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Alumni Stories · Leadership - Diversity and Equity and Inclusion

Gender equality isn’t a women’s issue — it’s a human one

In depth interview with Galina Antova, IMD MBA alumna whose ambitions and business smarts led her to the top. She believes gender equality isn’t a women’s issue — it’s a human one.
March 2019

Galina is the co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer of Claroty, a cybersecurity company protecting critical infrastructure networks. Her company employs over 120 people world-wide and has raised over $93 million in venture capital. Claroty has customers in 11 different industries including oil and gas, energy, manufacturing, mining, food & beverage pharmaceuticals.

What is the significance of International Women’s Day to you?

“Women’s Day for me is a celebration of women. However, the fact that we need a specific day to celebrate women tells us a lot about the inequalities which still exist today. Let’s not forget that women got the right to vote only about 100 years ago in the US, and Saudi Arabia only granted that in 2011 – 8 years ago!

We are still very far from true equality, despite the exponential progress made in the last few decades. There won’t be true equality until women and men have equal power. I recently wrote an article on this topic: ‘It’s time to stand with women in power’.”

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2018 Report found that while the global gender gap has narrowed slightly, fewer women are participating in the workforce. The Forum suggests that the rise of technologies across a range of industries may, in fact, play a role in exacerbating these gender gaps. Will AI make the gender gap in the workplace harder to close?

“Technology is just an enabler. It can enable good behavior or bad, depending on the creators of the technology. I think we have much deeper problems to address than worry about the effect of AI on the gender gap. The deeply ingrained social norms that are pervasive, to different degrees, throughout the world – such as the gender roles girls and boys are expected to play, have a much bigger effect on their behavior as they grow-up and thus a much bigger opportunity to change those gender roles. If girls are socialized to believe that leadership is good and acceptable behavior coming from a woman, for example, that will have a very positive effect on their confidence which has cascading effects on their professional careers.

There is a very well documented phenomenon called the ‘Double bind dilemma’: when women act in ways consistent with the stereotype of a leader – strong, resolute, decisive – this conflicts with the stereotype of what is culturally expected of a woman – to be kind and accommodating. As a result, women are perceived as competent or likable, but never both. Damned if you do, doomed if you don’t. These are not ideal choices to have. We must work on changing our unconscious biases. As Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book, Lean In: “Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty”. This is because assertive women are perceived as aggressive, which is inconsistent with the social stereotype expected of them.”

The gender pay gap starts to expand after women have children. At first, both parents’ incomes take a knock, but men’s quickly recover. Women’s never do. What do you think of the new initiative of a four-day work week? Is flexible working becoming the new norm?

With the 4-day work week initiative, we are solving a symptom, not the root cause. We don’t need to give women more time to take care of kids and do the dishes, per se. What we need to do is take some things off their plates, so they can decide whether they would prefer to do menial tasks or take on harder projects to work towards a promotion. In order to lessen the burden of women’s never-ending life maintenance to-do list, we need:

  1. Partners at home to do their fair share. Family and kids should be the responsibility for both parents, equally. That means all the trivial things that waste so much time – laundry, cleaning, etc.
  2. Employers, bosses, and co-workers to be aware of the social biases we have in promoting women. Ask a woman if she wants to work on challenging projects that are more likely to earn her a promotion, and don’t automatically give them easier projects just because you assume she needs to leave early to pick up the kids (or attack their to-do list).
  3. As a society, to be careful on how we judge ambition in women. In my experience, the negative reaction women receive when they make their ambitions known is the #1 reason women suppress their ambitious goals. So, instead of judging their goals, applaud them and support them.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle for gender equality in the workplace today?

Based on my experiences, two things are key to narrowing this gap: Addressing unconscious biases, and having the gate-keepers of power structures open the door and invite more women in. While women are making significant progress at the lower levels of the power structures, to be truly powerful, one must be invited to (and allowed to exist in) the top power structures by the current people in power. In the vast majority of cases, that unfortunately means being invited by men. As Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, said in her interview with The New Yorker: “The people who opened the door for me were men. The reality is that most positions of power right now are held by men, and so men need to be the ones who are opening the door.”

My advice to male friends and colleagues in positions of power is this: If you truly want equality and diversity in your organization, think about how to promote and open doors for women. This doesn’t mean special treatment, and it doesn’t mean giving the job to a woman who is not qualified. It means not overlooking the women who are qualified. It means identifying and addressing our own subconscious biases of what a leader embodies.

What does ‘being a leader’ mean to you?

It means being myself. It means trusting my instincts and having confidence in my abilities.

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