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Why Is Online Learning Effective?
By Maryanne Roller
There was an unspoken consensus at a recent roundtable discussion on barriers women face at work: less mobility, a lack of leadership opportunities, a lack of advancement and a culture too informal and informal, that leaves many women unable to advance.
That’s why SVP for global marketing and communications for Google, Elissa Rumsey, joined a room full of women executives, including luminaries such as Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center, for a roundtable discussion on barriers faced by women in the workplace at the recent American Historical Association conference in Washington, D.C. Rumsey, along with other panelists—Jennifer Crouse of McGovern Ventures, Monica Archila of YouTube, Alison Baskin of LinkedIn, Connie Jerusalmi of Microsoft, Liz Wolfe of Google—and their co-hosts, NPR’s Karla Hutton and Michelle Lee, brought an urgency to the discussion. “[Current statistics are] concerning,” said Rumsey. “We’re not progressing to the position where gender parity is reached.”
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The first reaction was, How do we break the barriers that continue to exist for women? Conversations quickly shifted to how the issue of gender equality is, as Hutton put it, “like the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” Seeing people standing up as opposed to sitting in their chairs is progress.” Rumsey cited an example. When Rumsey previously worked at a company that didn’t promote women (as was typical among large companies), the CEO told the team: “Do what you do for people who can’t stand up,” said Rumsey. “They said, ‘Ooh, no, I couldn’t stand up.’” That experience not only illuminated a big issue within the company but was one of the reasons Rumsey ultimately left.
Pointing to a huge audience of leaders—women who lead, build large organizations, and cultivate communities in which diverse cultures thrive—came as no surprise to the audience. “We need to be teaching kids how to put themselves forward,” said Hutton. “And how to function in an organization where gender parity is very important, but not at all a concern.”
Rather than gender quota, the idea was to play to self-motivation and passion for improving. Mythrij Pantaji of Wired, whose brand was focused heavily on diversity, mentioned how she’d like to see more people around her speaking out and highlighting the barriers women face at work, not just talking about them. Arguing for a “culture of problem solving,” she related a powerful anecdote, saying that she’d been speaking with several male editors at Wired. Asked if they thought women may need to take more risks, instead of waiting for people to move for them, they had no idea.
But once the barriers begin to be eliminated, as they will, Pantaji also knows it won’t be as simple as “if you just hire more women, get them promoted, and they will come together and you’ll have a sea change.” She brought up an example: “When eBay started recruiting at non-factory and non-college schools, they had a surprisingly high percentage of women. I always thought it must be a cultural thing, where more women are interested in tech. But when we started selling on Marketplace—I wanted to have a flower arrangement, but most guys just wanted flowers—women started taking flower arrangement.”
There were a number of important ways in which the conversation focused on what can be done now to help women in the workforce—how companies can develop culture where diversity matters—rather than whether women should be hired and promoted in the first place. A few such examples were mentioned during the discussion, including PwC’s Inspire Challenge and KeyLogic’s The Resilience Project. All came from the newly recognized technology of accelerators and hackathons.
At the end of the discussion, the panelists spoke a common word: People. “By creating pathways for women to succeed, they have the opportunity to be mentored,” said Hutton. “We’re looking at a major shortage of big thinkers.”