Gender Balance – Eager to Change But Short on Patience
In honor of International Woman’s Day which will be marked this week, Gadi Lesin, President & CEO of Strauss Group, shares with us the decision to promote gender balance within the organization, and explains why it serves both men and women.
For a long time I thought that we at Strauss, and I personally, were bias-free in relation to gender. As a father of three daughters, I never identified discrimination against women in my immediate environment. I consider myself a person who judges people by their results and conduct, and not by their gender. I know men whose leadership style can fit the female stereotype, and women whose leadership style meets the male stereotype. Moreover, watching us at Strauss, I saw women in senior managerial positions leading the Group. And if that wasn’t enough, a comparison to other companies showed that we were not left behind – quite the opposite.
But last year something significant happened to the gender issue at Strauss. Reality and life put a mirror before my face.
Facing the numbers
First, I studied the numbers thoroughly. I saw the ratio of women and men in the Group as a whole, and then in managerial and senior managerial positions. I couldn’t ignore the fact that while we start ideally- almost 50/50 representation of women and men – things change significantly as we climb the organizational ladder: Women in senior managerial positions become scarce, up to the GLT which I lead, where we only have one woman in charge.
Second, last year I spent many hours discussing this issue. I heard the women leading the Group about their impressions, the barriers they did and do encounter, and their unique challenges. I learned from them that contrary to what I would like to think, exclusion mechanisms against women exist in Strauss as well. Not because we want them or choose to place them (God forbid), but because we just grew up with some of them- some are known to us while others are not even a conscious decision.
Internalization of this data was, and still is, hard to digest for me, not just because I want to be fair to both women and men (and obviously we all want that), but because I believe that gender balance which appropriately incorporates men and women in the organization is critical to our success as a group.
We can’t ignore the fact that women comprise most of the purchasing power of consumers, and the fact (proven time and again in numerous studies) that managerial gender balance is consistent with the business success of companies. Since women and men bring unique added value and complementing languages, we, as an organization, can only gain from such diversity and multiplicity. Moreover, there is no reason why we, as a company that fights for quality talent around the world, should find ourselves skipping half of the talent pool.
This understanding made me resentful, but it also created a tingling challenge at my fingertips. This tingling marked the beginning of change and openness to a revolution. Change begins with mindset and awareness, but continues with indices, processes and day-to-day choices.
A joint journey toward the realization of a vision
I understood that we had quite a journey to go together, as a group. Although we didn’t start it today and won’t finish it tomorrow, the mere understanding of its importance, and use of material action to promote it, was significant,
From this realization, and as part of our commitment to improve the lives of the people, we launched a process of promoting Diversity and Inclusion and Gender Balance in the company several years ago. Among other things, we chose to improve the promotion of equal opportunities for women, and do so consistently through various collaborations both within the Strauss Group and in communities where we operate.
We set ourselves a visionary goal of gender balance in managerial positions. And I say "gender balance" because women are not a minority and I don't intend to make them a majority- "just" create a balance,
The first phase focused mainly on warming the hearts and minds of managers and harnessing them to advocate gender balance, by understanding the rationale for change and the business opportunity that lies in it. In the past two years we took a step further, when we set measurable goals and established a team of senior female executives from Strauss. This way, we used internal resources
to formulate a workplan that addresses awareness and understanding, critical cross-points of recruitment and mobilization, measuring and rewarding, and development plans of gender balance within the organization.
We set ourselves a visionary goal of gender balance in managerial positions. And I say "gender balance" because women are not a minority and I don't intend to make them a majority- "just" create a balance, while ensuring, first and foremost, the quality and suitability of the people who fill the positions.
I am confident that understanding the differences between women and men, their complementing advantage and diverse capabilities, will make us a better organization for all people - women and men alike.
I am pleased to say that when I look around at role-model organizations, like many of our partners, I see very impressive processes aimed at gender balance. I see sincere and significant efforts. I see results achieved in baby steps. But I mostly see that
we must find the right balance between our impatient eagerness to make a change, and short-breath ability to accommodate a genuine change.
It is important to remember that gender balance isn't created overnight just because I announce it or the Group embraces it . Gender balance is created through hundreds of day-to-day situations and thousands of decisions that each and every one of us makes. As CEO of the Group, I hope, and even expect, that all our employees will take part in this process, advocate it and be prepared to affect it and change with it. It will benefit all of us.