By: Jessica Pezim, Principal, Bedford Consulting Group
To my children:
Right now you are almost 4 and just over 18 months old and you bring tremendous joy, happiness and fulfillment into my life. You both also know that I work and that I love my job. Finding balance between my career and being your mom is a wonderful, but challenging journey.
I am writing you this letter because on March 8 we will celebrate International Women’s Day and this year’s theme – ‘Generation Equality’ – resonates very strongly with me. As an executive search professional, I see firsthand the challenges talented women encounter and conquer and the successes they achieve, every day. I want to share my reflections on this issue with you today so that when you eventually read this, you will understand how far we’ve come.
I am the daughter of a working mother and you are both being raised as I was: to believe you can do anything you want in this world; gender has nothing to do with it. But I want you to recognize how much progress has been made to get where we are today and how many sacrifices were made with the hope your generation will truly be one who experiences gender equality.
I grew up hearing stories of how my mother, the first and only female sales representative in her company at the time, would be treated by her male colleagues. That she would be duct taped to her chair and put on a desk while they would continue to work. Her counterparts would respond by saying it was “all in good fun”. And while they may have thought that, they weren’t treating each other the same way. Your nana and the women of her generation paved the way and sacrificed to ensure you and I would have a different experience.
I have now spent almost a decade focused on the recruitment and management of top talent at varying levels of an organization – I have touched the entire spectrum from recent graduates to executives. A notable gender equality challenge I experienced was at a previous job recruiting for a class of summer students in Capital Markets. The challenge was finding a pipeline of female candidates who met the requirements based on merit. For many reasons, there are certain sectors and leadership positions where women have not been, and are still not, widely represented. For example, only 4.4% of TSX-listed companies have a female Board Chair (Osler) and just over 6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs (Fortune Magazine).
That being said, I believe it is equally important to recognize significant progress has been made. At that same job we were able to recruit 50% women into the next summer class without compromising merit. This was largely due to thinking outside of the box when it came to our talent pool and to a strategic and forward-thinking executive’s commitment to challenge the status quo.
Inclusion, diversity and gender equality are core priorities for the vast majority of organizations we work with at Bedford. These companies are implementing diversity, anti-harassment and unconscious bias training to combat gender inequality and ensure talented, capable women are considered for promotions alongside their male counterparts. Recently we have seen great momentum; earlier this year, Goldman Sachs committed to only taking companies public that have at least one diverse/female Board member, as companies who meet this requirement saw a 44% jump in their average share price within a year of going public, versus 13% at companies with no diverse Board members. Further, philanthropist powerhouse Melinda Gates has committed $1 billion to promote gender equality.
So while there is growing recognition that diversity is not merely about having more female or minority leaders – it’s about the entire company and our society valuing diversity of thought, perspectives and people – I believe there is still work to be done. This is by no means an exhaustive list but in striving for gender equality, I believe organizations will require courageous leadership, an empowering environment and action with impact. All leaders need to identify and acknowledge the current barriers that exist for women in their organization and take steps to remove them.
I also believe paternity and other work life balance initiatives directed towards men need to be implemented without impacting career progression. Until men are provided equal opportunities to be caregivers, and until organizations and society at large view men as equally responsible for caregiving, the majority of families will be left with no choice but to have the bulk of caregiving responsibilities fall on women. Finally, I believe transparent hiring, evaluation and promotion procedures need to be enforced as they benefit the entire workforce.
Kids, when you look at me, I hope you see a strong, hard-working individual who has advanced in her career, while still being a good mom. To my daughter, I hope this inspires you and that you never feel you have to make a choice between having a family and a fulfilling career – that you always believe you can have both. To my son, I hope you view women as equal partners in life, both personally and professionally, and that you feel capable of both excelling in your career and contributing to your home life. I hope neither of you consider gender when making career decisions and that it has no impact on your ability to advance in your chosen profession. I firmly believe our society is heading in the direction where, by the time you read this, the need for gender equality won’t be a topic of discussion, because it will be the norm.