Lead the Way: Don’t Wait and SeeJuly 9, 2012
We’ve all seen it plastered on everything from coffee mugs, to bumper stickers, to the walls of our kids’ classrooms: “Be the change you want to see in the world!” The actual quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, is a bit more nuanced…
“We but mirror the world. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… we need not wait to see what others do.”
Our commitment to being “men advocating for real change” requires us to not only change our own nature—a challenge in itself—but to stimulate change in others. Perhaps the most difficult attitude to adjust is the notion that men risk losing something when we advocate for women in ways that help level the corporate playing field. In truth, the only thing lost is privilege. Let’s be real—most of us benefit simply by being men in a corporate world run mostly by men—by being members of a majority that holds most of the power. This is not a bold new idea. People who hold power tend to be more comfortable with people like themselves than they are with people who are not.
Among the privileges enjoyed by men are easier access to leaders who can help them (most of whom are men), the ability to communicate comfortably with one another and the greater likelihood of being viewed by those in power as being promotable. In particular, men are advantaged when it comes to the ease with which we are able to access productive mentoring and sponsorship relationships. A U.S. State Department report published in March found that women are much less likely than men to have mentors and sponsors, or access to anyone in power who would vouch for their competency—differences that “gave men an edge over their female peers.”
This is despite compelling evidence that having more female leaders at the top of organizations results in more profitable and successful operations. It’s not that companies fail to recognize this connection—it’s that they fail to act upon it: the report confirmed that while most executives acknowledge the positive business impact of gender diversity, this belief does not translate into action.
This presents opportunities for awake and aware companies. At Chubb, we’ve found that focusing on the idea of fair play, and on what the company stands to gain when we are all operating with equal “privileges,” is at the heart of shifting attitudes about the rectitude and benefits of advocating for women. So I urge you to go forth and be the change you want to see in the world. Don’t “wait to see what others do,” but instead lead the way.
This starts with a conscious evaluation of our own behavior. I recognize that I’m a work-in-progress, so I self-assess on a regular basis. Do I ensure that the women who report to me are given opportunities to work on high profile projects? Do I make hiring and promotion decisions strictly based on competencies? Am I an effective mentor? Do I seek to include women in discussions and elicit their ideas and opinions? Do I seek out and sponsor talented women? Do I expect and reward these behaviors in those I lead?
“Privilege” is a high voltage word, so I just want to be clear. I’m not saying that we don’t earn what we achieve; only that we “mirror the world,” the complex soup of cultural expectations, corporate behavior and human nature that has produced—and institutionalized—the uneven playing field on which we find ourselves. This makes it easy for principled, well-meaning people to unconsciously sail along, buoyed by a system that advantages them and disadvantages others. In contrast, change is rarely smooth sailing. But we all succeed when men no longer fear what they might lose, and instead are inspired by the thought of what we have to gain.
What have you done today to make that happen?
Dino E. Robusto is the head of CNA Financial. He was formerly President, Commercial and Specialty Insurance at Chubb.