Strong, influential women shape passion for gender equality

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and is reproduced on Insurance Nerds with the author’s permission.

My upbringing shaped my early view of women. I grew up in a military household and watched my mom (and many other moms) raising kids, balancing jobs and running households while their husbands were stationed overseas or in combat. This shaped my early view that women can do anything. (On a side note, I’m publicly apologizing to my mom for me and my brother’s behavior. We definitely didn’t make things easy when Dad was away!)

Because of the way I was raised, seeing strong women was a normal part of life, but when our daughter was born, I began seeing gender differently … through her eyes. Out of the many things I want for her, these three were the most important: to be healthy and happy, to be part of her life, and for her to be strong and independent. All three of these things came true.

I knew by watching my mom growing up that women could do it all, but as a young professional, it soon became obvious that strong women were not as valued in the workplace as they should be. This formed the desire to ensure women in business were respected and valued just as much as men because I wanted that for my daughter.

My first trainer at Nationwide was a woman named Ruth, who was the only female underwriter out of about 20 people. She went on to become a vice president with Nationwide and a good friend and mentor.

I took what I learned from Ruth, and eventually went on to my first leadership role. It was during this time where I observed some bad behavior toward women from male peers. It was quiet behavior like asking the men for input, not the women. I knew it was bad behavior, but it was “just the way it was” and not egregious, so being the low man on the totem pole, I said nothing, which is something I regret to this day.

I did better in my next role. When I became a director in 1980, one of my direct reports was the first woman field personal lines division manager at Nationwide, Romaine. She was a phenomenal manager and leader with practical technical knowledge. My dad, a combat officer, always told me “Listen to your sergeants, they know what they’re doing,” so I asked for, received and valued her counsel.

Throughout the past 40 years, I’ve grown as a man and as a leader. Every year that has gone by, I’ve learned more about women in business, seen more opportunities to do even better, and witnessed wonderful progress—all at the same time. In fact, throughout my career, the majority of my direct reports were women, and they were and are great leaders!

 

To the men out there, gender gaps are closing. We’ve come a long way from the early days of women in business. It’s going to be men in business who ensure that gender doesn’t matter. We need to own this issue. Others have started on this road to equality, but how cool is it that we get to help push true equality over the finish line? We have to be willing to stop and act when we observe those often subtle, but all too real differences in how we view women in business. Own it and help make a difference! Observe your behavior, observe others’ behavior, find women in your organization to get counsel from so you can better understand their points of view. Stand your ground and speak up when you see things that just aren’t right. Be comfortable pulling a man to the side and sharing your observations. It takes courage, but I’ve found that if done right it’s usually appreciated. If you look for these differences, you’ll see them. Though some may disagree with me, the vast majority of the time these slights aren’t intentional. They’re often subconscious subtleties, which are part of how we grew up. Let’s set the pace for other males by addressing this issue.

To women in business, especially those fighting for equality, here’s a guy’s point of view for consideration. I hope you respect that I can’t see through your eyes, but you also can’t see through mine. Assume innocence. If you assume many of these things are intentional actions, you’ll put men on the defensive, their shields will go up, and progress will stop, right or wrong.

Let’s work together to solve this issue and fight against divisiveness when we see it. Let’s be the last generation where true equality of opportunity is an issue.

About Mark Pizzi

Mark Pizzi is the past President and Chief Operating Officer of Nationwide Insurance, and in those roles, along with his volunteer work, he has found that it is important to build and lead collaborative teams who understand how to work across an organization to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s consumers. As a leader at Nationwide, his focus was on: setting the strategic direction, delivering results through highly engaged associates, serving as a visionary and dot connector with a sight on tomorrow’s consumers, and developing leaders and associates. Part of ensuring everyone’s success at Nationwide came from creating opportunities for all associates. That's why Mark served an executive sponsor of AWARE, an Associate Resource Group (ARG) focused on advocating for African-American Women. His leadership philosophy was developed, in part, from watching his father, a 40-year Army veteran who taught him that attitude is everything. He used to tell Mark to focus on the positives and take a solutions-based approach to solving problems. Since retirement he has dedicated his time and energy to community work benefiting children and families and victims of domestic violence. Mark believes "Giving back matters—it’s a privilege to help people achieve their hopes and dreams."

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