What it Means to Be Included As a Man at a Global Summit for Women

Written by Zia Zaman, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, MetLife Asia and CEO LumenLab.

I stepped off the plane in Sydney, Australia, a city I visit often for business, but this time, for a completely different purpose. I had been asked to speak on a panel with three other male leaders at the Global Summit of Women.

I was grateful to join this important conversation, not just as a male leader who speaks up for gender inclusion, but as a leader of innovation, which needs a multiplicity of voices and perspectives to succeed. As I thought about the opportunity and responsibility I’d been given, a couple of questions swirled in my head. First, how is it that we still can’t mobilize to provide gender equality, pay equity and leadership inclusion when the benefits are so stark?

On a more personal note, what could I say that hasn’t been said before? It wouldn’t add anything to the dialogue to just repeat the same things we hear in “Diversity Training”. Then I remembered the best advice from my wife, which was to be authentic, be yourself.

The welcome proceedings were unlike any I had ever seen. The 2,000-person theatre was buzzing with energy. I sat down and listened to the opening speeches. One in particular on gender pay equity, by McKinsey, stated that if all countries were able to match the rate of improvement of the fastest-improving country in their region, we could add as much as $12 trillion in annual GDP.

The next morning, I met my fellow panelists in the Green Room. We discussed some of our forward-thinking D&I programs and impressive statistics at our own companies, but we agreed that when we spoke we should emphasize real stories of how inclusion is having a deep impact on our workplaces.

Brian Hartzer, CEO of Westpac, one of Australia’s largest banks, made the simple case that diversity is good for business, both gender and ethnic diversity.

Tim Reed, CEO of software powerhouse, MYOB, shared that in Australia, women make up only 19% of computer science graduates. He’s been working with Male Champions for Change, a local institute dedicated to gender equality programs, encouraging code training to women looking to return to the workforce.

Johnpaul Dimech, Chairman of Sodexo, Asia-Pacific, told a heart-wrenching story about Rosemond, a facilities worker who was told she would never amount to anything, and through perseverance, hard work, and strong inclusion policies has now risen to the company’s head of Health & Safety.

I spoke about how we teach learning behaviors at LumenLab that favor collaborative skills where women excel. While I didn’t cite it, there is strong research that backs this – such as a recent Kuhn and Billeval study: “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?” which says yes. Later, I cited statistics from our Developing Women’s Careers Experience – or DWCE program – whose graduates get promoted from AVP to VP at three times the global average.

When the subject of #MeToo came up, I shared how the revelations about unacceptable workplace behavior made me think of my son and how we need to bring up boys differently. I try to teach selflessness and empathy — how to be tolerant and when to be righteous. We should be raising them not just to be on the right side of the issue, but to speak up and to be champions for inclusion, fairness and to allow everyone in the world to have their fair chance at happiness.

The positive reaction to our panel from the crowd was humbling. Many women from all over the world told me their stories about their countries’ gender inclusion efforts, how we need to change education in STEM, and how men need to speak up to demand change. The experience made me realize that to reach our full potential, we need each of us to feel included, to have a sense that we belong at the table, and that we can bring our own unique experience and perspective to reach our goals.

Optimistically, I think we will get there. Certainly, the global dialogue on the issues raised at the Global Summit of Women in Sydney will help.