Moving the needle for women: together we can change the world

Rayona SharpbackOn February 20, the HBA Chicago chapter hosted a very successful event where Rayona Sharpback presented thought provoking ideas on the benefits to companies as well as individuals when male colleagues work collaboratively to advance women’s careers. Rayona is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Leadership. Rayona is an inspirational teacher, coach and mentor to senior executives across industries and institutions including Harvard University, Stanford Business School, the Canadian Federal Government and the State Of The World Forum among others. She also co-founded the GenderAllies, an alliance of inclusion professionals committed to full gender partnership.

Rayona started the evening by stating “men of quality are never threatened by women of equality”. She stressed the importance of establishing partnerships with men in promoting women’s’ careers as ‘partnership’ connotes a synergy. Rayona went on to say, ‘companies with more women in leadership average a 48% increase in profitability and show a 31% higher return on investment’, and the gender gap in the workplace is narrowing.

Rayona’s premise is each of us has a choice of context about how we live our lives. We can take the view that as only one person, nothing I do makes a difference versus as one person everything I do makes a difference. She encouraged the audience to consider “If not us, who? And if not now, when?”  She considers the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) to be one of the best run organizations she has encountered as it shares her passion for cross-pollination and encourages conversations that make a difference.  She hoped that during the evening the audience members heard something they’d never heard before, thought something they’d never thought or would do something you’d never done. 

Rayona gave a shout out to her hero, Cheryl Sandburg, who wrote Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, a book that serves as lightening rod for gender partnership and advancing women. Rayona said we have made great progress for women at entry and mid-level jobs but the percentage of women in the C-suite has only risen 2% in the past 10 years (up to 14%). She also stated women are leaving corporate America to start their own businesses at a rate 2 – 3 times greater than men.

Rayona encourages all businesses to train their employees to recognize their unconscious biases – ‘everyone has them and once you see yours, it changes the game’. She asserted men are motivated to support women by proven successful business outcomes achieved through full gender partnership. Since women make the majority of family purchasing decisions they have unique insight that is important to tap for product development and strategic planning. Rayona went on to state the most men have a strong sense of honor and fair play, what to do the right thing and want fair treatment for their wives and daughters. In many cases they simply are not aware of gender bias, but once informed or reminded, are more than willing to get involved in supporting and developing women in the workplace.

Rayona suggested the event attendees start a conversation with men in their organizations by asking ‘what is important enough to get them to take action in advancing women’s careers’. Companies prosper when they use the innate talents and learned skills of both genders. She challenged attendees to use our brains to formulate good questions that help our co-workers see their blind spots. She went on to say ‘Our best opportunity for getting our cause to the front burner is to awaken, educate and engage male leaders in being champions for change.

Rayona asked the audience to take a pledge to do one of the following:

1) Decide on a conversation you can have immediately with a male co-worker regarding supporting female careers.

2) Determine what you can do to amplify the virtues of other women leaders and help them advance.

Rayona took several questions from the enthusiastic audience and ended the evening by saying if the HBA Chicago chapter doubles its membership this year, including male members, she will do a free one day seminar.

She also has a large repository of statistical data on women’s leadership issues which she promised to share with the chapter board to post on the HBA web portal. 

The HBA Chicago chapter board was so impressed with Rayona’s message, the board decided during 2014 to increase the number of men on the board.

Post event write up by Kim Wilber and Teresa McNally; marketing committee volunteers

Groups audience: