I was recently invited by a wonderful Huffington Post contributor, Yasamin Beitollahi, to participate in an article discussing gender equality from the perspective of 6 influential male entrepreneurs. For the full article, including responses from all participants, click here.
It was an honor to be a part of this select group responding to the importance of gender equality nationally and internationally. I have shared my full interview below because of the importance of this topic to me personally.
1) As an advocate of gender equality, why do you feel it is crucial for men -- particularity, successful male entrepreneurs like yourself -- to support gender equality?
I have many amazing women in my life: my wife, my mother, my sister, my daughter, as well as many friends and colleagues. However, gender equality did not become personal for me until I had my daughter. When she entered the work force, she would come home and tell me experiences of men making inappropriate comments, boarder-line harassment. I found myself emotionally hijacked and incredibly upset.
As a man, and a leader with influence, I use my platform to support women, to encourage them in their own entrepreneurial efforts, and to share the good work they are doing with the world.
At its very worst, inequality can result in the worst forms of human treatment. That is why it is not only crucial for men to support the women in their lives, but also the global community. For example, when my wife and I started learning about the prevalence of sex trafficking in the US and abroad, we founded a non-profit, Compassion2One which rescues children from sexual exploitation and provides them a safe space to live while recovering. Supporting organizations like this, and many others of which support the empowerment of women is critical to our global health.
2) How do you think empowering women has the potential to shape society?
Empowering women can lead to them stepping into their greatness, to starting enterprises, to creating non-profits that lead us to support causes greater than ourselves. When women are at their best, society is at its best.
My associate shared a great experience with me the other day. She was recently at Oprah’s “Life You Want Tour” listening to Elizabeth Gilbert encourage women to follow their inner calling, despite the lack of female examples doing so throughout history and literature.
The extraordinary thing about the young woman I work with was her reaction to the speech. She said, “I’ve never felt that I was not encouraged to follow my inner calling, yet I grew up reading books like Eat, Pray, Love.” I think women’s empowerment can rise or fall based on those leading and the examples they set.
3) Sheryl Sandberg is most famous for advising women to lean in by "sitting at the table" in an effort to assert themselves as someone who deserves to be there and be recognized as a part of the meeting or conversation at hand. What is one piece of similar advice that you would give to other women to become empowered in the workplace?
Being empowered begins with a powerful self-concept, one that does not allow for indignities or inequality. It can take tremendous courage for women (and men for that matter) to step into critical conversations and not succumb to fear and intimidation.
To improve their sense of self, I recommend that women do the internal work of defining their personal mission and code of honor. The more grounded and internally confident they become, the more powerful their voice and communication will be.
4) With respect to finding a mentor in your profession, do you think gender makes a difference? Based on your experience, would you recommend that others pick a female mentor, male mentor, or one of each?
I think in most cases, finding another female mentor can provide added insight and life experience. Having an affinity and safe place to discuss the trials of life can often best occur woman to woman.
However, finding additional male mentors and role models can provide great texture and perspective. The bottom line is, no matter the gender, build a strong and resilient inner circle that believes in you and your giftedness.
5) This was a particularly “hot button” issue a few years ago while Hilary was running in the primaries, but it has been and remains an important consideration for all women in business: Do women need to act like men to fully be accepted and succeed in the business world? Does it help?
The strongest and most influential women I've noticed are always true to their authentic self no matter the gender traits they exhibit. People are attracted to leaders who are clear about their personal values and unique strengths.
Of course, for many leaders, to get where they are, have had to go through challenging lessons and may have denied parts of themselves for a time. But those whose examples shine for others to see have found a way to reconnect with their most authentic selves, and express what is true for them. I don’t want to underestimate what women have to face, but I encourage them to remain as true to themselves as possible throughout their journey.
6) In the wake of Malala Yousafzai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, bringing attention to girls' and women's rights in other countries becomes particularly important. In your opinion and experience, how can we help to advance women's rights in other cultures and societies?
Shining a light on any form of indignity or inequality. Just as the president uses his platform to champion great causes, leaders should use their platforms to bring awareness and spotlight injustices as well as companies and cultures that are doing a great job with supporting women.
In fact, I think we’re seeing that more and more. For example, Emma Watson’s wonderful speech to the UN, Sheryl Sandberg’s work with Lean In, and Malala’s work on behalf of young girls across the world.
As men, and as a society, we can support leaders across the globe who are working on behalf of women and girls who are most effected by gender based violence and injustice.
7) Addressing men in her powerful speech to the UN in September, Emma Watson said, "Gender quality is your issue, too". How do you apply this in your life?
In Emma Watson’s stunning address to the UN, her words echoed within me… “If not you, who? If not now, when?” She extended a formal invitation to me, and to all men to make gender equality our issue too!
The movement for gender equality was originally conceived as a struggle for women’s rights by women and only for women. With the HeForShe movement, men are invited and empowered to step up for the women in their lives. Empowering and recognizing women’s rights and their giftedness begins in our homes, our friendships, our schools, and our workplaces.
I do believe we change lives one person at a time. For me, I have an incredible platform of influence, inspiration and impact. I have the privilege of working with Fortune 500 companies on a day-to-day basis. With each interaction I have the opportunity to make a real difference. For me it is not just about women or men, it is about every person rising to their greatness. That is why I do coaching, trainings, and keynote presentations, to inspire and empower others to their greatness. When individuals are living into their fullest potential they can positively affect numerous lives.
Thank you for the invitation to contribute to this important global conversation. Here's to building better leaders at every level!
For information on keynote presentations, team workshops, and one on one coaching, contact Steve at: email@example.com or call: (425) 681-9871
The purpose of Leadership Quest is to help professionals develop their personal leadership, vision and emotional intelligence. Everyday I strive to help leaders and teams achieve their desired goals in sales productivity, leadership, time maximization, and life-balance.