As part of our coverage of the SHRM 2017 Annual Conference & Exposition, each of the official bloggers is conducting Q&As with session speakers. As I scanned the list of speakers, one that caught my attention right away was Jeffrey Tobias Halter, president of strategic consulting company YWomen. His session is titled, “Why Women – The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men.” As I started to dig around a little about who he is and what he does, I was immediately intrigued. Jeffrey is a “corporate gender strategist”. Just what exactly is that, I wondered? Furthermore, he’s a man specifically working to advance women in the workplace… How cool is that? Wanting to know more about how and why a guy got into this type of work, here’s what I found out…
Can you start out by telling us a little about yourself and your background?
I started my career in sales, spending almost 20 years in sales and sales management with companies like Alberto-Culver, Procter & Gamble and eventually Coca-Cola. In 2000, I went from running a sales training program for The Coca-Cola Company to leading a diversity education initiative as the company faced a $200-million discrimination lawsuit. I wondered, what did I do to get this assignment? I’m a straight, white guy; and suddenly I was in charge of diversity and inclusion (D&I). I really didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know the issues and inequities we’re having in the workplace. Then I had a “white male epiphany.” I really did not know about white male privilege, but I quickly learned some valuable lessons. You see, for people who have privilege it is invisible. When you have privilege you don’t have to count; women and minorities, as there are often only one or two in the room, are counting - and they have been their entire lives.
In 2011 I founded, YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership issues. YWomen focuses on driving actionable business plans and strategies to help organizations create integrated women’s leadership strategies. Many organizations have a series of programs designed to drive change. But programs are not driving progress for women. Successful companies are treating women’s leadership advancement as a change initiative, and as such it is led by the business and supported by HR. Many organizations silo D&I in HR. While HR is a key enabler of change, the business, sales, marketing and operations need to own the plan and the accountability.
You refer to yourself as a “Gender Strategist” and your company does “Corporate Gender Consulting”– what exactly does that mean, and what does it entail?
My goal is to position women as a “leadership imperative.” Said another way, there must be a revenue component (sales and customers), an operating profit component (people, engagement, and innovation), and corporate responsibility component. Each of these must be measurable, tracked and tied to executive accountability.
For example, I’m working with a major automaker. Women buy 60% of news cars and 45% of trucks and SUVs. Women influence over 80% of car purchases. Yet how many companies have connected the dots of women as buyers and really re-engineered their entire enterprise around this opportunity? The same research says 75% of women feel misunderstood by car marketers. And 95% of car dealerships are owned and run by men. Re-engineering the entire car-buying experience will take a long time; but they are starting. And you can’t stop there. That’s just the sales and customers side. You must also take the advancing women initiative back through operations and supply chain, then have the right talent to build and execute a new plan. And finally, you need senior leaders to advocate the new plan. It is a beginning to end change initiative, not just one program or process.
Okay, I’ll ask the obvious question here. How did you, as a man, get involved in a business focused on promoting the advancement of women in the workplace? What makes you uniquely qualified to do the work that you do?
As I mentioned, I chose to get curious about the different experiences men and women were having in the workplace. I started to explore privilege. During my time in sales, I was constantly focused on connecting women and minorities to the bottom-line. In the early 2000’s I heard Tom Peters talk about the power and influence of women, and it all clicked.
Being a business person first with 20 years in sales and 15 years in HR and D&I provides me with a unique approach to solving this issue. And, sadly, some men need to hear about women’s issues from another man. In a way, I am playing to a bias I know they have. I could stand in front of a group of leaders with a woman. We could share the same information, in the same manner, and the bias of many men will be to think she is a raging feminist and I am a brilliant business person. I am not saying that’s right, but sadly it’s the reality we deal in.
What do you think are the biggest issues and/or barriers when it comes to advancement of women in the workplace? Is it the gender pay gap? Development opportunities? Succession planning practices? Workplace cultures? All or none of the above?
All of the above. If there was one simple answer, we would have solved this years ago. It is a combination of a dozen interrelated programs, processes, strategies and scorecards that are required to get women’s leadership advancement right. That being said, there is a way to shortcut the process. In the companies I work with, I encourage them to use their existing business planning process, just like you would with a Merger and Acquisition or a new brand launch. The opportunity is the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women. If you take this opportunity through the same rigorous process you will be successful. Unfortunately, most companies do not have that commitment or rigor.
In your TED talk at TEDxStLouisWomen, you mention that 56% of men, but only 39% of women feel that women have made considerable progress in the last 10 years. In addition, only 28% of men but 49% of women feel that gender bias is still present in the workplace. Why do you think there’s such a disparity in those numbers? Where do you think most companies fall short in their efforts to promote the advancement of women? What do we need to start doing and stop doing? Do you think there are certain industries that are more prone to gender inequities?
Simply put, men and women are having different experiences in the workplace. Men don’t want to even raise the issue as we are afraid we will say or do something wrong. What men don’t know is that most women don’t want to lead this conversation. They just want to be recognized as great engineers, salespeople, and managers. Well, by choosing to not talk about the topic, organizations are losing out on a formula for winning. So start by listening, genuinely listening.
We should stop thinking of this as a “women’s issue.” It is a corporate issue and men need to be actively engaged. Finally, I think many CPG companies are doing great work because they have to. Women are 80% of the CPG industry’s customers. Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, and Coca-Cola have all won awards as great places for women to work.
The title of your workshop at SHRM17 is “Why Women – The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men.” What role should men be playing, and do men play, in the advancement of women in the workplace? Can you tell us about your “Father of a Daughter Initiative”?
Gender pay equity, bias in the workplace, and skewed hiring practices are not just women’s issues - they are issues that impact everyone. We need male engagement to support changes to company culture and policies.
Sadly, most men never make the connection between advocating for women today and the workplace gender issues their daughters will face if they CHOOSE to do nothing. Men need to opt-in to advance women today to provide a gender equitable place for all women. Many men actually want to help but don’t know what to do. This idea led to the creation of my Father of a Daughter initiative, a list of 10 activities they can do on a daily basis to demonstrate they are advocates for women. These activities include things like: Choose to mentor a woman in the workplace, choose to attend a women’s affinity group meeting and get involved, and be more observant. Stand up for your coworker when her idea is talked over, or have coffee with a woman who will tell you the absolute truth about her experiences in the company and workplace.
Anything else you’d like to share about your session or the work that you and your company do?
We can’t talk about women without also addressing multiculturalism and millennials. These three job market groups are driving the sense of urgency in the movement towards workplace equality. This is not a new talent management conversation. Millennials are leaving, women are leaving, and boomers are retiring. We have a lot of senior leaders sitting at the top of companies hoping to just hold out for five more years and avoid the discussion completely. Young leaders are more connected to what’s happening and are beginning to drive the sense of urgency that’s needed for change. Everyone, not just fathers or millennials, needs to participate in closing the gender diversity divide.
Leadership diversity numbers haven’t changed for women in a decade; as of 2015, only 14 percent of top executives were women, and an embarrassingly small number is made up of minorities. Here’s perhaps the biggest indicator: fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John.
The goal of my preconference workshop is three-fold. One is to help reframe the conversation on advancing women, second to share best practices from award winning companies that are doing this well and finally to discuss how to get more men engaged in the process of advocating for women.
Jeffrey’s pre-conference workshop, “Why Women – The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men”, will be held on Sunday, June 18 from 8:00 a.m. – noon.