Don’t be surprised if you start seeing a new hashtag peppering online posts and newsfeeds, joining the ranks of #MeToo and #Time’sUp. As proponents of gender parity will tell you, there’s a movement afoot that, in social media parlance, could be termed #What’sNext.
The question of “What can organizations and their leaders do to establish and promote higher standards of gender ethics and power equity in the workplace?” was central to the March 1 event, “The Ethics of Gender Equity in the Workplace,” co-hosted by the Daniels College of Business Institute for Enterprise Ethics, the Women’s Leadership Foundation and the University of Denver’s Colorado Women’s College. The half-day presentation and working session drew a packed crowd to the Tuscan Ballroom in DU’s Joy Burns Center. While the setting was elegant, the issues broached at the event–sexual harassment, social insensitivity, gender discrimination and power imbalance–are unpleasant but critical to address.
Institute for Enterprise Ethics Director Dan Sweeney welcomed attendees before introducing Colorado Women’s College Dean Ann Ayers, who recounted her own #MeToo experience early in her career. “On Oct. 5 , something shifted for women,” she said, referring to the publication of the New York Times article that first broke the sexual assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. “We’re still sitting in this moment and wondering who’s next? I think what we’re doing here today is to move from the question of who’s next to what’s next? How do we maximize the potential of this incredible watershed moment for women?”
Sweeney then introduced the first of two keynote speakers, Pam Jeffords, a partner at Mercer Human Resources Consulting and an expert in gender diversity. “We can leverage this moment and take advantage of it,” Jeffords said. “Something has happened in the last 18 months that is having global implications … the time for gender discrimination is over.”
Jeffords went on to highlight issues that are hindering progress in the area of gender parity, including a need to engage men in the effort to end discrimination, unconscious behavior, the business imperative and reaching the “silent middle.” “We see movement at the top, we see movement at the bottom, but it’s that middle that we can’t seem to connect with,” said Jeffords, noting that middle managers may be offended by discriminatory behavior in the workplace, but they’re unlikely to act against it unless they’re directly impacted by it.
Bill MacGowan, executive vice president of human resources for Newmont Mining Corporation, delivered the second keynote speech, noting Newmont’s great strides in the area of gender diversity over that past six years. “You’ve got to be proactive, you can’t just plod along and be compliant,” he said. “It’s a long journey and we’ve still got a long way to go.”
MacGowan went on to delineate actions that foster a culture of gender ethics and power equity in the workplace, including clearly stating your organizational values, a strong commitment from senior leadership to diversity and equity, exhibiting leadership in these areas at all times and engaging the majority. “You can’t only focus on the demographic subsets you’re trying to achieve if you’re going to move a company’s culture forward, you’ve got to involve the majority. And when you’re dealing with the majority, you have to deal with backlash. We try to make sure everyone feels comfortable and we work to minimize the number of people feeling resentful,” said MacGowan, citing the importance of training and communication in this regard.
Following the keynote speeches, attendees broke up into roundtable discussions to brainstorm and offer their own suggestions for tackling gender parity in the workplace. The day was capped off by a discussion–moderated by Gloria Zamora, chief executive officer of Success Innovators–among a panel of senior operating executives that included Jane Okun-Bomba, president of Saddle Ridge Consulting; Sandy Rothe, managing partner at Deloitte in Denver; and Jo Lynne Whiting, chair of the board of directors for the Women’s Leadership Foundation.