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Gerhard Mulder

Degree:

EMBA

Location:

Netherlands

Industry:

Not for Profit

Year:

Jan 2017 - Sep 2018

By Gerhard Mulder

#youtoo – Tipping points towards equality

How amazing it is to actually experience a tipping point. Tipping points can be good or bad. A bad tipping point would be if all kids would start drinking sugary drinks and obesity would rise. That’s bad. A good tipping point is when people who go skiing suddenly start wearing helmets. Nobody told anyone that helmets were obligatory, but still, in the course of a few years it was frowned upon not to wear a helmet. That’s good.

But the good tipping point that we are experiencing today is that sexual harassment experienced by women at the hands of men is finally considered unacceptable. As in, really unacceptable. But apparently, for a long time it was considered normal. The Weinstein revelation triggered a worldwide response where it has become clear that this kind of sick behaviour is widespread. Was it really ever normal to harass women? I mean, perhaps the sixties and seventies people were more promiscuous, but no woman would ever tell you that it was fine to grope her, or worse.

The second tipping point is that the women-men pay gap is starting to close. Data from 25 countries collected by a consulting firm showed that women earn 98% as much as men who do the same job for the same employer. The problem of course is that most senior jobs are still occupied by men. Still. Most university graduates are now women. Many companies actively search for female high potentials within their ranks. Not only it is the right thing to do, but it is also just stupid in this day and age of knowledge workers to ship a smart and highly educated mommy home to take care of the little anklebiters.

There are a few things that men can do. Many women work part-time to balance work and family. So can men. This is not always easy, I realise. In 2010 when my employer was taken over by a UK based financial institution, I asked my new manager in London if I could take two months of unpaid leave to help taking care of our new born (I was legally entitled to more than two months, but hey…). “We wouldn’t appreciate it if you would do that, Gerhard. If you push this, I will make sure that your name tops the list for the next cull.” Really? Is that how you think? I didn’t have to think long: I asked him to put my name on that list because I don’t want to work for a company that holds these kind of values. I gladly accepted the severance package, which by then was paid for by British taxpayers because the bank needed to be bailed out.

Secondly, divide the work at home equally. Vacuum cleaning is fun. It provides instant gratification. You can scare the wits out of your pets (and little ones I found out). It is truly entertaining. But seriously, there is no reason why women should do more in the household than men (assuming of course that both have jobs to go to). Who started this nonsense? I really don’t recall any article, law, paper, or anything where this was articulated. I realise that sometimes work requires you to travel and it is better that the other stays home. And yes, some people need to travel all the time. But after a few years, perhaps it’s time to switch. Now you accept a job without travel and spend more time at home while your significant other travels around. This is not happening to you. It was a choice.

But most importantly, speak up! The interesting thing is, most men don’t talk about these issues, because they are afraid to be seen on the wrong side of the argument. The issue is gingerly avoided, also in business school. When I was studying political science at one of the most leftist universities of Europe (I still believe that The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx was one of the worst books ever to get through … I just didn’t get it), I took a class in Affirmative Action. The class was taught by a famous feminist. Well, let’s say that I was provided an alternative viewpoint … consistently. I believe that in classes such as leadership, we should discuss gender. I believe that the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg should be required reading. Because it will enhance mutual understanding. Many biases are subconscious. If you would ask any men if men and women should get equal pay, that all would say yes. But then, if you have to decide who to promote or give a raise, be conscious of the fact that your decision making is influenced by forces that you may not quite be aware off. But then, once you are aware, you also know what to do.

As our EMBA program progresses, we start to think what this all means to us and how we will apply our newly acquired knowledge and insights to our work. Modules like Ethics and Governance or Leadership are extremely important. And we should open ourselves for such new insights. We did not come to Oxford to have our thoughts and ideas validated. We came to Oxford because we need to debate them and have them challenged. Prior to starting my EMBA I did a Diploma in Financial Strategy. The difference, I now realise, is that a Diploma is educational, but an EMBA is transformational. This is a deep and profound journey that is changing in many ways how I think. It also provides me with a great sense of empowerment and optimism and motivates me to apply my energy for the good of society.

A great NY Times article about “How to be a CEO” articulated it well. If the author, who interviewed more than 500 CEOs, would have to pick one character trait as the most important quality of leadership, it is trustworthiness. And this relates to the Aristotelian conception of virtue. But building a good character is never finished and can always be improved. It is a journey. And sometimes, this journey receives a massive boost. Then this transformational experience will ultimately make you a better person. Aristotle believed that being virtuous is not just theory. You need to practice a virtuous life. So, guys, if you are ever to find yourself in a situation where you can make a positive contribution to make our world more fair between men and women, then do the right thing, accept the consequences, and pay it forward.

So, perhaps there is a third tipping point that we are experiencing. One that involves ourselves. Our transformational journey is gathering speed as we enter into the second half of our program. A period in which friendships are intensifying, where learning begets learning, important choices are becoming crystal clear, and the sense of empowerment continuous to grow. This journey is taking me places that were much beyond my imagination.

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