30 Feet Forward on the Path Towards Equality

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Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a women’s workshop at our corporate office in Omaha. The people invited to the workshop included a mixture of male executives, working moms, as well as male and female managers who do not have children. Despite the fact that only 21% of senior roles in the United States are held by women, this strategic workshop included 15 men and 15 women. The workshop was led by an amazing role model Alicia who was two young twins and a husband who also works full-time. She was recently selected to be in this year’s Executive Leadership Development class (the second female ever to be selected for the program in my Company’s history).

I learned a lot during the workshop but the one thing that stood out to me is that the men genuinely don’t know how to hire and retain more women because no one has ever taught them. Men and women don’t fully understand each other. They think differently. They feel guilt in different ways. For heaven’s sake men that are married 25+ years still haven’t completely figured out their wives. So us demanding change without telling our male leaders how to do it is like putting a bike in front of a kid and demanding they teach themselves how to ride it.

Right now the average age of a CEO is 58 years old. That means a majority of current CEOs were born when John F. Kennedy was elected president and America was sending troops into Vietnam. In 1960 women weren’t allowed to have credit cards and they weren’t even allowed to get an Ivy League education. Schools such as Princeton and Yale didn’t accept female students until 1969 and Harvard didn’t accept female students until 1977.

In 1961, when most CEOs were celebrating their first birthday, JFK established the Commission on the Status of Women and appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as chairwoman. In a televised 1962 discussion with Mrs. Roosevelt, Kennedy stated:

“We want to be sure that women are used as effectively as they can to provide a better life for our people, in addition to meeting their primary responsibility, which is in the home.”

This statement sent a mixed message, effectively telling women, “Go! Learn! You Do You! … oh, and also have babies and put your husband’s needs before your own.” CEOs in today’s workforce did not choose to think that way, but they were raised by people who heard their President telling America that giving women some opportunities is great progress, but the home is still a woman’s responsibility.

One of the traits that great leaders have is a willingness to learn. Yesterday as I sat in a room with our Chief Financial Officer, my boss, and other important managers, I felt very blessed that I work for a Company that has truly great male leaders. Those 15 men flew to Omaha from all across North America to spend their day learning how they as leaders can help the 15 women in the room, and all future women, have the same chance of success that they have had in their career. Not only did those 15 men give me hope, a few of our C-level executives recently met with a senior female executive at Exxon and she told them that based on her experience it takes at least 10 years for a company to transform into an equal opportunity culture. We can say 10 years is unacceptable. We can say it can happen faster if we try harder. Or, we can put one foot forward to start on the path to equality. It might take longer than 10 years for my company to change a culture that’s existed for 134 years. But our CEO discussed women’s equality with a female executive in our industry and that’s why I am putting one foot forward.

So what should we do now?

We should raise awareness.

We should demand change.

We should raise our children right.

We should set our expectations at a realistic level and not expect immediate change.

We should hold our co-workers, friends, and family members accountable when they do something or say something that is sexist or ignorant. No one should ever say “oh Jim is just that way, he will never change”. That’s laziness. We discipline our children to curb their bad habits but we give adults a free pass even though they have the ability to spread sexist and cancerous words in a society that is trying to heal itself from the past.

But more importantly, we should teach. Leaders don’t know what they don’t know, they need to be taught. And it needs to come from the ones who are out there protesting. The ones who are raising awareness. The ones that want to be the first female to have a seat in the boardroom. Or the ones that want their daughter/niece/sister/friend to be sitting in that seat. There are so many people in the world that want to change but they genuinely do not know how to change. Help your company get to the place where you know it can be. Raise awareness, teach, and be patient. After all, you can always drink wine and curse that bozo “Jim” at home when no one is looking.

In this Sunday’s Top 10 post I will list 10 facts about what women want that totally surprised the men in the workshop. What they thought was the best thing to do in some cases was actually the exact opposite of what women wanted. Yesterday 15 women taught 15 men the real truth and my Company officially put 30 feet forward to start on the path towards equality.

Stay tuned for much more about this workshop. I’ll share what we discussed are challenges in hiring and retaining women in our business and what we came up with for solutions.

 

 

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