By Terry Date
The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
Appropriately enough it was a woman, cyber security analyst Abir Shehod, who came to the rescue and adjusted the computer settings so the frozen digital presentation on gender equality would play.
And then through discussions and questions and answers the lunchtime symposium at Schneider Electric’s campus threw support behind the burgeoning HeForShe movement, a worldwide solidarity effort that brings men and women into the struggle to achieve equity for women and men.
“Make no mistake,” said Senior Vice President Barry Coflan, “gender equality is the most important equality issue in the world.” Coflan, who grew up with four sisters, said he has seen women flourish in the workplace when given the chance to succeed.
In between the start and finish of Wednesday’s symposium, Coflan and other Schneider executives, managers and rank and file employees talked about gender equality goals set by the global energy management company and how to reach them — no easy task in the male dominated engineering field.
The goal is to reach pay equity for men and women by 2017 among the company’s 150,000 employees worldwide, said Coflan.
Not only that but the company wants to boost the percentage of entry level employees who are women to 40 percent and the percentage of women in top level positions to 30 percent.
Today, the company’s percentage of women employees is about 20 percent.
Executive Leanne Cunnold, a vice president of marketing and strategy, said having an equal number of men and women makes sense as it improves the collective intelligence of a group.
The 60 employees in the conference room audience and eight panelists watched a brief video of British actress Emma Watson deliver a stirring speech at the United Nations.
In it she said not just women are hampered by gender stereotypes but men are as well, often imprisoned by macho expectations.
Both women and men should be encouraged to be strong and sensitive, she said.
Her rallying cry for action was, “If not me, who. If not now, when?”
Panelists talked about how families and society shape stereotypes.
Schneider panelist Jamie Hart, a technical support manager, reflected on gifts she and her brother received one Christmas as children. She got an iron and ironing board and her brother got this really neat submarine that fired torpedoes.
“And it was just the coolest thing,” she said.
Since her parents were open to letting the kids explore as they wanted they ended up sharing the gifts. But too often, even these, days children are pigeonholed into gender roles, she said.
Those expectations carry through to schools and college programs where far fewer women than men enter science, technology, engineering and math tracks.
Symposium organizers Ashley Baker, Ashley Endy and Mercedes Cortes — Schneider social media, recruiting and engineering employees — selected this week for the talk because it is the 95th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, gained with the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.
Women have the right to vote but as of 2013 they were making 78 cents on the dollar for the same job that men do, said panelist John McPherson, vice president of human resources.
Endy came away from the presentation heartened.
“The sense that we have the men behind us,” she said.
Cortes says, to succeed in equality, it falls to Schneider and other companies not just to hire but to give women incentives to stay, providing them training and career opportunities.
And she said companies should give women a chance to be both a mother and an executive without fear of losing their position with the company.