We should fea­ture more women in public sphere

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - SHARI GRAY­DON

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.

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