Betty-Ann's Both Sides Blog

A Few Good Men Create Tipping Point for Women

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There appears to be a tipping point happening for women as a few good men are stepping forward and publicly acknowledging the value of women. From investment guru Warren Buffet, to spiritual leader the Dali Lama, women are getting a boost. The question is: Can we depend on our Prime Minister Stephen Harper to join the movement when he fills the current vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada?

Composed of nine judges, there are currently only three women on our country’s highest court. Recently retired Justice Marie Deschamps expressed great disappointment when Harper named a man to succeed her last fall. But he has a chance to restore the balance, she says. Justice Morris Fish announced this spring that he too, would retire from the bench and Deschamps told the Globe and Mail that “numbers do count”. She went on to say that Canada is currently a model for the world and if we don’t appoint a woman we risk losing not only the value diversity brings to the decision-making process but also our global reputation on gender equality.

However, only one of Harper’s five appointees has been a woman so we will soon see if he has the spirit, vision and commitment to join the ranks of “a few good men” who are creating the tipping point for gender equity by promoting women.

While women, on a “girls night out” often joke that men aren’t really necessary, there is no doubt that we are where they are today thanks to “a few good men” both at the office and at home. Every successful woman I know will readily acknowledge that she was encouraged and promoted by a male mentor or sponsor. Fortunately, some of these men are stepping forward and using their credibility to sell the importance of women’s advancement. The case for gender balance in our institutions is best accepted by male majorities when the leadership comes from men- especially those with power or status.

Let’s consider the progressive view of the Dalai Lama, who recently stated publicly that he would be pleased if a woman were to succeed him. While it is inconsistent with Tibetan tradition his holiness says there aren’t any hard and fast requirements regarding who can be the Dalai Lama and when asked about the potential of a woman successor said, “Why not? What’s the big deal?” When I quoted him on facebook a friend said, “It is only one of a billion reasons to admire the man” and I could not agree more.

Investment guru Warren Buffet recently penned an op-ed piece in Fortune Magazine where he laid out the business case for promoting women adamantly  telling men it is in their own best interest and encouraging them to get on board. He said that once United States fully employs the talents of all its citizens the greater its output of goods and services will be. The progress that they have made by now has been with only 50% of capacity. “No manager operates his or her plants at reduced efficiency when steps could be taken that would increase output.” he said. “If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future”, he concluded. And of course, his conclusions hold true for Canada as well.

Now, Cisco CEO John Chambers has joined the club. After noting that only a quarter of the employees and top executives in his company are women he sent an email to his managers ordering each of them to come up with new initiatives to develop and advance women. In the directive he also acknowledged that his own leadership in the area wasn’t up to par. “While I have always considered myself sensitive to and effective on gender issues in the workplace, I feel a renewed sense of urgency to make the progress we haven’t made in the last decade,” wrote Chambers.

Men have the inside advantage. They are the opinion makers, they have their own lingo and they pay more attention to the thoughts and views of other men. Women will never force change by storming the castle walls – this revolution will get its start from inside the corporate fortress. We women don’t need ladders to climb the wall – we need a few good men to let down the drawbridge and thankfully that is happening.

In my corporate career I was lucky enough to work with a man who ‘let down the drawbridge’, then handed me the keys to the front door and invited me to show him what I could do.

He not only had status, but also had respect around the organization and when he talked others sat up and listened. “I always like having women my team,” he said with confidence one day. “They work hard, bring a different prospective and improve discussion. You guys who don’t include them are missing out.”

The men nodded in agreement and I watched with pride as they embraced this new prospective and began to include women as valued members of their teams.

As described in the bestselling book, a tipping point is a social epidemic. It is a change of ideas that spreads just like a virus amongst a kindergarten class and that is what I see happening for women in the world today. It is being precipitated by a ‘few good men” who have the imagination to envision a better, more equitable world and they are leading a charge against ingrained attitudes.

The big question is whether our Canadian Prime Minister qualifies to join the illustrious men in this club and I can only hope that he steps forward and earns his membership by ensuring that every institution in our country reflects sexual equality, starting with the composition of the top court.

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