We should feature more women in public sphere
Here’s a no-cost resolution for companies seeking to attract more talented women to help diversify their workforce: In 2018, they might feature a few of the ones they already employ in more public roles.
In our contradictory world, girls are told they can grow up to be whatever they want, but many of the most visible female role models are still pushing outdated definitions of what success looks like.
Excessively groomed and superficially preoccupied reality TV stars in search of a husband or a new “branding” opportunity bely the messages that governments, educators and desperate-to-diversify industries are pushing about girls’ potential to aspire to more challenging and meaningful roles.
A review of male to female sources quoted or interviewed in seven of Canada’s most influential news media outlets in 2015 found that male voices outranked women’s by more than two to one. Some of that imbalance is predictable, linked to the gap between male and female CEOs and government ministers.
Journalists on deadline who default to the usual suspects also play a role. And our research finds many women have taken to heart the message that public profile is a mixed blessing in a world of online trolling.
But many women have superior communication skills, and are already doing a stellar job of representing their employers with a variety of stakeholders. Giving them public spokesperson roles sends a powerful message about the kinds of opportunities their employers are willing to give talented female employees.
Jane Griffith, a partner at executive recruiter Odgers Berndtson, recently recounted meeting with clients who were hoping to attract qualified women to apply. She suggested to the all-male hiring committee that although she could bring desirable prospects to the table, they might want to make it clearer they genuinely valued diversity by displaying some during the process. Her clients looked at one another, stunned. They hadn’t even noticed their uniform maleness, let alone considered it an obstacle.
This kind of blind spot, replicated in hundreds of small, seemingly inconsequential decisions every day, undermines organizations’ ability to not only attract but, as importantly, retain talented employees whose diverse perspectives have the capacity to challenge groupthink, develop more marketable ideas and improve bottom lines.
As waves of sexual harassment allegations disrupt the status quo across sectors — from entertainment and high tech to policing and the restaurant industry — many women are leaving jobs to start their own businesses. Companies wishing to benefit from the entire talent pool would do well to send a clear message about their commitment to advancing those who are most beleaguered and less visible.
The unassailable business case for diversity has fed an increasingly vocal resistance to all-male panels at conferences and in the media. Informed Opinions, the non-profit I run, is building a database of expert women to make it impossible for journalists and conference planners to ever again declare, “but we couldn’t find a female expert.”
Our database features hundreds of scientists and legal experts, educators and environmental advocates. But it’s especially short on women in corporate Canada who are empowered by their employers to speak publicly.
This is a missed opportunity — not just for us, and for them, but for companies looking to attract great talent.
Shari Graydon is the founder of Informed Opinions, dedicated to amplifying women’s voices in Canada.