For a world in which no woman needs to answer any question that would not be asked to a man in the same position
Over the last year of my life, as the general director of the agency where I work, I have been fortunate to have plenty of people show interest in my opinion on several topics, but mainly in my opinion as a female leader. Some questions have become recurring: what kind of differential do women bring to the business world? What is the difference between leading a company as a woman or as a man? Do people think that negotiating with women is easier or more enjoyable? And other related issues.
The recurrence of this approach has made me ponder on how dominant structural machismo is and how often it is invisible to many of us, women. The exercise is simple: in business, no one ever asks a man what differential he brings to the table because he is a man, or if negotiating with men is easier or more difficult, or what it is like to lead a company as a man.
What I’ve realized is that people's curiosity about my opinions is much more connected to the rarity of my position than to my vision as a leader of a business that, in this case, is not a successful chain of beauty parlors or a cake factory franchise. These are, by no means, less important than my business. A woman, however, is expected to become successful in the business areas they have always dominated, such as the universe of beauty and cuisine. I’ve become a talking point because I am a woman.
That has not discouraged me - quite the contrary – it has made me realize that I shouldn’t waste my acquired privilege (it doesn’t stem from my gender, but from my effort). I should take advantage of it to show, in every opportunity I get, why this perception bias must end. This will only happen when the presence of women in positions predominantly held by men is no longer so rare and noteworthy.
If the questions I mentioned persist, it is because the answer needs to be repeated tirelessly and from two perspectives. First of all, the differential I bring to my leadership role at a large company in the advertising market is what I am as a professional. It is my path filled with successes, failures, and learnings. My competence, my commitment, my vision of the market, and how I can operate in it in a constructive, transformative way. The relationships I’ve built during this journey. No, I don't bring more lightness, color, kindness, or glamour to my business because I'm a woman.
However, being a woman – still – affects this role in many ways. That’s when the discussion gets serious because it's not just about being a woman. It unfolds into other complexities that reveal the ill-concealed face of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, prejudice against solo mothers, people over 50, etc. (Please complete the list if by any chance I left something out). I do not intend to disregard the fact that I may also have (incorrectly) acted with racial, social, or gender bias. Because from my non-POC, non-destitute, non-queer place, it is very easy to forget that these traits prevent individuals from getting remarkable opportunities in the market as much as or even more than my short list of challenges in this scenario: being a woman, being a solo mother, and being 50 years old.
Despite all this, the world today is a better world for all of us. The way communication has changed in recent years with hyperconnectivity, allowing social networks to turn on a blaring loudspeaker at top volume that amplifies the voices of each person who has been hampered for being a woman, for being gay, or poor, or a solo mother, or over 50, or not white. It makes it increasingly difficult or even impossible to ignore their claims. What is unanimous in all the claims is the right to equality, which is a human right. Period.
The nature of ecosystems is to find a balance, a state in which the relative populations of different species remain constant. Although the ecological balance has a dynamic character, since it is subjected to constant relationships among living beings, its destruction causes the extinction of species and puts the full development of people and society at risk. It is balance that we must pursue and protect in order to guarantee a better world and market for future generations.
The ironic beauty of this dilemma is that the ones with fewer privileges can only be granted access by those who already have it. Admitting our bias is the first step towards change. Understanding ourselves as sexist, racist, homophobic, prejudiced against what is opposite or different from us, and feeling uncomfortable are what will actually make us effective agents in eradicating prejudices and finding the necessary balance.
It is imperative that we work now in our companies, at all levels, to include a generation of new women - and queer people, and people of color, and people of all ages and from all socioeconomic backgrounds - by means of structured programs and corporate policies supported by the leaders, and not just because of our goodwill, let alone to draw attention to ourselves and turn us into talking points. We need to raise our men to be ready to see women rightfully as equals. This is the world that I want. A world in which no woman needs to answer any question that would not be asked to a man in the same position
Because of my frankness, this may be my last talking point. Still, if some people listen and understand, it will be worth it.
by Ana Leao, Isobar Brazil, Managing Director
*Published on LBB