Women's Equality Day

Today at MessageBird we’re celebrating Women’s Equality Day – in commemoration of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 19th amendment was adopted in 1920, giving women the right to vote. More than a century later women’s suffrage is still not a worldwide right! 

In the workplace we still see a lack of parity between genders. According to the recent Global Gender Gap Report 2021 from the WEF, the distance to parity in all dimensions is at 68%, which means if we continue on our current track it will take 135.6 years to close the gap worldwide! 

As we reflect on our journey towards gender parity, we’ve gathered voices from our Birds to share their views on how far women have come and what steps we need to take to improve.

Shane Owenby joined MessageBird in December 2021 as the Chief Revenue Officer.

Prior to MessageBird, Shane spent 12 years at Amazon (AWS) building and leading many organisations. Shane holds a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science and started his career at IBM as a Software Engineer. He has more than twenty years of experience in the IT Industry, working both internationally, in Australia, Singapore, and The United States. Shane is originally from North Carolina and is currently based in Austin, Texas with his wife and two children.

What goes through your mind when you think about gender parity being still far from perfect on today’s Women’s Equality Day? Shouldn’t men be concerned about the slow pace to close it?

Shane: As a father to an 11 year old daughter, and as a professional in the IT industry for over 20 years, I think we still have work to do to bridge the gender gap, however here at MessageBird we see great strides being made. When a company makes it a priority to close the gender equality gap, we see greater success. I've seen this first hand over my career. Here at MessageBird, we see great efforts within our recruitment team in attracting diverse candidates. We are starting to see a more balanced representation within the C-level executive team and other leadership roles. Ensuring an even playing field when it comes to compensation and promotions, for all employees, no matter the gender, should be top priority. We all have the responsibility to be involved in growing equality in the workplace.

How can men engage in advancing the parity gap to close?

Shane: Men can look for areas to identify inequities and be willing to address the gender gap within the workplace. It’s important to be proactive in listening to women’s professional challenges and learning from their experiences. Asking how you can best support the efforts and taking action in becoming an ally is also an important step.

Leadership, Allyship and Mentorship are often said to be crucial on the way to reach the goals. To which extent would you agree?

Shane: The current social climate has caused many companies to evaluate how they can create a greater sense of inclusion and belonging. Leadership, allyship, and mentorship are critical in building a successful company culture and ensuring that everyone in the organisation is able to develop and advance their careers in the ways they desire. Mentors can help guide mentees with specific development goals and help create exposure to other opportunities. With allyship, you are actively supporting and advocating for colleagues from underrepresented groups and working to eliminate barriers that these groups face in the workplace. I have had the opportunity to provide this support to many colleagues and worked to drive targeted development programs through sponsorship for women and other diverse groups, and look to do the same here at MessageBird. Mentorship and allyship are both critical for any company to be committed to an inclusive workplace.

What’s the one thing anybody can do to advance gender parity at the Nest from your POV?

Shane:  With Nikita Baranov, the new head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on board, here at MessageBird, we can look for opportunities to be engaged in future gender inclusion programs or workshops. We want to be aware of our unconscious bias and how it can affect the workplace. We also want to look for opportunities to help create a space for open conversations and make it a commitment to foster a safe and respectful workplace for all genders.

“It isn't just enough to get women on your Zoom call or make sure that your team has gender representation. It's really important to know that there are centuries of social conditioning of women to reduce confidence, and encourage not speaking up. So you have the responsibility to build an equitable future by encouraging the women that you've just hired to increase gender representation, to make sure they're speaking up, to make sure their voices are heard.”

– Asha Thurthi | Chief Product Officer @ MessageBird

Danielle Ong is the Country Manager for Greater China and a passionate advocate for other Women in the workplace. Danielle's team currently has a gender diversity of 50% female. She is also the proud Mom of 2 lovely children.

What goes through your mind when you think about gender parity being still far from perfect on today’s Women’s Equality Day? Shouldn’t men be concerned about the slow pace to close it?

Danielle: Fairly fresh in my memory is the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which makes me think about the lasting implications on equality for women in the workplace. Unfortunately it continues to not be a level playing field, with data showing pay gaps between men and women, and the unequal standards we place on different genders. Notwithstanding men, everyone should be concerned about the pace, as we’re playing multiple roles in the society as parents, employees and community members, and gender parity will drive greater personal satisfaction, relationships and growth.

Leadership, Allyship and Mentorship are often said to be crucial on the way to reach the goals. To which extent would you agree?

Danielle: I largely agree with this. Leadership leads  overall culture building and drives change. Allyship would be able to pave the way through personal actions, like calling out divisive behaviour, and using inclusive language in daily interactions. A more inclusive environment can be fostered by mentorship, since mentorship and mentorship programs can improve diversity by helping to map career paths for diverse demographics and helping to retain employees. With this, it enables the improvement of skills and knowledge necessary for advancement. The only thing I would add on is that on top of that, making little steps personally is also a step in the right direction.

How can men engage in advancing the parity gap to close?

Danielle: This has to be a deliberate, ongoing engagement. Actions that can be taken include advocating for gender-equitable policies, supporting female colleagues and leaders, crediting them fairly and contributing a fair share in the workplace, and carrying an equal mental and physical (e.g household chores) load at home. 

What’s the one thing anybody can do to advance gender parity at the Nest from your POV?

Danielle: Actively read articles on how to be more inclusive, avoid gender bias and take action on it. Little actions add up and become the building blocks of change. 

“Study and become independent. Look to the future with confidence and always find solutions to all the challenges that life throws at you.”

–Anca Barbulescu | Finance Operations Manager @ MessageBird

Nikita Baranov is the Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at MessageBird. Prior to joining the company in July 2022 he spent 7 years with METRO in tech and non-tech areas where he has been transforming and developing a couple of Employee Resource Groups and focusing on global acceleration of DE&I, building and leveraging communities of practice. Born in a half Ukrainian and half Russian family with Jewish roots, emigrated to Germany and part of the LGBTIQ+ community, he strongly advocates for non-discriminatory workplaces where everybody has a voice and a safe space to thrive at their best. In 2022 Nikita was voted #1 PROUTVoices List in Germany.

What goes through your mind when you think about gender parity being still far from perfect on today’s Women’s Equality Day? Shouldn’t men be concerned about the slow pace to close it?

Nikita: Looking at the overall slow pace of the gender gap worldwide I see the opportunity for  more progressed countries to help those that are less progressed to inspect, learn and adapt the good practice to accelerate the gap to close faster. Furthermore I’m convinced that systemic change will require more male voices to shape the solution of fixing the system which is currently unbalanced. We need to become aware of our biases, educate about how diversity dimensions intersect and shape a culture of belonging where all genders feel empowered and valued for who they are. 

Leadership, Allyship and Mentorship are often said to be crucial on the way to reach the goals. To which extent would you agree?

Nikita: All three aspects are crucial to create inclusive and fair systems. I personally believe that allyship is key in the process. Men need to become allies of women and vice versa to be able to change the system for the good. To get there, I consider everybody in an organisation to play a role as change agent, identifying and self-reflecting how and where our behaviour is potentially harming people who are different from us. 

How can men engage in advancing the parity gap to close?

Nikita: I have a few practical examples how to engage as #HeForShe. First of all, always take action, don’t be a silent bystander if you hear something that doesn’t sound right! Challenge your peers when they speak disrespectfully of others, change happens right then and there when you speak up. Ensure gender balance in meetings and question your appearance in panel discussions when you see a disbalance of gender. Educate yourself, ask women about their experiences and listen to what is different. Challenge your own assumptions about the roles of men and women. Do most people in your circle look like you? Include women in your network to expand your perspective. 

What’s the one thing anybody can do to advance gender parity at the Nest from your POV?

Nikita: I firmly believe that everybody has a platform and a voice no matter how small to advocate for equity and inclusion. We as Birds are all owners of the company we love to work for and see grow not only in numbers but also culturally. So in a world where Birds can be anyone, stay alert, speak up, be an ally and admit mistakes along the journey, self-reflect, learn and improve! 

“When you're managing a team, you need to understand that there are people with really good strengths and then there are weaknesses. When you put all of the jigsaw together and you see from their perspective that makes a really powerful and successful team. Stepping into somebody else's shoes has served me really well in my career.”  

– Edel Hartog | Head of Commercial, Legal @ MessageBird

Susan van Niftrik is a Netherlands native and received her Bachelor and Master of Laws from Utrecht University. After graduation, she started her career as a lawyer at one of the largest law firms in the Netherlands in 2010. Thereafter, she worked at several firms in both the Netherlands and New York, and was involved as an external legal counsel for MessageBird during its Series A fundraising round in 2017. 

Susan joined MessageBird in 2019, and currently serves as head of its corporate legal department. As part of this role, she and her team are responsible for corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions, insurance, employment law, and the MessageBird Employee Stock Option Plan.

Susan lives in Amsterdam with her husband and three children. In her free time, she loves to read thrillers and novels, play tennis, and enjoy crossfit.

What goes through your mind when you think about gender parity being still far from perfect on today’s Women’s Equality Day? Shouldn’t men be concerned about the slow pace to close it?

Susan: It should be a concern of all companies to guarantee a fair working environment for all genders, without differences in salary or preferences in strategic positions for men only. Men and women have different skills, different experiences and different perspectives, as do people from different countries and cultures. Diverse teams will ensure balanced decisions and likely such decisions will be supported by the organisation as a whole. I also understand that companies with diverse executive teams outperform competitors run by men only. So why wouldn’t every company aim for diversity?

I hope that MessageBird aims to keep at least 50% of the leadership positions in the hands of strong women. I think we can become a shining example in our industry. Hopefully a diverse leadership team will have a trickle down effect in our organisation and attract substantially more intelligent women who want to work at MessageBird in all different departments as well. 

Leadership, Allyship and Mentorship are often said to be crucial on the way to reach the goals. To which extent would you agree?

Susan: I think that leadership, allyship and mentorship play a fundamental role in promoting gender equality in a company. 

For me personally, when growing up, my mom was a great example of being successful at work and therefore I have always seen this as a logical step for myself. Both of my parents worked and shared their household and childcare responsibilities equally. 

When starting my career, the amount of men in leadership positions compared to women was a bit of a culture shock for me. The more important it was to be led and mentored by those few women in leadership positions to show me that women can indeed be successful. This was definitely an advantage for my own growth and development. It ensured that I did not feel that I should hold back in any way. 

Allyship is equally important. Having the right policies in place to support equality in the workplace is great, however next to this we need allies, who advocate for an inclusive workplace and specifically those who advocate for social groups outside of their own. We need them to use their powers and privilege to help others facing bias and discrimination. They need to foster an environment of support and change. So in my opinion there is an important task for men to become allies to ensure equality for women.

How can men engage in advancing the parity gap to close?

Susan: Many men that I have spoken to and have worked with feel that they do treat men and women fair and equal. Recently, I spoke with partners of a law firm who were sure that they treated all their team members the same. However, out of approximately 100 partners they only appointed 8 women. So understandably, this equal treatment is perceived differently by female co-workers or actual data. Wanting to do the right thing, is not the same thing as actually doing so.

In my opinion, every company should start with looking at existing gender imbalances based on company data to establish the patterns that advance gender bias. To ensure that the gap is actually closed, we need a diverse leadership team all able to participate in decision making processes and we need to introduce policies that remove bias and discrimination. Policies can advance equality. You can think of policies around parental leave, sexual harassment and equal and transparent pay at all levels in the company. 

However, it won’t be sufficient to solely look at leadership and policies. We all need to assess and acknowledge our own biases, and especially men. Sit down with friends, family, colleagues and others to understand where both your conscious and unconscious biases lie. I would like to suggest you to invite your team members, peers, and possibly also your manager, to do the same. By becoming aware of biassed behaviour, we can acknowledge and address it. 

Even though men might not instantly see this, men need to acknowledge male privilege. Men generally do get more opportunities in life and such opportunities make growth and development possible. So I would also like for men, both in leadership positions and outside of it, to speak up if they see (un)conscious bias. Become an ally. Men need to ensure that women get similar opportunities as men for a positive change. Support women throughout their careers, offer sponsorship opportunities, support education and make sure that women participate. By creating opportunities for women, we can ensure that they can grow and develop themselves too, which will hopefully result in closing the gender parity gap. 

And important on a personal note, if you have children, ensure that you offer both your sons and daughters the same opportunities. Do not raise them constrained or limited by gender. This might impact their opportunities in life. Teach your sons, but especially your daughters to be self confident. They need to lean in and speak up for themselves. This way they can become leaders and have an actual career. This is at least what I wish for my 3 kids.

In addition, men need to participate in both housework and childcare. If these tasks are not shared equally, how can it be expected from women to focus on their careers, while in practice having 2 jobs? It is hard to be responsible for everything and for me personally, I often have a feeling of guilt while not spending time with family as a consequence of work.  Prevent this from happening to your partners!

What’s the one thing anybody can do to advance gender parity at the Nest from your POV?

Susan: Ensure that you create a diverse team to work in. A simple step that we could all take is to perform blind evaluation of resumes and CVs as part of the recruitment process. We need to shortlist candidates based on experience and skills, rather than gender or any other ground. We should remove biases where we can.

And finally, and I speak from experience, please stop asking your female colleagues questions that you will never ask men. Why do you have kids with such a busy job? Don’t you want to take a couple of years off with 3 little ones before getting back to work? These types of questions and comments do not yet start while building a career. It starts early on. Don’t tell little girls anymore that they are bossy, while being proud of a boy standing up for himself. Ask yourself why you consider this boy a ‘leader’ and punish a girl for similar behaviour.

“If you are out there and you're in a position of privilege or you have a special skill that you could give someone, that is something that people from marginalised groups will never forget. It can give them a leg up in ways that maybe they would not have had prior to that situation.” 

–April Mullen | Senior Director Brand & Content Marketing @ MessageBird