I don’t think I’ve ever been passed over because of gender at Accenture or Accenture Strategy; at least, if it happened, it never dawned on me that that was the case. When I was younger, however, I did believe (based on my own observations) that women had made it into more senior roles because they had behaved more like men. I thought I’d have to act like a man, talk like a man. And though I am all about menswear-inspired fashion, I was not interested in dressing like a man! I believed that to be successful in a man’s world, I’d have to play by their rules. My view has since shifted enormously.
I like to refer to it as being competitively feminine.
Women can still be feminine in strategy consulting. They can succeed, thank goodness, without playing so much as a round of golf with “the boys” (although I was a collegiate athlete and, not to flatter myself, but I think I could compete with most men in about any sporting event). I think it’s more about being yourself and being competitive—competitively feminine, if you will.
Nowadays, gender lines are less defined. You see it in high schools; boys and girls hang out together in groups. That wasn’t the way things were when I was growing up. If you brought someone from the opposite sex home, your parents automatically thought you were dating.
Today is a different ball game. Pun intended. There is less pressure to play a more masculine role. So in my view, while women in leadership roles can take their place at the boardroom table on their own terms, they still need the requisite level of training, education, experience, intelligence and presence to do so. We’ve earned our place and worked hard to get there.
Women need to make it on merit, not quotas. If they don’t, they devalue those that have made it on merit. Gender blindness is a good thing, in my opinion—because, ultimately, getting on is about ability. It’s unfair, but people are less likely to question how a man got a particular role. When a woman gets a senior role, questions still arise.
Unconscious bias between genders still exists today. When I had kids and had to travel for work, people would say to me, “Who’s taking care of the kids?” and I’d say, “Their father.” When my husband travels, no one asks him the same question.
I had a situation at an airport where I was carrying my baby in the carrier. I had a premium ticket, so I stood in the premium line. One of the gate attendants came over to me and said, “Ma’am, we don’t board women with children early.” Of course, once I’d pointed out that I had a premium ticket, there was no issue, but the attendant had just assumed. Mind you, this didn’t just happen once; it happened multiple times. There is a plethora of other stories that I could divulge, but I won’t bore you with all of the times that I have been in the front row and the recipient of unconscious bias.
There’s an important point here. Gender inequality persists at the societal level. We can’t simply circumvent this in the world of employment by introducing quotas. Women have to prove themselves on their own merits, on their own terms. It’s our job as leaders in society today to start changing the natural bias that we have. The question of imbalance exists, and it’s imperative that we teach our sons and daughters to think differently. That’s when things will change.