structure. This is opening more doors for women who wish to build a career alongside the growth of their families and those of any gender who are the primary caregivers in their homes. In my career, I’ve learned to look at all I’m juggling and think to myself “What are the glass balls, and what are the rubber balls?” and use that to prioritize and push back on things we can be a little more flexible on. Leadership can use the same thought process when managing employees so they, regardless of gender, can strike a healthy balance between family and work life.

Another important movement is the growth of employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are voluntary, employee-led diversity and inclusion initiatives formed around race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, parental status, national origin, religion or belief, or generation. The goal of ERGs is to create a sense of belonging and support inclusivity within the workplace. The fact that businesses are embracing initiatives like ERGs indicates a lot of tangible momentum is happening in the realm of gender equality.

Let’s lead boldly, act authentically, and work passionately toward a more gender-equal future. We must challenge the status quo for women’s role at work and shift the narrative on how women are “supposed to act” as leaders. There’s power in the many, and it will take us all to advocate for genuine, widespread gender equality.

Holly Grey is CFO at Exabeam.

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