You can never really tell when something you write on social media is going to ‘blow up’. It could be an observation on its own, part of a group discussion or hashtag topic, or you could be responding to what someone else has already said. How and why people latch on to things, share them, respond to them or like them is a mystery.
I’ve just had an experience like that. It’s been a stark reminder that even seemingly benign messages of positivity can have significant social impact, and harks back to the fundamental principles of social media — it’s not just cat memes!
It happened like this: I was lying in bed late at night last week, reflecting on my day, and decided to share on my LinkedIn feed an inspiring conversation I’d had that afternoon. I’d met a chief executive officer who’d just hired a woman for the role of chief financial officer … who it just so happens was four months pregnant. She’ll be seven months pregnant when she commences her new role.
At the time I realised, at the very least, it was a brilliant recruitment case study, but from a broader view, was also actually a massive ‘win’ for women in leadership.
This woman’s employment is a step towards gender equity, a small levelling of the playing field for women in senior leadership roles. But it also said a lot about how this chief executive saw this woman’s long-term potential. Yes, within a few months she would be off-site. And for several weeks, if not months, after that point, she’d be on maternity leave, with her return to full-time employ not guaranteed for a significant time after that.
To the chief executive officer’s credit, this was a long-term investment in human capital. The chief financial officer’s potential was clear, and the decision to hire her was made knowing she would ‘pay dividends’ in the long term. A risk? Sure. But given its likelihood to pay off, it was a win-win in every sense.
The Australian Human Rights Commission states: “Employers should consider making all reasonable adjustments to the workplace to accommodate the normal effects of pregnancy.” Yet despite that, a massive 54% of women in one study believed their careers have been affected by taking maternity leave. A further 44.1% say their salaries stall, 30.4% believe their careers take a backward step and 29.9% say they sacrificed their careers when they gave birth. It shouldn’t be the case, but it is.
Based on the astonishing conversations taking place on my LinkedIn feed this week, many Australians seem still captive to the archaic notion that women can’t ‘have it all’. We should be applauding workplaces that are prepared to take these kinds of risks, and which challenge these ridiculous assumptions — because without them there will simply be no cultural shift!
My LinkedIn post has already had well over half a million impressions (and counting), garnered more than 8,000 likes and generated nearly 400 comments.
Many readers agreed with my initial thesis: this woman’s appointment is a positive move for women in the workplace, and for the women who want to pursue fulfilling careers while enjoying family life. As men have, since forever!
Many others, though, vehemently disagreed.
“I really pity the baby.”
“You are right, the world is changing and there is no value for life in this corporate world.”
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“While I am a big advocate of women in leadership roles, I cannot help but think this is a bad decision on the CEO.”
There was this gem: “So what. Plenty of small business owners have hired a pregnant wife.”
Or this, from a female senior associate in a law firm: “What would be very interesting is the follow up in 3-6-12 months’ time to see whether this lady actually returned to work and how she is coping mentally and physically. These posts are only placing unrealistic expectations on women to combine full-time work and family commitments. [These] posts are clearly describing desperate situations where financial situation was a key to an early return to work. [Is] it fair for the rest of staff in this company to have a CFO who is not available full time, or as per some of the examples in the posts, a screaming baby in the cubicle next door because someone is breastfeeding at work?”
It’s a contentious issue. I get it. You’re not going to have a full-time permanent chief financial officer in the short term. There are, doubtlessly, qualified people out there who can take on the role who are not about to spend the next few weeks, or months, on leave.
But the greater sociological issue at stake here is that in order for large-scale change to be brought about, sacrifices have to be made.
Evolution, in all of its forms, is not something that ever happens without growing pains. We need to adjust to the idea of difference. It seldom comes about painlessly or with great ease.
It sparked a conversation among the many hundreds of people who have commented. And since this is LinkedIn, the conversations largely remained civil — this is one of the few social media platforms where civility is still the predominant way of carrying out these discussions.
The overall benefit though, is that these things are being discussed.
We are not that far removed from a time in history when it was not only unlikely a woman would be offered a chief financial officer position — or any C-suite position — but unthinkable a topic of this nature would even be up for debate.
Older generations (my parents, and my grandparents) lived in a time when a woman could legally be fired for either being pregnant or simply married. Our generation is the luckiest one so far. We have the support of broader society where such archaic notions of where a ‘woman’s place is’ have mostly been consigned to the history books.
This experience of having an idle post ‘explode’ in such a way has shed some light for me on what potential there is in having these discussions. By not only making the seemingly tough decisions, but embracing them, promoting them and celebrating them were we can. From one-on-one personal conversations to social media feeds, anyone can do their part to upend general assumptions, and help in the march towards gender equality, from the boardroom, to the corridors of power, and everywhere else.
Nothing, it seems, is too small a gesture to make an impact.