There is no one who has championed women's rights more than Gloria Steinem. Dubbed the Mother of Feminism, she's a social activist, writer, editor and lecturer. Last week I was lucky enough to attend a Business Chicks event, where we heard Gloria speak about her new book ‘Life on the Road’. There were few topics that she didn’t touch on and given my personal passion for equality in the workforce I thought apt to share some of the key lessons I gained from this formidable woman.
On modern feminism
Steinem is not as I had imagined her when I think of a feminist stereotype (and that is an unconscious bias of my own!) When she was introduced as the mother of modern feminism, Steinem laughed and replied, “I just feel like one of the girls”.
She believes that there is definitely a new wave of feminism, with many people (not just women) who are activists for equality. This absolutely mirrors my experience in the corporate world. I have built some wonderful relationships with very strong female and male leaders who are working hard to promote the issue of gender inequality in the workforce, and now for the first time I believe we are in the majority group. I feel strongly that the awareness is now there however the solution or solutions still remain the challenge.
On talent and the gap
To the question, “are people in power feminists?” Steinem replied if that were the case in the USA, Walmart would not have such a high executive pay discrepancy and still be one of the richest companies in America. Her sense of humour on the topic was refreshing and although she said she supported Hilary Clinton, she was clear to say it wasn’t because she was a woman – “I didn’t support Sarah Palin!”
Her point was its all about having access to the best possible talent to choose from; gender, race and religion should not be an inhibitor to suitability or success. In relation to the workplace I find this is still a challenge. Although awareness exists for the need to diversify, a willingness to think outside the box and put forth solutions, for the most part, are not. To get a talent pool large enough to create the level of diversity we are all talking about will require either years to up-skill what has been a minority group or an openness to see potential and hire based on this rather than a track record of delivery in the exact same role. Steinem spoke about all people being linked rather than ranked, which really resonated with me and how our team works at Six Degrees.
On domestic violence
Steinem spoke about the domestic violence issue and mentioned the tremendous work Rosie Bettie has been doing in Australia to bring it to the forefront as an issue that needs immediate attention. She said we don’t get to hear from woman who have survived domestic violence enough, they often don’t have a voice. And when asked how we can change she responded…
“In the past we have focused on raising our daughters like our sons… but we really need to focus on raising our sons like our daughters.”
As a parent of a ten month old daughter and an almost two year old son, that message was very powerful to me and something I hadn’t really thought off even though I would very much consider myself a feminist.
It made me realise that even though I am proudly a feminist it doesn’t mean that I don’t also need to constantly look within to make sure I am doing my part, to not only ensure we remain a majority, but to make a positive impact moving into the future.
Kristan De Sousa