Our Voices blog post in August focused on navigating the various stereotypes that we often see playing out in society. Taking that one step further, we thought this would be a good opportunity to start a discussion about gender. We don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to gender inequality, but what we can wholeheartedly say is that we’re passionate about building a diverse and inclusive company where all genders are valued equally for their contributions, and where we strive to have balanced representation.
The topic of gender is always going to be different, simply because of everyone’s own personal perspective. So, with that in mind, I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Lee, Director of Sales for North America, and Graziella Perricone, Channel Marketing Manager, for a broad-ranging discussion of their experiences and insights into gender roles. While we recognize there are more than just two genders, our conversation mostly revolved around the two we had represented – women and men. Here’s just a small part of that conversation.
If I were to jump in first, I would say that at some points in my career I’ve seen my gender as a powerful tool, while at other times I’ve felt boxed in by people’s (mistaken) views of what I could or couldn’t do. When I was young, my father really encouraged me without setting any limits. There wasn’t any distinction between ‘girl’ chores and ‘boy’ chores.
But as I grew older and started working, I was faced with a different reality. One incident that surprised me was when I was given a corner office. My male peer, who was the controller, got angry. This was despite the fact that I was the head of HR and that we both reported to the same CEO. I think he felt slighted because I was younger and newer to the company. I don’t know if me being a woman had any impact on his behavior, but I can’t help but think so. In hindsight, I think it could have been a great learning experience for him to understand what was really triggering him.
One issue that’s often central to gender is the very real issue of wage disparity. Fortunately, at NetMotion there’s never been a need to argue about equal pay for women and men. But I have had experiences at other companies where I had to push hard in the background to make sure that everyone was treated equally, no matter their gender.
This was a topic that struck a nerve for Graziella.
“Speaking of equal treatment, I remember my first internship at an electronics company,” added Graziella. “Although the people were friendly and polite, besides a handful of women who worked in the office, all of the more senior people like the direct managers, channel managers and sales reps were men. When I started out, I didn’t know what to ask or how to ask for it, and nobody took me under their wing to help mentor me or offer advice. Nobody was there to help me understand what our company did or talk about the companies we partnered with. It made me question if the channel managers would have felt more comfortable teaching me if I had been male. Even after getting promoted several times, I was often kept out of the loop on decisions. When they low-balled me on salary, I decided it was time to leave.”
Why is representation important?
Having a more diverse workforce is an area where NetMotion sees a lot of potential. This is especially true after NetMotion’s recent acquisition by Absolute Software, a company that already has many women in senior roles, including the CEO, Christy Wyatt.
“Even from a selfish company revenue perspective, I see gender representation as a secret weapon. If you have too many men, you lose a lot of unique ideas, perspectives, and ways to think through problem solving. More representation makes our team more collaborative. When you lack representation of any kind, you are squandering a lot of opportunities.”Chris Lee, Director of Sales for North America
In some regards, being a woman has made me more stubborn, but in a positive way. Whenever someone has put an artificial ceiling over me, my knee-jerk reaction has been to prove that I can do anything. What’s important, though, is that everyone should be able to make their own choice about whether to prioritize their career, family, or balance both.
“I’m a little bit more traditional in that sense,” added Graziella. “At some point, if I need to make big career changes, it’s the kind of decision I would make after talking with my family.”
As Chris points out, organizations can offer certain benefits that are advantageous for both genders. Parental leave is a good example. The introduction of maternal – and more recently paternal – leave have been a very positive change for a lot of organizations.
And it’s not just the benefits that we should think about. Leadership teams at organizations today have an obligation to scan the room for strengths and weaknesses, looking for any parts of the organization that need more diversity. Naturally, this can and should include all levels of upper management and the C-suite. Likewise, it’s up to teams to hold their leadership accountable, and make sure they maintain higher standards when it comes to the hiring pool.
Representation in the workplace
It’s hard to say what kind of influence a person’s gender has on their career choices. Personally, I don’t think my gender had a negative impact on my career, but I certainly notice when I’m in a meeting, sitting at a table (even a virtual one) surrounded by men. NetMotion is the only place where it hasn’t been painfully obvious, but it is still something that I’m aware of.
“Teams need to consider how to make space for each individual – male and female – to have a voice,” added Chris. “Part of the challenge is being able to engender psychological safety amongst the team so that there’s a willingness for everybody to collaborate and share ideas. We have to recognize that there are different levels of comfort when it comes to groups.”
But the issue of representation starts much earlier, from the very first stages of hiring and onboarding new employees.
“One area where the issue of gender jumps out is in recruiting. When we’re hiring for a role, we try to understand the distribution of candidates to see if the numbers are tilted toward men versus women so that we can tweak things, such as the job description.”Chris Lee, Director of Sales for North America
“In the case of NetMotion,” he continued, “Christina and I partnered on an internship program, and for our corporate rep roles we’re actively building the team out with different positions. We wanted to give women strong opportunities, so if we see an uneven distribution of candidates, we twist the knobs a little. When we have better representation, we’re helping our team culture and bringing in different perspectives.”
Mentoring is good, but company values and environment are even more important
Getting the right mix of employees is vital, but what happens to them once they’re in the door? That’s certainly something that needs more attention, too.
“It all starts with the manager, but it’s really up to the team to support that,” said Chris. “It has to be the cultural norm within the group to be inclusive and not overly critical. There must be an openness to experiment and take ideas, regardless of where they come from. If the manager isn’t on board, it’s going to be harder, but if the team isn’t on board, there won’t be organic growth.”
“A lot of this depends on who the company hires to begin with. I remember thinking that the interview process at NetMotion was long, but once I joined the team and got involved, I realized how important it was to have a good fit for both sides. Hiring isn’t just about a checklist of credentials, it’s also about personality. If your goal is to hire with a set of values in mind, you won’t be fixated on whether someone can hit quotas.”Graziella Perricone, Channel Marketing Manager
To piggyback on Chris and Graziella’s comments, the leadership team is responsible for creating the space and providing the education and tools to give everyone a voice. When I first started grad school, I was incredibly shy. Luckily, I had a great mentor who understood my body language. Before she spoke in a group, she would say, ‘I think Christina has something to say,’ and it would force me to give my opinion. That’s a helpful tool for anyone facing an age or gender gap. Helping people grease the skids can let them build themselves up and pass that along to somebody else.
That doesn’t mean, however, that mentoring-style relationships are the only way to go. Onboarding new employees is a great example. I’ve seen mentoring relationships that didn’t work well because the people just weren’t on the same page. For that reason, I lean more towards recommending that the right company values are in place, in addition to having the right environment and making sure that the right leadership is on board and that everyone’s hiring for the same things.
All. The. Things.
There was so much more to the conversation that we unfortunately don’t have space to include here. We talked about things that often get overlooked in the workplace, like the common use of male-oriented pronouns such as “guys” when referring to groups of all genders.
But ultimately, this discussion showed that we have come a long way in understanding the importance of a level playing field in the workplace. That is true of the recruiting and hiring process as well as the onboarding process. But it is equally true when thinking about company values and corporate culture, and even in the way that promotions are decided.
Like many companies, we are still a work in progress. And what we’ve realized is that substantive change won’t happen unless we each take ownership and add our own voice to the mix.