In our webinar – Giving a Voice to all Women in the International Economic Environment, an initiative by Elite Business Women – we spoke to Alisa Harewood, Director, We-r-One Diversity Management Consultancy, Caroline Codsi, Founder & Chief Equality Officer, Women in Governance, Thana’a Al Khasawneh, Business and Professional Women Association Executive Director and Gender diversity and women inclusion expert, and our own Bianca Tudor, Founder & CEO, Elite Business Women and a WBAF Senator. The panel was moderated by Andreea Groenendijk-Deveau, entrepreneur and award-winning communicator, and our partner in this initiative.

What is your perspective on where we are in terms of gender equality, diversity and inclusion in business and around the world? How can we do better and what are the actionable points for us to take home and start changing in our own ecosystems in order to get a greater impact?

Caroline Codsi: The numbers are alarming. We’ve been hearing about them for a while and sometimes you kind of wonder whether the governments or whether organizations are really hearing this? Because at the same time that we’re saying that it’s extremely important for your financial performance to have diversity, it seems that still a lot of organizations don’t get that. We have about a third of our publicly traded companies in Canada that don’t even have one woman around the  boardroom table. When we’re trying to think: Are we getting close to parity? Is it 20, 30, 40 %? And then you realize you’ve got 0% women and 100% men. It’s really appalling. 

All the work that we’ve been doing to close that gap means nothing if the people at the top don’t understand that message and don’t actually apply it. The female leaders will allow within the organization a pipeline of female talent that strives toward the top.

They usually say “if she can see it she can be it”. And this is even more true when you think of diversity as a whole. Women of colour for instance… How many women of colour are CEO of the 500 companies? And there are so few and it is so difficult for the younger generation that comes into an organization and has  ambition to look at the top of the house and see that there are all men, pale, stale, they all look alike, they all dress alike, they all went to the same school, they probably go off together every Saturday morning and so on.

They ask themselves ‘What is my role, as a younger woman? How do I see myself? How do I envision the future?’ If any organization wants to strive and be competitive and innovative, they really need to invest in diversity as a whole and in women, because we’re not a minority, we’re 51% of the population and ensure that everything that they do in terms of attracting, retaining, compensating, mentoring, promoting women is optimal. 

What are the actionable points for us as women to start changing in our own ecosystems in order to see the greater impact? What would be the top 3 things you would recommend for women to do in order to start seeing impact?

Caroline Codsi: First of all, I’d say it is extremely important to be involved in the community. You should think of playing a role within an association, playing a role within a charitable organization. I think for networking, this is extremely helpful because if people don’t know who you are, people are not going to be your ambassadors. You need people to talk about you, you need to have sponsors out there, you need to have people recommending you for the board, for a position, or even just for a job. We don’t need all to be a CEO or a Chair of a board or to sit on a board, but you just need to help others and they will help you back 10-fold. 

Secondly, I think it is extremely important that women learn to negotiate. Too often we’re just happy that we’ve got the job or we’ve got the promotion and we will just do our work, and not demand the salary that goes with it. Men will negotiate so much more, and, actually, even in terms of asking for the promotion, women will tend to wait for others to notice that they’re working hard, instead of you know, knocking on the door at the president, vice president and say: ”I know there’s a new job that’s opening and I’m the right fit for this job.” Men will do it. And we will just be waiting on the side and hoping that someone will notice us. It doesn’t work that way. 

Too often we’re just happy that we’ve got the job or we’ve got the promotion and we will just do our work, and not demand the salary that goes with it.

Thirdly and this is particularly important for the younger women who might be listening is choose a partner, a life partner who is going to support your desire to move forward, who will share the workload at home with the kids and with the house because even in 2020 we’re still doing two to three times more workload and during the pandemic, it is pretty alarming in numbers because we, as women, have our jobs, often a lot of women are in the frontlines during the pandemic, but when you’re working from home and you have to take care of everything else too. You don’t have a cleaning lady, you don’t have a babysitter and you have to do it all. And it’s way more taxing than we think and it becomes an issue with your mental health. So, make sure you’re joining forces with someone who will support your ambition and who will share the workload with you.

Bianca Tudor: I remember that when I was an employee in a multinational company, I got hired at 19 years old, I was at the beginning of my university degree and every six months I was in the HR department to say that I want more, I want to learn and I want to do something else. They always told me: ”You should wait, you should gain the experience” and I felt that this is not good, I have to do something else so, for me, it was not a problem to go and negotiate and ask for what I wanted, but I’ve seen a lot of women if I was to look back at the office, women were getting out from their offices around 10 pm instead of leaving at 5 pm and men always were like: ok, it’s 5 pm., let’s go home. So, I’ve seen how dedicated women and in terms of negotiating salaries or a new position, they were really quiet. Also, in terms of the pay gap, in Europe women gain 16 % less than men.

We have a rate of 6% women CEOs, one in three women are managers in Europe. In Romania, it’s a little bit better and in terms of entrepreneurship, in Romania, we have 40% women entrepreneurs. In Europe, we have just 29% the rate of entrepreneurship but it’s not only about promoting women in leadership positions, but it’s also about encouraging more women to approach leadership. As a leader, you need to be inclusive and nurture the team, involve the community when you make decisions. 

I think it’s still a matter of educating girls. It starts at a young age. If we look in families we will see that as girls, we are advised to stay still, not to talk if we are in a gathering, instead of that, boys they always are allowed to talk, to ask for what they want, to be noisy.

These are small things but they impact our behaviour later on, so, it’s still a matter of social stereotypes and, of course, it is a matter of creating ecosystems. I think that when we create ecosystems, we empower people as we have the knowhow exchange, we have role models, we have good practices, we share good practices and creating ecosystems will empower people to do things. Women are then ready to go out in society and to try. Instead of creating more schools, we should create more ecosystems, with role models, show more role models of people who are trying, not because they are CEOs, but because they have a track in their communities. They are volunteers in NGOs ‒ I love this type of work and I would be happier to see more of this type of initiatives, to empower people who are not in top positions.

Thana’a Al Khasawneh: In regard to Jordan, the region where I come from, the gender gap, unfortunately, is high – we’re at the position of 139 from 142 countries. This is our position as Jordan for the gender gap. We do have over 52% of females in education, who are pursuing their education. Yet, if we reflect on the workforce and the economic involvement of females, we will find the percentage does not even reach the women participation and economically it does not even exceed 50%. 

We have done a study about this and one of our findings was really interesting, well, the number one was the unconscious bias. The gender bias is actually being practised by females themselves in the way they parent their children. When women arrive into the workforce, they are more dedicated but the promotions are given to the males because they expect them. There was another study that mentions that, when we want to apply for a job as women unless we meet 100% of the qualifications and requirements of that job, we will not apply. Yet, males, if they apply and they meet 30% of the requirements they are willing, with delight and actually with pride to take that job and move forward. And that’s all about confidence. 

So, this brings me to the major point: we, as women, have to really believe in ourselves. We have to really understand and embrace our capabilities, our skills, be confident about promoting them and talking about them and trying to motivate other females, young females.

I’m a big fan of mentorship because it is a crucial thing that can really support women. We really need to shine for who we are, regardless of what you are doing, you are a hero, a hero of your own life.

You don’t need to be a CEO and this is where the entrepreneurial thinking comes in, whatever you are, you are making an impact, you are so impactful towards all the people around you, whether you’re a sister, you’re a daughter, you’re a mother, you’re a colleague, you’re a wife, whatever your role or hat that you are wearing, you’re so impactful and whatever you would say today as a hero, you will be able to impact the lives of so many people. Shine for who you are.

Alisa Harewood: In the UK, we try to make diversity an approach, specifically over the last 10 years, and around the area of women in leadership. I think the government put together last year the Gender Equality Roadmap for Change, outlining 8 key issues they wanted to tackle, things like the 30% club, they are really doing good things globally. But I think that what tends to happen is that there are some incredible initiatives that are launched, that kind of stay at a certain level and never really progress into action.

We are suffering from what we call the Noah’s Ark Syndrome where for decades companies, rightly or wrongly, have believed that, if you accrue a couple of females or a couple of people from an ethnic minority or underrepresented groups and so on, that you solved the diversity issue. Yet, we still have a lot of discussions and solutions that need to be addressed in regards to race relations and increasing representation of BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) females within senior leadership. And we need to look at how we can adapt not just the infrastructure but also the technologies to increase the recruitment and development of women with disabilities as well.

So, we talk a lot about wanting to make sure that the gender pay gap is decreased and we are getting there, but there are so many nuances in each area, in so many different areas when it comes to really helping organizations make actionable steps. It’s not just about women. We, as women, fit into such a melting pot of different areas. When it comes to women with disabilities it’s not just women, it’s women with a number of different areas, and we need to start to discuss more. We’ve made strides and I’m one to advocate for the positive things that we’ve done to move forward, but the dialogue can’t just stop at this one blanket word of women. It has to be – let’s just discuss all areas and all aspects of what that involves.

So, going back to what you were talking about, around actionable steps that organizations can take.

D&I can’t be a tick box activity and I see it all the time where companies might create a couple of committees or partners with the latest philanthropic movement; I know a lot of companies in the UK have signed up to the 30% Club and kind of left it there. They think “right, we can get some women on board, we can get some women in senior leadership and that’s what we’ve done, we’ve solved it” and it’s just not that simple!

For me, for companies to make long-term, sustainable change, they really need to create a proper strategy around diversity and inclusion, specifically around this area of women moving up through the ranks or just moving into roles they can succeed in, they may not always want to move to a leadership level, it may just be that they want to come to work and be able to have flexible work options so that they can have a better work-life balance. 

As I said, it could be a woman that wants to return to work but she has a disability and she’s not sure how she can navigate around that. So, I think there need to be strategies that are put in place clearly, strategies with identifiable objectives, identifiable milestones that they work towards, and be supported by a proper budget. All too often I go into organizations and they’re talking about, “Yes, we are going to do this, yes, we are going to do that”. And unfortunately, when you’re talking about “Ok, how much money do you need to support this?”, they say “Oh, we didn’t really think about that”. If leaders are not going to make D&I part of that overarching organizational strategy, and put financial support around it, it will fail. They will make small little tiny steps that we can all clap our hands about and be proud and pleased about, but nothing is fundamentally going to change. There needs to be an authentic commitment from the CEO of that organization, if it is not driven by the top person, not because they feel they need to do it, but because they know that it is the right thing to do then it will fail. 

So, that’s from the organizational perspective, and when we talk about us, as women what we do as women, how we mentor young women, is really important. I think it needs to start as early as primary school. We need to get into school and show young women what women in business, what women that are running organizations, women that are mothers, that are disabled, all different colors, shapes and sizes, what that looks like. So they can see and understand and gain some level of inspiration and aspiration by sitting in the classroom, drawing pictures, we need to have more mentoring programs inside of schools. And I think that I speak for us globally, that’s not an issue that’s UK-based or Europe-based it’s a real global issue. You don’t have to be vice president, CEO of an organization to be recognized as strong and powerful and have your voice heard as a woman. We have to go into schools, change perspectives. Organisations need to take it seriously, walk the walk, talk the talk, commit to it,   put money behind it, have an authentic voice with it.

Is it possible that we are making a wrong statement if we are saying that we want equality one-to-one, same work hours, same pay, same responsibilities in the organization for both men and women? Is it possible that in being equal to men we should apply a more complex equation that takes into consideration real scientific, psychological, and social differences between women and men?

Thana’a Al Khasawneh: I would start by saying that when we say equality, we think about justice, about being treated equally, having equal rights and being respected for who we are. We are underestimated as women or who we are and what we can perform, and what we can do. And, to be honest, this is not fair. It’s about fairness, about being fair with us as women and within the environment and giving us the right of choice. When we approach gender diversity and  inclusion like this you realise even men are sometimes being treated unequally because, when you tell a man you’re not supposed to cry you are taking away a right. It’s all about the power of a choice of an individual, so if a woman has the physical strength to be in the army and wants to do that then she should be able to. That’s my opinion.

Caroline Codsi: I also wanted to add that when we do put an emphasis on work-life balance and allow men and women to take care of their young children, it also sends a message that men are allowed to stay at home, maybe they don’t want to be the breadwinner and that’s ok. We talk so much about women becoming powerful and the head of the organizations and we don’t speak enough of the fact that we also need to allow men to take a back seat if they choose to. We put something on social media about this and there was a young man who told me that he was so thankful about my comments and that he is the subject of a lot of mockery because he’s a personal assistant to a woman and he feels fine about that. Everybody is insulting him, making fun of him and saying you’re not a real man but he couldn’t understand what his job had to do with being a real man. He said ‘I like the job, I’m fine with the administrative duties, I’m actually married, I have 3 children, I’m as much of a man as everybody else’ These things still exist in 2020.  Our society hasn’t accepted that models can be different, a woman can strive to be at the top and having a stay at home husband is ok.

Alisa Harewood: I agree it’s less about making the wrong statement about equality, it’s about fairness. I was the first female Vice President to lead a service and delivery function in that company’s 25 years history. It took 25 years for a woman, a woman of color, to be able to get in that type of position. It was a great moment for my career and for me personally. But then the conversations afterwards were about ‘your salary is going to be X’ which was significantly lower than my male counterparts, in exactly the same role. I think it comes down to ‘it’s good enough that I am here so I’m not even going to say anything, I’m just happy to be here’. It wasn’t good enough for me. My skills, the influence that I could bring to change, all of the things that make me unique as a woman, I need to be paid equally and fairly, the same as men who are doing exactly the same role. I guess it was about realising that I was brave enough and driven enough and just humble enough to really recognize the voice that I have, as an Afri-Caribbean woman, as a Christian that my voice was relevant enough to promote me to this position so it’s relevant enough for me to demand I be paid exactly the same amount, because that’s what’s fair. If that is not what they wanted to do then I had made my mind up that I would walk away because I’m not going to be the advocate for change in an organization and secretly, underneath the surface you’re actually paying me less – and it was 25% less than my male counterparts. There are fundamental differences between men and women. There are fundamental differences between human beings, regardless of their gender, and that’s what makes us just an incredible human race.

Bianca Tudor: Wow! There are a lot of things to say. First of all, sometimes, when a woman has to negotiate the salary it’s not about the fact that the company wants to pay her less, it’s about her negotiation skills. And this is the business, we all negotiate, it’s something that business allows us to do.  Maybe we should pay more attention to negotiation skills and train women how to negotiate, how to pitch themselves during an interview, so, about how we can have something beautiful in this initiative. On the other hand, I remember a conversation with a man who said ”You know you are far better than men, I mean you can juggle with all these roles you have in your life: you can run a business, you can rise a family, you can give birth, you can take care of your grandparents, you can go to domestic chores all day and still, you can go out, you are on your heels, you can look beautiful and how can you do that? Men cannot do so many things at the same time and it’s not good to say that you want to be equal with men!” And on the other hand, another man told me “Why are men not involved in Elite Business Women?” They are. They are mentors in our teams, they are speakers, they get to participate  as entrepreneurs in our events, so they are welcomed and I love their leadership. But sometimes women can come across as bossy and men sometimes fear women. We should also see how we can include men more in order to understand the benefits of gender equality. There are a lot of perspectives regarding men and women equality. At the end of the day I think men also have their role in that, also in educating the boys in the families regarding equality and treating women with respect and being responsible for how maybe later on they’ll negotiate the salaries for the women in the companies.

Alisa Harewood: I think it’s so important when you talk about the negotiating skills of a woman because I had to work up to this particular place, it didn’t always come very naturally because I was so fearful that if I opened my mouth I would be called emotional or aggressive or any other negative term. I was confused because when a man does it he’s assertive, he’s dominant; when a female does it, she’s emotional. It just bewildered me but I also think we can learn a lot from men. I predominantly have male mentors and one of the things that I take real pride in is that I’ve been able to give them a sense of a woman’s world and understand the issues that we face so that we’re educating them. We talked a lot from a BAME perspective, it’s really great for me as a black woman to be able to educate people about why that particular term might offend me, why if you come to me with a micro-aggression I might feel a bit aggrieved about it, so that when they left that conversation with me, they have learnt something new and they can go and potentially not take that same approach with somebody else.

When it came to the negotiation of my salary, it was really clear for me. The question that I asked was “Ok, why are you not going to pay me the same salary that you are paying my male counterpart? What’s the reason for it?” And there is no reason. We have to be fearless in wanting to have uncomfortable conversations but not feel like we have to do it in an apologetic way. All I need to know is why. If you can give me, my philosophy in life is, if you can give me a rational explanation as to why you believe I should be paid less doing the same role as my make counterpart I’ll take it, I’m happy to take it but you’ll have to explain that to me. 

Should we take it upon ourselves to educate others about the things we’ve learned and the things they can do better in order to promote ED&I?

Caroline Codsi: I think that unconscious bias training can help a lot in things like this. For instance, we all know that there’s a lot of mansplaining and manterrupting that goes on during meetings and a lot of times what happens it’s just women that tend to remain quiet and they don’t dare to say, ‘Well, George, that was the idea that I shared 5 minutes ago and you’re now, amplifying and making it sound like it’s the idea that you’ve just got”  What’s even more appalling is to see that everybody around the table said” Oh, yeah, George, great idea!” And you think to yourself, ”Am I mute? Did they hear me? I’ve just said that!” If you do these role plays during these unconscious bias training, people usually go ”Oh! Yeah, it’s true, we do see this! ” And then, during real life or real meeting, you’re going to see a difference, people will be going to be like ”Did we all not commit to stopping this? ” It’s something that is easily implemented, needs to be reminded on a regular basis, because bad habits tend to come back. 

It’s also interesting that  women are biased against women too, and we tend to forget that. There was a study where they split the class in two and gave a case study to half of the class. They were both men and women in the classes and they said you study this entrepreneur and you study this one and let’s comment on their leadership skills. And that half of the class was working on Howard Roizen and the other half of the class was working on Heidi Roizen. The people working on the man’s leadership skills thought that he was so inspiring, a strong leader, a strong character that will move mountains. When they were analyzing the woman, they thought she was way too demanding and too bossy. In the end, it happened to be that it was exactly the same person, they only changed the names. And what’s pretty scary is that the boys and the girls said the same thing. They all wanted to work for Howard and nobody wanted to work for Heidi. 

Thana’a Al Khasawneh: We have a project called Launching Economy Achievement for Women and it works on three pillars. One is about gender sensitivity and educating children in schools. Jordan has had a big conversation on the country level about how our school books refer to “my mother is in the kitchen cooking and my father at work, working”. This is where the stereotypes start, this is where the unconscious bias starts. When we tell the kid don’t cry like a girl don’t run like a girl because you’re a man, and females also use these words. 

Watch the full webinar here:

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