Shared parental leave, workplace language and gender-neutral feedback are keys to improving gender equality

The roundtable, titled ‘Brave Conversations’, took place at Essence Singapore offices.

Flexible working hours, avoiding masculine language and giving useful feedback are just some of the ways the industry can improve gender equality in the workplace: these were some of the key takeaways from The Marketing Society's 'Brave Conversations' roundtable hosted in Singapore on January 25.

Fresh studies show that despite consumer perceptions showing the contrary, a large number of marketers in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region think that they are doing a good job of creating advertising that avoids gender stereotypes. It's no surprise then that a great disparity in leadership among men and women in the workplace still exists in APAC.

To come up with ideas on how to tackle this lack of parity, The Marketing Society and Hopscotch recently brought together senior leaders from agency, marketing and adtech businesses in a roundtable to discuss the issue and brainstorm ways in which gender equality can be improved within and outside the workplace.

Leaders contributing to the conversation included: Sophie Geddie, regional manager at Hopscotch; Nina Devouge, director of talent acquisition APAC at Essence; Yvette Templar, vice-president of marketing and communications APAC at Allied World; Gemma Greaves, chief executive at The Marketing Society; Erica Kerner, vice-president of marketing and communications APAC at Tiffany & Co; Jamie Baldock, head of digital marketing and new proposition development for Asia at Aviva; and Justin McGuire, co-founder at Hopscotch.

Flexibility in working hours

One common theme that arose was how many companies were willing to allow mums with newborns to have flexible working hours, as well as fathers.

An attendee shared a story about a friend who took six months off to have her first baby in Singapore. When the new mother said she wanted to come back to work four days-per-week, her company gave her the green light. After a discussion at home with her husband, they agreed to share the parenting role, with him also working four days.

However, when the husband spoke to his boss the reaction was: 'Why do you want to do that? You're really going affect your career. This is not a good move that we would recommend. Are you really sure? This is really going to hold you back.' According to the husband, the tone of his senior was one of surprise and shock.

The attendees agreed that how companies respond to providing more flexibility for men is just as important as how they respond to flexibility for women. They pointed out that even though women are often seen as the number one caregiver, this does not always have to be the case.

It was also suggested around the table that internal policies should be rewritten to reflect the modern family, instead of putting the onus on women as the sole caretakers.

Language in the workplace

Senior female leaders and chief executives are sometimes guilty of creating and allowing the Silicon Valley ‘bro’ culture to fester by using masculine language like "hey, bro" to other women.

Another attendee shared how a female founder of a company said "hey, bro" to another woman in emails and it trickled down to even the most junior person in the business. The group agreed it was shocking because men and women should treat each other with the respect that does not have to include Silicon Valley ‘bro’ culture.

While masculine language culture is very American, other attendees noted how companies in APAC are using terms like “Son, please come with me” and “man up”. They agreed that people should not be allowed to use those terms and they should not address others in the same way too.

The attendees acknowledged that this is a broad topic because it is unclear if the culture is manifested through language or behavior and it is hard to know at which point is this cause and the effect and the solution.

Giving feedback

An attendee recalled how one of the best things and worst things in her career was the feedback she received from her bosses, which she felt was judging her behavior in a ‘non-female’ kind of way, as she was told she was being too abrasive with her colleagues.

According to the attendee, she was given such feedback because she was being strong and decisive while driving through a project, which her bosses felt might be rubbing people the wrong way. While the attendee says she was always keen to take on feedback, she wondered if her bosses would have given the same feedback if she were a man.

The attendee reflected that she should have said something instead of taking the feedback on board and mulling over it for two weeks. Waiting that long meant that she was not in the moment anymore to be able to kind of get a bit deeper with the person giving her that feedback. She concludes that the lesson has taught her to be really mindful about how she gives feedback.

Another attendee told of a time in which her and her husband, separately at work, had a situation in which there was someone who worked for them who was having a hard time. In both instances, they bent over backwards to accommodate what they were going through to help them.

While the husband was praised for being empathetic, the female attendee was judged and criticized for allowing that person to take time off. The attendee and her husband realized that they were judged for their actions completely differently.

The conclusions of the roundtable are part of a series of 'Brave Conversations', in which the Marketing Society is seeking to encourage more bravery in brand marketers. The topic of gender equality kicked off the first event in Singapore and followed an event about mental health, but the trade organisation plans to tackle more topics across the year.

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