I used to think that I care about gender equity. That’s why I decided to join the first cohort of the collaboratio helvetica GenderLab. Well… I also thought I would look pretty good if I did “this thing” as a white, straight cis-male.
During the first retreat, I listened to some very powerful stories from women and queer men, which changed my interactions with humans forever. I went on a dialogue walk with a mechanical engineer who works in a leadership position at an international tech company. She shared how as a woman, she always factors in the gender aspect – in every significant professional interaction. For example, when sending an important email, she asks herself, “Should I send it, or have a male colleague send it? Will I be perceived as ‘bitchy’ if I give this feedback?”, etc. Wow. In addition to a highly complex job (in terms of content), to always have that additional layer on top…
During a very powerful council circle, I had the chance to listen to a veteran humanitarian worker, who walked us through many phases in her life. At the beginning of her career, she quickly got to the first road-blocks as a woman. She realized that her beauty helped at times, but got strongly criticized for leveraging that. Working hard while having kids, and getting criticized. Not working hard while having kids, and of course getting criticized for that too. “I NEVER GOT IT RIGHT”. Wow. Why do we so often pick women apart? I suddenly started to realize that it was not only my wife’s “problem”. It was omnipresent.
At some point we were writing post-its to put together a wish list for the future of gender equity. I had written down “fathers 2.0”. At the same time one of the queer participants placed a post-it with “e.g. 5 queer humans can get married together”. I looked at my post-it and his, and realized there was an entire universe of possibilities still to be discovered. I crossed out “fathers 2.0” and wrote instead “parents 2.0 – it can be 5 queer humans”. In reality, so-called “patchwork families” with beloved children and all different kinds (and numbers) of parent relationships already exist. It is our legal framework that is outdated and so one-dimensional in terms of gender!
When I got back to my job, I had quite a hard landing. I started to pay attention to my thoughts, and my biases towards women. I sat in business meetings and realized that I had thoughts like “wow, she is super quick and intelligent, wow”. Why would I think such a thing…? Do I have a basic assumption that a woman is inferior due to her gender – at least in a business setting? Do I hold her to a second standard? Really? Me? The son of gender conscious parents, the brother of two sisters, the husband of a strong, professionally active woman, the father of soon 2 daughters?! YEP. The gender-career test of the Harvard Implicit Project gave me surprisingly bad results: I now had a scientific proof that I had strong gender biases. What a shock! I invite you to do the test for yourself!
Constantly paying attention to my thoughts and biases has been very tiring. After all, one has to be aware of the current reality (e.g. a meeting or conversation), but also of gender biases on meta-level. The mechanical engineer would probably say, “welcome to my world”…
What has happened since? I am much more attentive to the language I use and the way I communicate, especially with young children. I proactively work on compensating for my gender biases. I proactively seek female representation on the boards I serve and panels I speak on. Within my organization, I pay attention to gender issues, speak-up if something inappropriate is said or done, stop mansplaining, manterrupting... And I am considering becoming an ombudsperson for gender issues.
Switzerland is really behind the curve on gender equity. Paternity leave, equal pay, female representation in top positions (business and politics) are all societal issues and not women’s issues. It is for us straight cis-males AND every other human being to step up, do our part and bring gender equity to Switzerland and the world.
Before joining WWF and its Corporate Relations team, Leo was co-founder of Viaduct Ventures. Previously he served as CFO of Impact Hub Zürich. Earlier in his 10+ years in sustainability, Leo served as Director at the Impact Pledge Foundation; as Associate Director at Impact Economy Ltd; as an Analyst in the Family Office Services & Advisory team of a Swiss private bank and as Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at the Mammut Sports Group Ltd. He hold a Masters in Law and Economics from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.