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Dreamforce 2018 - where are all the men?

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett September 25, 2018
More understanding needed of how gender equality benefits all, not just women

Women leaders at Dreamforce
As is now the norm, equality and inclusion are high on the agenda at Dreamforce, with a raft of sessions, panels and keynotes across the week focused on building and supporting diverse teams and customer bases.

While nobody could argue with the firm’s commitment to the cause, spearheaded by CEO Marc Benioff, it seems even Salesforce hasn’t cracked one of the biggest conundrums around the diversity topic-  getting men to take their place in the gender equality fight.

The need to get more buy-in from men was brought starkly to mind at a panel discussion featuring four women working in the non-profit sector sharing their advice on how technology is supporting their missions and how they’re empowering women around the world.

As Dale Meikle, Global Human Capital Leader, Culture, Values & Diversity at PWC,  put it:

If you look around the room, you’ll see why we need to do that.

She added:

We’re trying to solve this with only 50 percent of the population. We need men to understand why gender equality is important. Gender equality is great for men. If you look around the world, gender equal countries are the happiest populations and men actually live longer, by three to four years, so there are so many implications.

When I talk to younger people and generations, they say this isn’t a problem anymore, I graduated with 60 percent women, they’re great, they’re amazing and men say that too. What they don’t know is that four percent of CEOs are female today. We know that as those young women progress in their careers, they begin to see bias, they begin to think less that they’ll actually make it to leadership as they don’t see enough role models.

PwC is hoping to tackle this on a huge scale, and is partnering with the United Nations on the HeForShe initiative, aimed at getting men involved in gender equality. According to Meikle, the MeToo movement has had some unintended consequences, which are actually holding back women. She explained:

Sixty percent of leaders are now uncomfortable being alone with females. This is a huge problem because mentorship and sponsorship matter. We need to talk about it, and we need to talk about that context matters. Maybe you have the meeting at Starbucks in the morning rather than over a candle-lit dinner. It’s not rocket science.

PwC has also been striving internally to shift its own gender balance, which means that currently 60 percent of its graduates are women. This effort makes perfect business sense, according to Meikle: after all, the return on equity is 64% greater when organizations have diverse leaders, while women make 80% of consumer decisions in the US.

Diversity in action

Another organization on the panel, FIN Digital, is perfectly positioned to take advantage of female purchasing power. The digital development firm has a female founder and CEO, Rakia Finley, and its staff are 60% women and 100% diverse. Finley said:

When we have leadership positions, we understand naturally what it means to be equal. I always challenge women on getting to the point where you’re not just a transaction, you’re not just a checkbox. We have become currency when it comes to the demographics of some organizations. It’s this weird place of getting in the door, and then when you’re there making it clear I will not be your checkbox. I’m going to show you the difference of what it means to have me in this room, and when you have an equal staff, how beautiful it can be.

Finley pointed to the gaps in certain technology areas that mean women are not getting properly served by the available products.

What we’ve uncovered at our firm is, even if you just look at mobile apps, the health apps don’t allow women to easily record their menstrual cycle. We have to buy a special app for that. If there were more women in the room, we might just have products in technology that speak for us.

Dawn Laguens, EVP, Planned Parenthood, Federation of America, was on hand to share just how vital it is to have technology being used to specifically empower women.

Laguens highlighted the many “care deserts” in the US, which means many women aren’t able to access proper healthcare. Planned Parenthood is now deploying a tele-medicine platform so people can access birth control and have consultations online. The technology will be available in 20 states by the end of the year, and all states by the end of 2019. She said:

We’ve just delivered our first birth control via float plane to a rural area in Alaska. I can see this happening a lot more.

The organization has also launched a new AI chatbot, which uses native language processing so a caller at 2am can get the information they need, right when they need it.

Planned Parenthood has even used technology to get a slot at the Sundance. The film festival saw the debut of Across the Line, using virtual reality to show what women have to go through when they try to get birth control care and face protesters. According to Laguens, the people most impacted by the film are the male viewers, who get to properly understand what it’s like to be a woman in that situation.

However, there are broader societal changes that need to take place alongside technology projects to enact long-term change. Meikle pointed to gender stereotypes that are pushed onto children from such a young age:

The more TV a girl watches, the fewer choices she thinks she has in life. The more TV a boy watches, the more sexist he becomes.

And then there are systemic things like parental leave, where the burden still mainly falls on women. Meikle added:

Until we change that, I don’t believe anything fundamental will change.

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