This International Women's Day, #IWannaDiscuss a Few Things
*This piece was originally published on Campaign US.
In honor of International Women’s Day (IWD), Ogilvy is turning the acronym IWD on its head and has established #IWannaDiscuss; a campaign focused on inviting employees and partners to participate in a day of conversation across our network, to discuss key issues, such as inclusion, vulnerability vs. fearlessness, partnership, etc.
For me, personally, there are a few things I want to discuss – one being the dynamic of how men and women today are working together.
In the past year we’ve talked about gender pay gaps, hiring women to leadership roles, and men joining the conversation – this year, let’s talk about how we talk about these issues and how we work together to make real change happen.
We are finally seeing brands truly come to the table by “unstereotyping” their ads and taking a stand to change the narrative we see throughout the media. Taking a look at this year’s major advertising, especially around the Super Bowl and the Oscars, we are seeing more companies trying to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes in their advertising – from Gillette to Nike – and this is commendable.
Although there’s the all-important industry responsibility, our mission is not about saying “thank you” and going home. We each have an individual responsibility to do more than that, and this includes women and men.
While movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have unequivocally empowered women, they have also caused some men to shy away from conversations and taking action regarding gender issues.
Afraid of a misstep or miscommunication, we live in a moment where men are unsure of how to act around women in the workplace. Recent research has shown that men have stopped mentoring female staff because they feel too uncomfortable. A study by the Centre for Talent Innovation reports that about 64 per cent of senior men avoid solo interactions with junior women because they fear rumors about their motives.
While many males see these movements as opportunities to listen and better understand how they can help, some have decided it is safer to limit contact with their female colleagues, thinking that the only way to address workplace sexual harassment is to avoid one-on-one time with female colleagues – including meetings, coffee chats and other interactions that actually help us work together more effectively.
I would like to discuss that this is not what women intended to happen as a result of these movements. These fears not only inhibit women from succeeding in the workplace, but men as well.
I would like to discuss how we can make sure men feel comfortable joining the conversation, not intimidated. We need men to feel inspired to be around women, not guarded.
Whether it is because they are afraid of how their relationships with women in the workplace will be misinterpreted by others, or by the women themselves, we need to remind and reassure men that we want their mentorship and sponsorship.
We know the root of this discomfort – now, I want to discuss what can be done to fix it.
Today, it is not just about corporate actions and initiatives, but it is about individual men and women, working at these companies.
Men: I encourage you to grow professional relationships with the female colleagues in your workplace. We want to support you, collaborate with you and learn from you.
Women: take the first step in growing your professional relationships with your male colleagues. Show them that we are stronger with their partnership.
And businesses: continue eradicating gender stereotypes, holding each person accountable, and rewiring the unconscious biases media has instilled in our minds.
On the road towards gender equality, we have reached the leg of the trip where partnerships and alliances are crucial in accomplishing all of our other goals. So, men, women – let’s partner together. Equality depends on it.