Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, head of global revenue and client solutions at Yahoo, says it is an exciting time to be passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion.
While professional women have certainly made great strides in advancing career opportunities, it’s no secret that they continue to face significant gaps in opportunity and outcomes compared to their male counterparts. Covid has revealed the depth of the challenge, with women leaving the workforce in droves amid health, childcare and other struggles. Worryingly, research by the International Labour Organization shows the disproportionate job and income losses suffered by women through the pandemic will persist, even through the recovery ahead. Clearly, around the world, we still have some work to do.
Meanwhile, the business case for women is clear. The World Economic Forum and McKinsey research have confirmed what we all know: helping more women join and succeed in the workforce will be critical for an inclusive recovery. Indeed, diversity and inclusion is a competitive advantage for businesses, accelerating innovation and better decision-making.
So what can be done? While so much swirls that we cannot simply fix, I find myself looking for what I can do, practically, from where I sit in corporate life.
What tops my list is finding ways to ‘lift as we climb’ – a compelling idea framed by Mary Church Terrell, a Black suffragist and activist for civil rights – taking surer steps individually while lifting up others to follow. It’s a concept I recently explored in a series of conversations with colleagues from across the media and advertising space, and continue to bring to the foreground whenever possible.
In my seat at Yahoo as head of global revenue, I get to see how this discussion takes shape and I’m able to make some impact as a leader of a global team of 1,700 people. Beyond the official policies we have enacted on things such as hybrid work and location flexibility, for example – which are critical and particularly help women – I also think about my ability to make an impact on issues including anti-bias and pay equality through education programs and, for example, rooting compensation discussions in data.
As a mentor, I see the opportunity to help lift up the next generation as they navigate this complex issue, and make true in my own limited purview what Terrell spoke so beautifully about. I reinforce to my mentees the importance of some of the practices that have helped me along the way – personally and professionally – in areas such as self-awareness, gratitude and resilience, as well as more focused career tools such as the importance of goal setting and lifelong leadership development.
So many of these topics were front and center in the ‘lift as we climb’ conversations, and insights abounded from my colleagues such as:
Don’t be afraid to bring it up (especially your career trajectory and compensation) with your manager, your mentors for advice and your peers for information
Be yourself: show up, show yourself and let people really know you – vulnerability is an incredibly powerful thing.
The power of resilience: try as we may, we cannot control everything. Coming back after a setback and honing our ability to focus on what lies ahead are key success factors
As a woman in a senior role, I have seen how these issues have both evolved and yet remained persistent over time. What felt like pressure to always be on top of my game and never be wrong served me early on, in that I worked hard and always performed. But this also held me back because I wasn’t open to the learning that comes from mistakes.
As I stepped into more senior-level roles, it was the honest, tough feedback of true friends and mentors that taught me it was no longer sufficient to be right – actually, my job is to listen and make others want to listen to me. Internalizing that feedback and putting it to work, while managing the often razor-thin expectations we place on women to be smart but not brash, tough but not mean, warm but not soft – well, that’s lifelong work, and probably why we still need an International Women’s Day at all.
Amid so many challenges as we imagine life post-pandemic, navigating the advancement of working women is surely complex. But in my view, it is an exciting time culturally to be passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion, as these issues come into the light in more and more mainstream ways. I remain optimistic about where we are headed and focused on the places where I can make a direct impact. My call to people of all genders is the same as my own mantra: be curious, be accountable and be grateful. On this issue, we can become more aware, we can be honest when we fall down and we can receive these lessons, though painful, with some gratitude, grit and grace. It is how we can learn, grow and become better versions of ourselves, individually and together.
Elizabeth Herbst-Brady is vice-president of global revenue and client solutions at Yahoo.