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Championing Change: It's a Cultural Thing

Sarah Thomas

When we started our Women in Telecom/Tech/Comms initiative last year, our underlying goal was to redress the gender imbalance in our male-dominated industry. It's a noble goal, but I've come to realize that creating a culture that values diversity, is respectful of women and cognizant of their differences trumps playing a numbers game any day.

Two things this week highlighted the importance of this for me: First, my conversation with Gender Intelligence Group founder and CEO Barbara Annis about the difference between an equal workplace and gender-intelligent one. And, second, this article on Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN)'s company culture.

To me, the most shocking part was the picture it painted of the company's treatment of employees, especially women, during times of crisis, tragedy, sickness or childbirth. It might have been overstated and outdated as CEO Jeff Bezos argues, but more and more stories are coming out about women who were cast aside, deemed irrelevant or even let go when they had to take time off for perfectly acceptable reasons. It's disappointing and, I'm afraid, probably not all that uncommon. (See What Is Your Company's Gender IQ?)

I've been lucky to only have worked for companies that respect that their employees have lives outside of work, and that don't question, judge or complain when an emergency or family situation takes them away from work, but I can appreciate that it's not the norm. Even companies with policies that look good on paper often don't live up to their promises in practice. (See Netflix Ups the Ante on Parental Leave .)

Join in the conversation at our upcoming Women in Comms networking breakfast in Dallas on Sept. 16 ahead of the NFV Everywhere show. Register here!

That said, there is no reason it can't be the norm. Productivity, employee retention and the bottom line would only benefit from inclusive, understanding and gender-intelligent company cultures. No amount of women's initiatives, programs and pink-painted press releases can trump a company culture that values, respects and empowers all genders.

So, how do you create this kind of company culture, especially if it's not the norm at your organization today? It takes the buy-in of the CEO and top-level management, evaluation and awareness of unconscious biases, the support of both men and women and much more. It's not an easy task, but it's certainly doable -- and necessary.

This will be the topic of our upcoming Women in Comms networking breakfast ahead of the NFV Everywhere show in Dallas on September 16. Our last four events have touched on everything from how evolutions in technology are affecting women to the realities of being female in the STEM industry to where the biggest opportunities lie, but this time we're going to be all about action.

How can we champion change at our companies? What needs to happen to build a gender-intelligent workplace? How do we get more young girls interested in STEM? We'll tackle all these questions and more with our esteemed panelists: Monique Hayward, director, outbound marketing, Network Platforms Group, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC); Brooks McCorcle, president, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) Partner Solutions; Bita Milanian, senior vice president of marketing communications, Genband Inc. ; and Nancy Green, healthcare global lead, Verizon Enterprise Solutions .

And, hopefully, you all will chime in as well. See you in Dallas next month!

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli
8/31/2015 | 11:36:54 PM
Re: Parental leave
@Sarah: For that reason, I am naturally suspicious of any company that boasts a "take as much time off whenever you feel like it" policy (something that has become trendy with a lot of startups).  I suppose that in some companies, this policy works great, but I also imagine that in others, it could very well lead to a culture of guilt and shame for employees who take any time off.

As for unconscious bias, I had a law professor who wrote a paper about unconscious bias in the workplace.  Perhaps I can look it up.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
8/31/2015 | 4:57:49 PM
Re: Parental leave
I could definitely see that about hiring someone who is pregnant both because of conscious and unconscious bias.

I would think, however, in companies with mandated parental leave policies, there would be less judgement/push back. If your employer says, parental leave = xyz time off, you would just take it all, versus "well, you can take up to a year; your call." I suppose it's hard to be off for that long either way though.
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli
8/30/2015 | 11:23:52 PM
Parental leave
Of course, employer bias against parental leave is universal, and isn't limited to STEM.  It's something I've seen a lot as an attorney dealing with employment issues (for both men and women) and is a bit of an open secret.  Is it unlawful for a company to refuse to hire a woman because she's 7 months pregnant?  Absolutely.  Is that law enforceable / is a company's violation of that law proveable?  Not really.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
8/28/2015 | 8:01:52 AM
WiC in Dallas
I hope you all can join us for WiC networking breakfast in Dallas on Sept. 16! It's going to be a great morning.

If you can't, please feel free to leave your questions for our speakers here. I will be sure to ask them during the panel discussion.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
8/28/2015 | 8:00:42 AM
By the way, I'm not calling out Netflix here as I think it's good that they are trying to help women (and men) in their new parental leave policy. I think trying something like this is better than doing nothing. I'm just not sure how it will play out in practice. I think we'll need to watch closely and see.
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