With The 3% Conference Australasia a little over a month away, B&T decided it was high time we spoke with our wonderful keynote speakers to provide a glimpse of what you’ll experience at the event.
Our first cab off the rank is Susan David Ph.D. An award-winning psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, David is also co-founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital; and CEO of Evidence Based Psychology, a boutique business consultancy.
In recent years she has achieved a new level of fame after publishing an article called Emotional Agility: What Does It Take To Thrive. It went viral, with the Harvard Business Review naming it Management Idea of the Year.
Last year, David published a book titled Emotional Agility, which promptly became a Wall Street Journal #1 Best Seller. The book will launch in paperback form in Australia next month.
David has vast experience dealing with issues of gender and diversity, and here we bring you part one of our exclusive interview with her.
Firstly, can you give us a potted summary of your career to date?
My career path has been anything but conventional. I grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, which was essentially an environment of legislated hate.
My father passed away when I was 16, which would have a profound effect on my young life. After finishing school, I dropped out of university in South Africa, then decided I was interested in a career in psychology. I had become very interested in the idea of what makes an effective career.
I then moved to New Zealand and then Australia, where I completed a Ph.D. at Melbourne University. My next step was a Post Doctorate at Yale.
Since 2009 I’ve been a psychologist at Harvard at Medical School.
The 3% Conference at which you’ll be speaking came about because, as recently as 2012 in the US, just 3 percent of creative directors were female. Why do you think this scenario came about?
A lot of the reasons [for gender imbalance in working environments] are historical, from way before our time. In the past, the more academically rigorous fields such as maths and the sciences were open to men, but women had other roles. There was systematic generational discrimination around working roles.
Another factor is when gender and power come into play. If there’s a power hierarchy, people will hire in their own likeness. Everyone is drawn in some way to unconscious biases. This goes for everything in life from parenting to recruiting and more.
We also have completely different language when talking to young boys and girls. As a society, we have systematic biases that become pervasive. So there is an entire culture that needs to change, not just within businesses. Essentially, you will never have true equality in an organisational context unless the broader system changes.
I hasten to add that people aren’t necessarily intending to discriminate in business – and it doesn’t reflect a bad person or employee. The important thing when dealing with inequality is to recognise patterns.
The 3% Conference has shone a light on the low level of female participation at the c-suite level of business, and not just in media. What are the first steps to changing the ratio in a broader sense?
Awareness is one thing, but it’s simply awareness. And awareness alone doesn’t lead to behavioural change.
When organisations are only checking boxes to get the right ratio, it doesn’t necessarily support females being in positions of authority.
Additionally, much of the workday is not geared around family and children. We can establish organisations that silence voices, and changing this is an important step to progress.
Organisations often need to take a real look at their values. Boards and executive teams need to move away from the space of box checking. They need to ask questions around the why. Why is this [gender equality] truly important to us? This is the first question that needs to be answered.
Diversity is often spoken about in businesses as a have to goal, but why isn’t it a want to goal? That’s a critical question that can help shift the status quo.
Also important is the idea of speaking up more [about inequality in business]. Systems, processes and policies really do impact on the ability of people to bring themselves to the workplace. If these issues aren’t addressed, the rest will be mere window dressing.
Look out for part two of our interview with Susan David tomorrow.
David will deliver her keynote address at The 3% Conference on Thursday 31 August. To hear her and other media luminaries like Cindy Gallop and Lisen Stromberg, grab your tickets here.
Susan’s website also provides a free EQ quote for interested parties. To get yours, simply click here.
Photo courtesy of Dana Patrick Photography.