Be A Jedi 2

Last year for International Women’s Day I wrote an open letter to my sons about my hopes and aspirations for the lives that lay ahead of them. In that letter I encouraged them to #beajedi. The Jedi look different to one another, have different strengths and skills, but are bound by the same values and beliefs. The simple message to my sons — teams that look different, and are united by the same values, will always perform better.

Fast forward 12 months, the big ask on this International Women’s Day is to Be Bold for Change. For me this means taking brave steps to conquer the divide that spans genders. Easy to write, a big challenge in reality.

The Star Wars franchise certainly seems to be making bold strides with Rey, a courageous female leading a notably diverse band of heroes in the latest installment, Rogue One. But while Star Wars is heading in this positive direction, business seems to be stalling and even falling behind. New research shows that female representation on boards remains stagnant at 26% and, looking at recent board appointments, the number of women is at its lowest level since 2011.

At a time when we in Dentsu Aegis Network, and companies like us, are investing more than ever before in diversity and inclusion, this is a stark reminder that we need to remain focused. And we need to broaden our reach.

The very nature of a divide is that two things are separated; focusing on one doesn’t necessarily bring the other side closer. To truly conquer the gender divide, it is not just about breaking down barriers for women; men are burdened by gendered stereotypes too. Both have an equal part to play in addressing this systemic issue. It requires a fundamental cultural change; not just here but across our industry, across industries, nationally and internationally. Globally.

Stereotypes are created by small, subtle, and not so subtle, messages and behaviours reinforced over time. And the way to unpick them requires lots of sustainable actions, big and small, that challenge the perceptions which keep things the way they are.

Certainly there is plenty to be hopeful for. In my own business, I’m excited that we are in the second year of our Women in Leadership Programme and that it is expanding to support and inspire 125 bright, talented women, helping to accelerate their careers by developing their own leadership style and finding their own voice.

And through our new shared parental leave policy, offering all our UK dads and co-parents 20 weeks paid leave, we are creating the conditions for men to challenge societal norms and spend more time with their new families. That only a handful of men have chosen to take up this option shows we have much to do to change perceptions.

Conquering the divide is fundamentally about letting people live their lives the way they want to, free from the shackles of old expectations. To be truly bold for change, businesses need to be much more outward looking, influencing these issues more broadly in society and much earlier in people’s lives, when young minds are at their most open. That’s why I am excited about programmes like The Code where I hope all of our 4,500 people will commit some time to work with schools across the UK to promote opportunity, empowerment and diversity in schools.

By investing in the next generation of women and men, my hope is they will go on to inspire and encourage the generation after them — creating a sustainable and reciprocal cycle.

Truly conquering the divide will take time and a long-term vision. It requires us to create the conditions and culture that reflect the needs of men and women today, and to lay the foundations for a more balanced future for the women and men of tomorrow. And, just like the advice I gave my sons a year ago, it means more of us will need to “be a Jedi.” To embrace what makes us different, work side by side with others who are different, and realise it’s the difference that makes us all better.

This is something I’m personally invested in and my commitment to ‘Be Bold for Change’ for this International Women’s Day is to lead from the front.

#ConquerTheDivide #BEAJEDI