You’re eager to lead. You want to work on a team and for a company that values gender diversity and inclusion. Yet we all see that progress is slow. Don’t lose heart. There are companies doing great work and leaders who have a real commitment to creating workplaces where women thrive.
I had the opportunity to talk with Beatrice Opoku-Asare, Global Director, Inclusion and Diversity at Newmont Mining and Melina Param, SVP, Human Resources, Wine & Spirits Division at Constellation Brands about what their companies are doing create gender equity and inclusion. Both women were optimistic about the future and had tangible strategies to share.
Women: Help Men Become Allies
When I asked Opoku-Asare what her number one piece of advice was for women, she said, “I’ve come to understand and see the power of the male ally just based on conversations with my husband and other allies. If women can engage men in a dialogue and help them to better understand what our experience as a woman is like, once they get it, they become our allies.”
She went on, “When someone doesn’t look, think or sound like a group but can speak about the group’s unique experience and mission from a passionate place, they become a naturally credible advocate - they are heard, especially by other allies. The more men we can engage in conversations like that the bigger the impact. We need more male allies, aka ‘men who get it’.”
She also talked about an angle for opening the door for turning men into allies that has a strong impact. “Everyone has had the experience of belonging to a majority or minority group in one or more aspects of our lives; field of study, parenting, leadership, department, and of course gender. Once we can tap into that experience of knowing how that feels, we are better positioned to progress conversations with our male allies. We can better connect with their experience and help them connect to ours.”
Opoku-Asare believes that every man is an ally in the making. Referring to men who are not yet speaking up for gender inclusion, she said, “They just don’t know that they are our allies – yet!”
Leaders: Create Connection Points
I appreciated Opoku-Asare’s straightforward advice for leaders. “A lack of connection can create the biggest problem,” she said. “You lose the pulse of what’s happening, especially with minorities and others who are not in your everyday circle of life.”
She added, “Leaders can create ongoing connection points to build empathy and an understanding of different experiences of their teams and the broader workforce. Take someone to lunch, grab a cup of coffee, do a walk and talk. We forget that it’s the simple things that can sometimes have the greatest impact.”
Organizations: Programming and Network Building
Melina Param shared several of the broad-based programs that Constellation Brands has invested in to drive results. “We’re committed to fostering a workforce that reflects our consumers and the areas where we live and work. We’ve invested in providing leadership and growth opportunities for our women employees.”
One of those programs, an internal Women’s Leadership Network, crosses all Divisions at Constellation Brands. Param says the network “has two main objectives: to build a strong network with exposure to senior leaders and other successful women from across the organization; and to gain leadership development with content taught through the lens of unique challenges that women may face.”
What kinds of results have they noticed? “The program has helped build awareness about the benefits associated with gender diversity at the senior leadership level and has led to us providing unconscious bias training for our leaders and our recruiting team.” Param said. The upshot is that the program has had a positive ripple effect across the company.
Take the Long View
As we wound up our conversation, Opoku-Asare said, “I believe in the little big things; those things that require a small effort but have a ‘ginormous’ impact, as my 4-year-old daughter would say. You have to take small steps, take your time and do life big.”
She added, “It’s a lot of change management and testing of ideas and concepts in different parts of the organization. Provide opportunities for building awareness, simple tools, help them take action, experience the journey and share their stories. Then take another step.”
Everyone wishes there was a silver bullet for creating gender equity and inclusion, but we all know that it’s not that simple. Take a page from the playbooks of Newmont Mining and Constellation Brands, and remain as optimistic as Param and Opoku-Asare and progress will follow.
Mo is the Founder of The Moxie Exchange, a training and peer mentoring organization for companies who want to recruit, develop, promote and retain women and create inclusive workplaces. She’s an advisor to CEOs of the nation’s fastest growing companies and is the founder 5 successful businesses. She also been known to sing loudly, dance badly and curse like a sailor.
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