No more standing by

No more standing by

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Speak up and be brave, every day.

Let’s talk about bravery. Not mountain climbing. Not parachuting out of a plane. Not bungee jumping, abseiling, marathon running or ironman training. All of which are admirable.

I’d like to talk about everyday bravery. The bravery to never just stand by and listen while someone in the office shrinks into themselves because the office humour or banter has taken an unpleasant turn.

The bravery always to speak up to make sure that the quiet people are included and heard. That the outliers feel like they belong as much as those who fit the mould. 

To speak up, to act, to defend, even if that makes you the unpopular one.

Speaking up, staging interventions and zero tolerance of excluding behaviour at every level, this is what changes work culture and if the current statistics on diversity balance at the leadership levels of our sector are evidence then culture needs to change, to be more inclusive, to be more diverse.

Speaking up does require everyday bravery… I know mountain climbing bungee jumping fanatics who find challenging an alpha team leader in the moment too difficult.

It must be done, for the sake of the profits if nothing else. New McKinsey analysis demonstrates that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity at exec level can deliver 67% better economic profit than those in the bottom quartile.

There’s been a lot of discussion of this in the last 18 months. Since I published my book (with co-author Kathryn Jacob): “The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work, and businesses that mean business”, in September 2016, we’ve seen the issue of gender parity reach everyone’s attention. Yet little actual change. Yet.

The question every business and every leader should ask themselves is are you doing enough?

One of the case studies in our book concerns a CMO based in the US whose career takes a downward turn when she finds herself with a new boss from a different country, where the prevailing culture is that women are expected to be much more deferential than in New York. It takes a while before she realises what is going on and takes steps to change the situation. One reader told me that he read the story full of anger towards the woman in question’s colleagues.

“Why didn’t they speak out?, he said, “they must have been aware of what was going on, but they said nothing. Were they afraid to rock the boat, thought it wasn’t their business or did they simply see this as a way of pushing their own careers forwards?”

Frankly, incidents like this are all our business. Or we should make it so.

In our interviews and research for our book, in the questions we’ve been asked at the 90+ talks we’ve given, Kathryn and I find the similar themes come up.

There was the woman who was asked, the last time she pushed for a pay rise, if her husband’s career was in trouble.

There’s the rep who was asked if it was her time of the month the last time she challenged her boss.

Colleagues said nothing.

I expect it was too hard to intervene in the moment.

We must intervene. Every time. We must not stand by. We must be brave. Every day. 


By Sue Unerman, Chief Transformation Officer, MediaCom 

Follow her @SueU.

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Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 05 Apr 2018
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