Posted: March 8, 2019
No Excuses: Let’s Figure it Out
One of my Mylan team members recently shared a thought-provoking story with colleagues here. She was working with a group of sixth grade girls on a community project about gender equality. The girls were shocked to learn that in many countries, girls and women are discouraged from attending school, can’t make major decisions without a man’s permission and don’t have equal access to healthcare. The girls then compiled lists of the genders of their teachers, coaches, elected officials and others who held positions of influence. The results were shocking to them: Each of their lists, except for one, had more male names than female names. The girls said the imbalance made them wonder about their own futures.
That story is especially relevant today, on International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. I’ve often spoken about the importance of ensuring women’s voices are heard and my firm belief that changing the gender balance will require more than women pushing for a seat at the table. It requires the support and dedicated action of men, too. As I said last year and will continue to repeat until the need is no longer there, we need our fathers, brothers and sons to respect and empower women as equals if the world is to make any meaningful progress.
In the last several months, there have been some important and very visible strides made towards achieving better gender balance. For example, women are finally allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia. In the U.S., a record number of women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The first woman in 55 years won the Nobel Prize in physics. But while these milestones made international headlines and are certainly reasons to celebrate, they should also give us pause. We should be asking “What took so long?” and “How can we make things better for women for the long term?”
I know one thing for sure: We need to figure it out. There’s just simply no excuse not to. Think about it. If women aren’t equally represented - whether in the family room, classroom or boardroom – that translates into about half of the world’s population making choices for all of us. And that just doesn’t add up to good outcomes. In fact, that kind of imbalance and decision-making in a vacuum can often result in unfair practices and policies that hurt people and inhibit careers. We’ve seen that come to light more than ever, with women coming forward to share their experiences every day.
But now that the topic of gender balance is more front-and-center on everyone’s radar, what can we do to move from awareness to action? At the very least, we all need to be more conscious that our decisions to be inclusive or not truly do matter – and are noticed.
Whether a parent, employer, teacher or community leader, we can choose to take actions that create better gender balance. We can choose to embrace the varied perspectives of women and men and instead of seeing them as competing, work to understand the value each voice brings. The reality is that we’ll arrive at the best options only when both men and women are involved at the front-end of decision-making. And that won’t happen unless men use their influence to be a voice for change. If you already have a seat at the proverbial table, look around. Are women there? If not, work to ensure they are included in the discussion before decisions are made, even if it’s not easy.
We also need to consider how we’re teaching and influencing our youth, like the sixth graders I mentioned. It’s our collective responsibility to teach girls from a young age that they are valued. Too often, we unintentionally teach young girls to “stand down” instead of encouraging them to stand up. We do this subconsciously, asking them to “be nice.” But we’re also communicating loud and clear that if you’re a girl, speaking up isn’t welcomed. Instead of telling them to “be nice,” we should be teaching them how to advocate for what they believe in. At the same time, we need to teach boys that it’s OK for a girl to share her opinion, and just as important, they’d be smart to seek it. If we inspire those behaviors from the time they’re on the playground, they will ultimately translate to the workplace.
With a mindful approach to gender parity, we can all work toward a world where women are confident enough to chase every opportunity, valued equally and participate fully in society. If we commit to figuring it out together, my hope is that one day we won’t have to focus on balance because it will be something that simply and organically just exists.