Don’t Just Sit There… Advocate!April 1, 2014
Each of us has defining moments that shape who we are as leaders. One of my moments occurred in a dimly lit conference hall in Galveston, Texas. The year must have been about 1988 and the room was filled with a diverse collection of about 500 people. The speaker stepped into the middle of the room and asked the group to write down on a piece of paper, “What must you do to succeed in a white, male dominated society?” While I sat there as a white male, dumbfounded by the question, the women and minorities all around me were writing something frantically on the page. As I heard them flip their paper to fill up the second and third page, I stared down at my blank sheet, and I realized an old adage that “a fish discovers water last.” It is not until we are pulled out of our environment and looking back do we realize the state we were in and how little we understood the culture we lived in. I like to think I have come a long way in the last 26 years and could fill up several pages answering that question now, but in the last two years as I increased the number of women research directors (from 0 to 50%) and women research managers (from 10 to 44%) in Corporate Research & Engineering at Kimberly-Clark, I truly realized the challenges we still have today in bringing greater gender and ethnic diversity into our working teams of scientists and engineers.
I find myself asking the same question posed by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “why so few?” In order to answer this question and challenge the status quo of diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), it is essential for male leaders to advocate for women, ethnic minorities, and other dimensions of diversity in the workplace. Because it simply is a business and leadership imperative that we recruit, develop, and advance from our entire population -not only one small fraction. In doing so, we will be able to tap into more ideas, experiences, and perspectives that are essential to understanding our employees and our consumers better than we ever imagined.
I found one of the first steps is somewhat obvious but not often done: listen to the women in your organization. Listen to their stories and help give them a voice on innovation, problem-solving, and issues that matter most. Learn from their experiences. Make sure women not only have a seat but also a say at the table. Think about this: women control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending globally and make 83 percent of consumer purchasing decisions – women are the “Chief Procurement Officers” for families all over the world. How are you leveraging the women in your organization to help you understand your products, business, and consumers better?
Within my Corporate Research & Engineering (CR&E) team, we created a group of women leaders and scientists called “Women in CR&E.” They provide feedback that helps make Kimberly-Clark a great place for women to work by attracting, retaining, developing, and advancing the best talent possible. This brings forward invaluable perspectives on the women who use our current –- and future – products. And most of all, they hold me and my leadership team accountable for improving diversity, inclusion, and advocacy for women.
Over the years, I have found one of the best ways to create profound change in an organization is to set a compelling vision, empower people within a framework, and measure and communicate progress against that vision. Establishing metrics on women at leadership levels, setting standards for hiring slates, and measuring the level of diversity within teams are all important measures of success. When we make diversity something tangible and part of performance management and variable pay, meaningful changes begins to occur.
One of the ways to advocate for women is by speaking out on the challenges facing women in our organizations with other men. I think it is vital to help other men understand these important issues and their role in driving meaningful changes. We must move from “unconscious incompetence” to “conscious competence” on issues relating to micro-inequities and other discriminatory behavior in the workplace.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, your actions need to match your words. As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” I’m proudly involved in Kimberly-Clark’s Women’s Interactive Network, and the Society of Women Engineers, and encourage all fellow male leaders to do the same. I actively participate in university relations to recruit women scientists & engineers. I also work hard to model life-work balance by setting aside time to attend family and personal events and encouraging employees to use flexible work arrangements. No words speak as loudly as action, so think about what you can do to role model behaviors that are authentic and support the women in your organization – then begin to turn those words into action – you will be amazed with the results!
These are some of the ways that you can be a male advocate for women, or at least these are the actions I endeavor to take on behalf of women, not simply because it is the right thing to do, but I firmly believe it builds competitive advantage when we can access the entire work force, get diverse perspectives, and to continually put the consumer at the center of everything we do as a company.
But the most important reason and the most personal one for me is for my daughter. As a father with a daughter, I want her to live to her full potential, not only as a woman, but as a human being, just as I do my son. Hopefully, if we make progress and join together, the question of “why so few” will no longer need to be asked.
Peter Dulcamara is the Technical Vice-President & Chief Scientist at Kimberly-Clark.