In connection with International Women’s Day, we announced the launch of the Loftware Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN). The network’s purpose is to promote diversity and equal opportunities for all, help women develop and maximize their potential at work and help challenge biases and stereotypes of women in business. All genders are welcome. During the week of March 8, WIN organized three company-wide events to celebrate gender equality and diversity.
Diversity starts at the top
It’s often said that instilling diversity and equality in a company’s culture has to start at the top. Thus, it was fitting that Bob O’Connor, CEO at Loftware, kicked off our panel discussion by talking about why gender equality is so important to him, both on a personal and professional level. “I’ve been surrounded by women my whole life, and have had the pleasure to encourage their growth both professionally and personally,” Bob said. He then highlighted an outstanding statistic: there are 112 women employed at our combined companies, all of whom, Bob pointed out, play a critical role in our success. He also talked about what true equality means in a corporate setting. “Most importantly, I think we [men] have to play our role in your success, which means equal opportunity, equal interaction from a meeting perspective, equal pay and benefits – equality across the board.” Bob concluded by stating that this event wasn’t a culmination of the equality work that our companies have accomplished; rather it should serve as a jumping-off point, and lay the groundwork for the future.
Our panel: Trailblazers in the quest for gender equality
With that, the stage was turned over to our two guest panelists. We were so pleased to be joined by Vita Cassese, who has served as a member of Loftware’s Board of Directors for the past seven years, and is a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry. Vita is the former Global CIO at Pfizer and has been a trailblazer her entire career, including being the first woman on the technical staff at Bell Laboratories. Our other panelist was Nina Pejič, Researcher at the University of Ljubljana and Co-founder of the Gender Equality Research Institute, the first gender equality NGO in Slovenia. Our very own Marketing Director, Mari Waldron, moderated the discussion, which also included audience participation.
Diversity impacts the bottom line
The panelists discussed a wide range of gender equality issues, including why gender topics are still important in this day and age and the role women’s networks play in shedding light on these topics. On the question of why gender equality is so relevant, Vita put it quite simply, “Women make up 50% of the population. If we want the best of the best in a company, we really shouldn’t exclude half of the population.” It’s now well-documented that companies that have women in senior positions in the organization perform better in general than companies that don’t. Balanced gender representation has a positive impact on a company’s culture, revenue and profits. This equal representation should be reflected in women’s networks as well. Research also indicates that the women’s networks that are inclusive, i.e. open to all genders, are far more effective than those that are women-only.
Nina highlighted that participating in women’s networks can be an eye-opener for men, helping them to realize the innate gender biases that exist in our society. She mentioned the concept of the “pink tax”, which refers to the fact that women’s products tend to be priced higher than corresponding products for men. A man would only recognize this fact when he is put in the position of having to shop for a woman. Yet this awareness is a crucial step towards change.
Gender bias: An experience we all share
Nina also pointed out how gender is something that impacts both men and women, and while gender stereotypes that impact women might garner the most attention, they can actually have a greater impact on men. The attendees’ responses to the question of whether or not they had encountered gender biases in their professional life testified to this fact. For example, many of the male participants talked about how they had been told that men are good at technology, and women are good with people.
Vita talked about one of the most significant biases she had encountered in her professional career, the idea that women who have children are more prone to leave the workforce, or underperform when they return from maternity leave. This bias has led many managers to shy away from hiring women in responsible positions, as they feel they won’t get a significant return on their investment if the woman has a family. “The truth is that everyone has to balance stress and responsibilities,” observed Vita, who was one of the first women at Pfizer to have a child and return to work.
Beware of the “stereotype threat”
The consequences of these stereotypes and biases can be quite significant. Nina mentioned the concept of the “stereotype threat”, and explained, “When a society’s expectation is that you will perform worse, then you are more likely to perform worse. The combination of people’s negative expectations and your knowledge of the stereotype will impact your performance. We have to be aware of this, and work against it.”
Getting more women into technology & engineering
As the combined companies of NiceLabel and Loftware operate in the technology sector, the conversation naturally turned to how we could increase female representation in these fields. While we can each do our part to mentor women just starting out in their careers, and promote inclusive hiring practices, both panelists highlighted the need for change on a societal level. “Research shows that high school is too late to start promoting technical and engineering vocations,” Nina stated. “We have to start in elementary school with programs that introduce young girls to the basics of programming and the like. We have to show them what they can become at an early age.” Vita agreed that society needs to start as early as possible, and that institutional change had to be present at the higher levels of education as well. “I think there needs to be a change, particularly in the US, at the university level, to accept women in the science and engineering educations.”
Being an agent of change
We concluded the event by talking about how we all can proactively promote gender equality. Clearly, the first step is being aware of racial and gender biases. Then it’s about breaking down barriers wherever and whenever we can. The panelists talked about the importance of calling out biased comments and behavior in a corporate setting and putting a stop to it. This is something that everyone can do to make people aware of their, perhaps unconscious, gender biases.
On the subject of self-awareness, Nina had two concrete pieces of advice: Start with yourself, and watch your actions. The first one is about recognizing what you have accomplished in your professional life, and the value you bring in a professional setting. If you are confident in what you have achieved, you won’t allow yourself to be intimidated or discouraged by others’ biases. The second one is about being aware of your own biases and making sure they don’t color your opinions or actions. “We all have these biases and we can’t change that. But what we can do is increase our self-awareness and perform a self-check,” she concluded.
Vita’s parting words emphasized the importance of being collaborative, not combative, when confronting gender issues. We need to work together, across genders, to make change happen.
This collaborative approach is certainly evident in our WIN membership, where our female and male colleagues actively participated in our gender diversity week. In fact, we had over 100 attendees to this panel discussion. Once again, a big thank you to our panelists for a truly inspiring event.
Would you like to join our increasingly diverse workforce? Check out our open positions here.