Male allies also key to achieving gender goals

Louise Corbett is the Founder of Exceptional Existence and Women Empowered based out of Hong Kong and works in the area of providing leadership strategies for companies, helping them to identify and communicate their message. 

What according to you are the successes of gender equality movement which gathered momentum towards the end of the last decade?
The last decade has certainly been very interesting! The Frontier Post recently found that according to the new Women Business and the Law (WBL) index, all regions of the world improved on average towards gender equality over the past decade, and six countries, Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden, now have a perfect score of 100, meaning that the law treats men and women equally along all the dimensions measured. It was also noted that no economy was gender equal under the law a decade ago. This is progress.

I think some of the successes of Gender Equality over the last decade include:

  1. Women stepping into traditionally Male Dominated leadership roles – we are seeing this more and more. The momentum is growing. An example would be how Women have gained more political power over the last decade. Hillary Clinton became the first woman to ever win a major party’s nomination for president and Jacinda Ardern, the second female leader of the Labour Party, stepped into the role of Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017.
  2. Women having more of a voice – Movements have spread across continents for women voicing their rights. Movements such as #metoo have provided women a platform to be heard.
  3. More focus on Paternity Leave and Shared Parental Leave – while there are some cultural hoops to jump through on this, the wheels are in motion as we see many organisations changing their policies on Parental leave. Now the challenge is working on the stigma for many men around taking it!
  4. The Male Ally Movement – This is growing. I am seeing more and more men step up to support Gender Equality and sign their name on their commitment. Interestingly, what I continue to see from the men that do put their hands up to be Male Allies, is that they all have a strong woman in their life such as a Mother or a Grandmother or…they have a daughter. As women, this demonstrates the role we have to play in inspiring male advocates for Gender Equality.

At the start of this decade, what would be your three priorities for gender equal workplaces?

  1. More inclusive conversations – It’s time for men and women to communicate and integrate more on the topic of ‘Gender Equality’. From the many events that I have now hosted or been a part of, I find again and again that men who are there to listen really were not aware of many of the challenges and struggles that women face or…what we want. And…for women, I think it is really important for them to hear from the men, understand their perspective and…share how they feel / what they need.
  2. Acknowledging our differences and therefore, our strengths  – If you put a man and a woman next to each other, no one can deny their differences but for some reason, we expect the two genders to act the same in the workplace. While working on one of my recent Women Empowered platforms, I was to truly discover the damaging short and long term effects on a woman who is to too masculine in the workplace. I think in this decade we really need to step back and acknowledge our differences and…how we can use them to come together in the workplace in an effective way.
  3. Keep the numbers coming! A C-suite executive once said to me…’I get that Gender Equality is important Louise but, I’m a busy man and you need to make it make sense to my P&L’. I totally appreciate and understand this and no one can deny ‘numbers’. I think this will help to give more weight to the gender equality debate. When you can prove that Gender Equality can improve business performance by a significant amount then if leadership DON’T listen, they are doing their company (and therefore themselves) a disservice.

How important is the role of men in this movement and what according to you should organisations do to involve them?
I believe that men are crucial to this movement. I believe in the past, men were too often positioned as the ones to ‘solve’ the issues of Gender Equality which I believe was the wrong approach. Why? Because when women ask men to solve their problems, women become victims and we don’t need that but we certainly need them to do this with us collectively and to make sure that men are aware of the situations and challenges women faces but also what they want from the workplace. So often, in my many women’s events I hear men say again and again ‘we didn’t know women were facing these challenges or felt this way’.

How important is the concept of “Sisterhood” in accelerating change?
Crucial (and I mean crucial). Sisterhood is dead in many communities and societies but … I truly believe that when it is tapped into, it can be an extremely powerful force! There is work still to be done in educating women on the power of this union. Unfortunately, many women still see other women as the competition, not an ally. In my women’s retreats, I see the power of sisterhood at its best! During the long weekends we always ensure there are daily women’s circles where we connect and communicate and as a result of that, I see again and again a bond and support network flourish that is hard to break. When this is set…it is a force to be reckoned with and…if we can bring this more into organisations, you will have a group of skilled employees that feel like they belong, feel understood, feel supported and want to stand up for and beside their fellow sisters. This is something I think many organisations miss the beat on. But the great news is, with the right facilitation, it is possible to fix!

Do you think we need a young champion like Greta Thunberg for this cause as well?
I think perhaps the focus should be on men and women who have had experience with the Corporate World (and a true passion for Gender Equality) and the organisations that are proactively supporting Gender Equality. I think giving them more of a voice to share their stories will be the catalyst for positive change.