August 31st, 2010 | 6:00 am

Engaging Men in Culture Change: “Would You Want Your Daughter to Work Here?”

filed under Featured, Men Who "Get It"

iStock_000011462846XSmallBy Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)

A few months ago Deloitte’s Ann Weisberg shared an anecdote with The Glass Hammer that struck a chord with many of us. She relayed the story of a Deloitte senior male partner who spoke on a panel about the issue of gender diversity. He asked the audience, “Would you want your daughters working here? If the answer is no, then you should own part of the solution.” It got us wondering: Could the simple question “Would you want your daughters working here?” change the way companies treat gender diversity?

A Powerful Question

Barbara Adachi is the National Managing Principal for Deloitte’s award-winning Women’s Initiative and yet another believer in the power of the question, “Would you want your daughters working here?” Not only does she believe that considering the question would help senior men see the work environment and culture from a very different and personal perspective, but she’s seen the power of the question at work.

“When we launched the Women’s Initiative in 1993, our CEO Mike Cook had two daughters who were entering the workforce. He personally recognized the importance of women having equal opportunities to advance and he applied this to our culture,” Adachi said. “In a Harvard Business Review article about the Women’s Initiative, [Deloitte Consulting CEO] Doug McCracken cited that the light bulb went on for a male partner when asked, ‘Your daughter is graduating from college. Would you want her to work for a company that has lower expectations for women?’ Suddenly, he got it.”

If a company sincerely wants to improve their efforts when it comes to gender diversity, Adachi recommends treating the women’s initiative as a business imperative, with the foundation being grounded in the business case for gender diversity. “One of our key lessons learned is that our Women’s Initiative is embedded in our culture and in the way that we do business- it is not viewed as an HR initiative or program. It impacts how careers are built, how we develop talent, build communities, and hold ourselves accountable for results.”

This is something that’s been echoed by Camille Alexander, Chartered Financial Analyst and Institutional Consulting Director for Graystone Consulting and one of the White House Project’s Young Women Leaders, who believes that empowering women impacts the entire community.

When Alexander took her CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exam certification in the early 1990’s with 80 others, she was one of just a few women and when she moved into her first role as a portfolio manager in the mutual fund industry, she was the sole woman in a group of more than 40 working on the Equity Team.

Despite always being aware of the gender imbalance, Alexander never felt that her gender held her back from succeeding. As a matter of fact, she gives ample credit to “male colleagues of a generation more open to working alongside women as peers, encouraging them, and supporting them” for opening doors to many opportunities in her career.

Obviously, the question of “Would you want your daughters working here?” can be a powerful motivator for more senior men with families and the power to sway how the company conducts its business, but what about younger men just entering the workforce. How can they be part of the solution?

Adachi contends that young men today are facing similar challenges as women and the need for workplace flexibility has crossed the gender borders. “A recent study by the Families & Work Institute indicated that men are struggling more than women with balancing work and life,” Adachi said. “This is why it’s so important for companies to create cultures where people can dial down to meet their personal and family needs, enabling them to pull their weight at home while having a successful career.”

Measuring Your True Culture

For Bob Horst, the founding partner and director of recruiting at Nelson Levine deLuca & Horst, LLC, the answer is a resounding yes. Sixteen years ago the 43-year-old father of three had his first child, a daughter, and though his wife had made him aware of the necessity of equal opportunity, it wasn’t until his daughter was born that it really sunk in.

“I currently have a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old daughter and since they were born, I have become particularly attuned to the dire need for equal opportunity between the genders,” Horst said. “There’s no need to change the playing field, so long as it’s level. Before my children were born, this was not part of my conscious thinking.”

Horst doesn’t want to see his daughters or his seven-year-old son given opportunities simply because of their gender; rather, he’d like to see them thrive in a challenging business environment where their gender is simply a non-issue. Some might argue that this is wishful thinking, but it’s Horst’s belief that the simple act of having a child changes a person’s perspective, even as it pertains to business. Horst wanted to see his children afforded every opportunity possible and as a result, he changed the way he approached people and he has used the question, “Would I want my daughters working here?” as a litmus test for his firm for the past ten years.

In the right hands, this question can be powerful and even life changing for those working at a company with a leader brave enough to ask whether their business practices would be good enough for their daughters. Horst even believes that such a question could be the ultimate telltale sign as to whether or not employees are happy with their place of employment.

“There are multiple benchmarks available to professional service firms that measure performance, profitability, etc.,” Horst said. “If a question were added to an employee survey intended to measure whether or not an employee believes that their child would thrive there, it would provide another very meaningful way to measure employee satisfaction and the true culture within that firm.”

8 comments

  1. May Busch

    This is a great article highlighting a powerful opportunity to shift the thinking on gender and opportunity. Sometimes the most effective way to achieve change is to ask a question that fundamentally alters the way people perceive a situation. Call it reframing, call it insight, call it a “litmus test” — the exciting aspect is that we can see this working!

  2. Laura

    Thanks for the article. I love it. I’ve also used a similar question when receiving the benevolent response from male co-workers or managers about “My kids have been so lucky; my wife has never had to work outside the home.” My response has been, “Are any of your kids daughters and do you rear them with motherhood as the best, and only career aspiration? Do they ever notice that their brothers have a broader list?” The article above of course is taking a slightly different angle, yet I found it equally as uplifting, and a less angry, of course. Thanks!

  3. ChristineBrownQuinn

    This article offers a new way of thinking about what kind of culture an organization really has. The question “Would you want your daughter to work here” makes the gender issue personal – not just for women, but for everyone. The question also has a positive, forward looking element – your daughter may still be young, or even in her teens, and therefore there’s enough time to change the status quo.

  4. Kate

    Ah…now if only it worked for MLB

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  7. Andre Koen

    There are more and more men who get it and are speaking up and out about the things we see that not only limit girls and women but all make our society less effective. It is clear that we have to replace the baby boomers and with whom? Women! The talent pool is thick and prime for women to take these roles. Men must make sure that we talk to other men so that we create an environment that is supportive.

  8. Kate

    “If only” we had thought of it that way 30-40 or more years ago! Especially when it came to the sexual innuendo’s in business back then.