Want to Be a Leader? Then Speak Out About Gender Equity

Dustin McKissen

Being a leader requires taking a stand on important issues--even when it might make other people angry.

Let's face it: Gender equity and sexism are subjects that are driving a lot of dialogue right now.

As a father of two daughters, I have some very strong opinions on how I want my daughters to be treated and spoken of.

When I think of how I want my daughters treated, what comes to mind isn't a lot of data on the bottom-line benefits of gender equity--which all concludes that businesses that value diversity and promote women are more profitable and perform better.

Instead, when I think of my daughters being treated as inherently inferior to their male counterparts or as the potential objects of sexual violence, my inner redneck comes out, and I think of country music lyrics that involve rough forms of hillbilly justice--usually involving a combination of tree stumps and hungry alligators.

But Inc. is a platform to talk about business and entrepreneurship, so I'll leave the country lyrics for another post on a different platform--and spend time on this platform talking about gender equity and leadership.

Gender equity doesn't just matter to me as a father and husband.

It matters to me as an employer.

I run a small business. A really small business. We are a four-employee marketing, public relations, and strategy firm.

My team includes intelligent, educated, dynamic women. I'm pretty proud to work with them, but even prouder that they choose to work with me. The reality is that they could probably find better pay and more job security at a larger, more-established company.

My employees help me realize that if you want to call yourself a leader--at home or in the workplace--you cannot avoid the issue of gender equity and how women are and have been treated.

If you are a manager or executive at a company, or the owner of a company, it's probably wise to assume that right now your female and male employees are watching and observing your actions and words far more closely than ever before.

Sure, you probably don't say anything overtly offensive or misogynistic, but who are you when no one is watching? Do you really view your female employees, team members, and colleagues as whole beings? Do you really participate in conversations that demean women--or for that matter anyone else--simply for their DNA? Do you view your employees, team members, and colleagues as unique individuals worth investing in?

And when our culture is having an important conversation about basic decency and gender equity, do you take a stand?

Because here is the thing: As children, we learn a lot about history.

In our history classes, we learn about heroes, people whose courage has made our world a better place. And what is a universal trait of a hero, whether that hero is Abraham Lincoln or Rosa Parks?

The hero takes a stand.

The hero is willing to experience a great loss, or make a great sacrifice, to make the world a better place--often for generations of people whom the hero will never have the chance to meet.

That's what we learn when we are kids.

Heroes stand for something.

Then we become adults.

Professionals.

As professionals we receive two messages:

  1. Leadership matters.
  2. Keep controversy out of the office. Business is no place for political or social issues.

These messages are contradictory. You cannot lead if you aren't willing to take a stand when it really matters.

You cannot lead if you worry about what you might lose by taking a stand.

Stop worrying, and realize that not taking a stand when it matters leads to a far more significant loss than taking a stand ever will.

Like your integrity.

And the ability to call yourself a leader.