When my son was born, a female colleague said to me, “You must be thrilled you finally have someone who can take over the company!” This wouldn’t have been a problem, except I already had two daughters. Why couldn’t one of them take over?
But what I’ve realized is that it’s not that simple. Women are still fighting for what they should have had hundreds of years ago: equal opportunity. And they’re more at risk now than they have been in decades.
From a business perspective, excluding women just isn’t smart: having women in leadership roles boosts a company’s bottom line. Yet women hold only 19% of c-suite positions and men are likelier to get certain jobs for a variety of reasons.
Tracey Swain, Kerrie Shakespeare, and Barb Agostini are all members of O2E Brands' leadership team. Photo by O2E Brands.
I don’t know what my kids want to be when they grow up — it doesn’t matter as long as they’re happy and healthy. When I imagine their futures, I see them having all the opportunity in the world without discrimination standing in their way. But from what I’ve seen lately, there’s a long way to go.
As American politics enter this uncertain phase, I think it’s important my daughters — and my son, for that matter — understand how to navigate gender issues in business. At O2E Brands, we have women who are killing it on the leadership team. So I turned to three of them for advice.
Barb Agostini, Vice President - Partner Development
Do not let ‘being a woman’ be your angle. Be the best at what you do, be transparent about what you bring and who you are, and demonstrate why you’re most deserving of the role. In short: make gender irrelevant.
If it’s a company worth being a part of — a company that’s growing, innovating and doing remarkable things — being a woman won’t impact your ability to get ahead. If you find yourself blaming your gender for your inability to advance, make sure that’s the true reason. And if it is the reason, bring your awesome elsewhere.
Kerrie Shakespeare, Vice President - Communications & Alignment
More times than I care to admit, it’s been assumed at off-site leadership meetings that I’m the assistant. It’s disheartening that just because I’m a woman, they assume I’m not an executive. Luckily, I've always felt supported and respected by my O2E Brands colleagues who jump in quickly to set the record straight.
In business, women are constantly having to prove themselves — especially in male-dominated industries. Here are a few tactics that have worked for me:
Don't be the one who takes the notes, makes coffee or gets lunch if it's not your job.
Don't sit on the sidelines — seize every opportunity and be an active part of the team.
You have a voice. Use it.
There is absolutely no doubt it’s harder to access opportunity as a woman. Smashing the glass ceiling isn’t just about earning respect, it’s also very dependent on what you want in life. If you decide to have a family, expect a harder road because outside of being a powerhouse at the office, you have another full time job as mom.
I really believe that women can have it all — but it doesn’t come easy.
Tracey Swain, Chief Financial Officer
My advice for women in typically male-dominated industries is to connect with the men in the company just as much as the women. We need to (as much as possible) take gender out of the equation. There have been times during my career where there was a possibility that actions or decisions were biased, but I never let it impede my progress. I am fortunate to have been supported in my career advancement by both male and female supervisors and influencers.
I have come across men and women who are not used to reporting to a woman — in many cases, working with me may be the first time they have been in that situation. But mostly, I’ve found that the companies I have worked for are glad to have a woman join their senior leadership. They were seeking the best person for the role.
Be The Change
Despite having brands in four male-dominated industries, I’m proud that O2E Brands hasn’t grown around a male-dominated culture. Men and women are represented at every level of our company — from truck teams to C-suite and every department in between. Our policies apply to everyone, not just to men or to our leadership team: every employee gets up to five paid weeks off every year, full extended benefits, access to profit sharing, and all new parents get equal leave.
Equal opportunity isn’t a priority for us, it’s a given — it’s so ingrained in our culture that we don’t give it a second thought. By building a team of people all aligned towards the same vision, we organically created a gender-neutral company. We’re passionate people who can see beyond the bias — and I know my children will be the same, whatever path they choose.