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The Gender-Bias Challenge

Celebrating International Women’s Day.

Have you noticed lately how many women have been promoted to the C-suite level of their respective organizations? If you have, the next question you answer may be more revealing. Have you noticed how many men have achieved this distinction? My point is, our brains are hard-wired to detect incongruities in the status quo. Men have dominated the executive power positions for so long that the emergence of successful women can still seem suspicious — maybe even threatening. Of course, if opportunities were scaled precisely to match the male-to-female ratio in the United States, there would be more women in these positions than men. That’s math, not affirmative action.

March 8, 2021 is International Women’s Day.  This year, we are being urged to address gender bias and inequality while celebrating women’s achievements. To be sure, any form of inequality is a social justice issue that must be called out. But, at the risk of repeating myself, let me state unequivocally that, from a business perspective, diversity is simply a smart, future-focused growth strategy. No company is so successful that it can afford to screen its pool of rising talent by defaulting to systemic bias. Diversity is a key business strategy in a diverse world where all of the best thinking, from all kinds of perspectives, needs to be represented.

Ten years ago, realizing we were not appropriately leveraging the brain trust of women in our organization, we established the Freeman Women’s Development (FWD) movement. It began as a way for women to connect, grow their skills, and advance into leadership positions. It provided mentorship from men and women, and in the intervening years grew to more than 1,200 members worldwide. Last summer, Forbes officially included Freeman on its annual list of America’s Best Employers for Women. And last month, we were named to Forbes’ list of America’s Best Large Employers. I believe everyone on this list would agree that it takes effort, intent, and declared corporate imperatives to get there. Especially for large employers, where it is much easier to overlook the marginalization of others. 

That’s why Freeman recently launched a series of diversity initiatives that fall under the umbrella name “IDEA” — inclusion, diversity, equity, and action. Action is key. If we each accept the challenge of making intolerance intolerable in our circle of influence, we can effect positive change for everyone.

And in the spirit of celebrating the achievements of amazing women, let me begin by acknowledging the person who, as a single mother and widow, managed to double down in the workforce while raising me to be a reasonably well-adjusted and productive member of society. In her unassuming way, she broke ground in Indiana more than fifty years ago. She’s still pretty impressive today. (Thanks, Mom.)