Running out of time
Playing our part in closing the gender gap
Being the dad of a teenage daughter is as challenging as it is rewarding. One of my most precious moments is when our musical Venn diagrams intersect and we experience the well known sequence of “frowning, smiling, becoming a fan, and getting sick of listening to the same music day in and day out”. Whether it’s Twenty one Pilots or the Hamilton soundtrack, I absolutely love this cross-generational connection.
“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?
Write day and night like you’re running out of time?
Ev’ry day you fight, like you’re running out of time”
— Lin-Manuel Miranda
My once-a-child’s imminent coming of age made me focus, suddenly, on what’s next for her. This clock that keeps ticking made me wonder about this adult world she’s about to step into and, more specifically, what have I done to make it a better place. I have a feeling, as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton says, I too am running out of time and I need to do something about it.
I am an optimist. I absolutely believe in a better future, and I viscerally believe that is within my power to change whatever is not working around me. Yet there are issues in our world, gender gap being one of them, that puts my entire belief system to the test. The nature of this beast is incredibly and fundamentally multi-dimensional, making it a daunting adversary. I wonder whether will we ever fix a problem so vast, it can not only be measured in dollars earned, leadership positions, and seats in government but also in civil liberties, civic rights and, even more sadly, lives.
“I may not live to see our glory! But I will gladly join the fight!”
— Lin-Manuel Miranda
It is hard to admit that this is a multi-generational relay. Discouraging, if I may, to think that all we can do is to pass the baton. But it’s this uncomfortable, frustrating, distasteful certainty of knowing that those who you are trying to help today will likely not be the beneficiaries of your efforts what makes you fight, instead of giving up. Passing the baton is not simply what we can do, it’s precisely what we have to do.
About a year or so ago, my co-worker Lauren Jackman put together a workshop on unconscious bias that would change the way I thought about the gender gap for ever. Lauren presented us with one piece of research after another showing how we all have implicit preferences, how this is a problem for both men and women and, even scarier, how deeply within our primitive brain this is ingrained. It is this last fact what makes things much more confusing. Fighting against others is easy, but when we are part of the problem as much as we want to be part of the solution, things quickly become complicated.
My thinking on gender inequality was as primitive as the part of my brain that immediately associates strength with men and being bossy with women. From home to work, I genuinely believed that the absence of sexual harassment, derogatory language, or the ridiculous ‘belief’ that women are less qualified than men, was enough to declare victory and move on. The problem is that since we are kids, we are constantly bombarded with messages that shape the way we perceive gender, what is expected of us, what’s not expected of them. Men and women alike are biased, and uprooting this social cancer is an all-hands-on-deck effort.
“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change”
— Michael Jackson
The key to this problem though, is courage. The courage to admit that we are the problem. That I am the problem. The courage to come clean and admit that I am not the 50/50 partner to my spouse I should be. That I am not pushing myself enough to recruit, retain and develop more women within my teams at work. That I have not taken a hard look at the type of role model I am to my daughter, to my son.
It’s only after I’ve come clean and deconstructed my own part in this puzzle, I can try and change something about it.
The only way to defeat our unconscious biases is to make them conscious again. Catching ourselves drawing conclusions too quickly, choosing “he” instead of “she” (and vice-versa), “beautiful” before “smart”, or BBQ-ing over doing the dishes. I tended to think that we shouldn’t force the issue this way. That it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. That when I’m speaking about a CEO “persona”, I shouldn’t feel so aware of whether my mouth would chose a male or female name. But I’ve come full circle on this. I think we should feel uncomfortable, we should be thinking about it, and we should feel extremely self aware. It is the only way, I believe, we can bring those biases back from where they’ve settled and shake them up, challenge them, defeat them.
So for all of us that thought we were not part of the problem as well as all of us that wanted to be part of the solution, I have bad news and good news: we are all both. But my call to action is simple: as romantic as fighting against others sound, we should start by taking a hard look at ourselves, and start the change there.
As you can see, I am not ready to pass the baton quite just yet. What about you?
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on April 8, 2017.