Barack Obama has said that having more women in leadership roles will improve social and government movements, and Avivah Wittenberg-Cox agrees somewhat — she thinks “men and women should run the world together.”
“I am not into all men or all women doing anything; I think we are better off together,” she said. “It would be much more peaceful, better run and healthier for all.”
Wittenberg-Cox, who has been a Chautauquan for at least 10 years, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, in the Amphitheater. Her lecture, “Gender Balance? Because it’s the 21st Century,” is part of Week Six, “The Changing Nature of Work.”
She is the CEO of 20-First, which is one of the leading gender consultant agencies, where she aids CEOs, executive committees and managers in assembling gender-bilingual organizations.
Shared power is key to a lot of gender issues, Wittenberg-Cox said, and when that comes about, it will fix many other issues on its own.
“Getting people to be more inclusive is a muscle,” Wittenberg-Cox said. “It needs to be educated, built and passed on by parents and leaders. Being inclusive is counter (to our) nature; it’s an evolved human skill and not a default right.”
Disputes between men and women do not help gender balance — it actually hurts it. Wittenberg-Cox believes the focus should be on “helping educate the dominant group in a way they can receive information, rather than be accusatory and blaming them for state of the world.”
“In my experience, it works better and is more effective to building gender balance in their organizations and makes them look good and has better results,” she said.
Wittenberg-Cox also speaks on relationships and the different roles the people in them assume.
“I think the 20th century was the ‘rise of women,’ and the 21st century is the men’s reaction to that rise,” she said.
She said social expectations play a big role in many people’s relationships, and getting rid of those is a big factor in changing the norms.
“A lot of men raised to be breadwinners feel emasculated when they aren’t,” Wittenberg-Cox said. “I find societal judgements on the husbands that earn less than their spouse often comes from male friends and not their wives.”
According to a New York Times study, 64 percent of young adults aren’t having kids because child care is too expensive.
“If they have a child, (it is) at the cost of their careers. A couple of generations ago, they chose family, but now any smart, educated women is going to choose work,” Wittenberg-Cox said. “Equal parenting will be a big leveling of the playing field when that happens. It will have huge impact on children, the workplace, and it has only just begun. ”
The United States is the only country that doesn’t require employers to offer paid leave to new mothers, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“This system isn’t designed for care; women can’t afford the luxury of choosing between work and family,” Wittenberg-Cox said. “I think a lot of young women are hearing (about) the cost of children on their careers and are nervous. I think that can change if they can get an equal, supportive spouse.”
People have been hearing about “women’s rights” for years, but Wittenberg-Cox wants it to be reframed: “Gender balance is good for country, companies and our couples.”
“(Gender balance) is not something women should be fighting for or something men should be fighting for (on behalf of) women,” she said. “I think men should be fighting for their own souls and the feminine inside them. The world won’t heal until masculine and feminine is balanced in each of us, and right now, we aren’t there.”
Seeing gender balance as a “win-win” will improve companies on all levels, Wittenberg-Cox believes.
“If you want a more successful company, or want it to be more profitable and sustainable, gender balance is a really easy, cheap, low-hanging fruit way to get that,” she said. “I have seen a lot of leaders begin to understand that gender balance is a lever to improving all kinds of issues.”