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. And it’s been a stark reminder that even seemingly benign messages of positivity can lead to a number of different viewpoints, but then also have significant social impact.
Lying in bed late one night last week, I decided to share on my LinkedIn feed an inspiring conversation I’d had that afternoon. I’d met a CEO who’d just hired a woman for the role of CFO, who happened to also be four-months’ pregnant. She’ll be seven months’ pregnant when she starts her new role.
At the time I realised that at the very least it was a brilliant recruitment case study but, from a broader view, it was 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 CEO saw her potential for the long term. Yes, within a few months she would start with the business. 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 CEO’s credit, this was a long-term investment in human capital. The CFO’s potential was clear, and the decision to hire her was made knowing that she would ‘pay dividends’ in the long-term. A risk? Sure, every hire is. But given its likelihood to pay off, it was a win-win in every sense.
The Australian Human Rights Commission states that “employers should consider making all reasonable adjustments to the workplace to accommodate the normal effects of pregnancy.” Yet despite that, half of women are discriminated against while pregnant, when on maternity leave or shortly after leaving, according to AHRC stats.
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 kind 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 almost 10,000 likes and generated 400+ comments.
Many readers agreed with my initial thesis – that this woman’s appointment is a positive move for women in the workplace, and for women general who want to pursue both the fulfilling careers they have worked so hard for, as well as enjoy their families. As men have since – forever!
Many others, though, vehemently disagreed.
“I really pity the baby,” says one. “You are right, the world is changing and there is no value for life in this corporate world.
“While I am a big advocate of woman in leadership roles,” claims another, “…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.” So what?! 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 CFO 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 point and benefit of it is that these things are being discussed. It’s not that far removed a time in history when it’s not only unlikely that a woman be offered a CFO position – or any C-suite position in a company – but unthinkable that a topic of this nature would even be up for debate. It was only within the past few generations (my parents, or my grandparents’ generations) that a woman could legally be fired for either being pregnant, or simply married for that matter. Our generation is the luckiest one so far where 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 up-end the general assumptions, and help us all 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.
Stella Petrou Concha is the Founder and CEO of Sydney-based recruitment firm, Reo Group, and passionate UN Global Goals Advocate.