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Gender Diversity Is Not A Men Vs Women Talk

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Thomas spoke about the inspiration behind the foundation, its role in India and why women globally need to support this cause.

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Rachel Schall Thomas, Co-Founder & CEO, Lean In.Org & OptionB.Org — a Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg Family Foundation — was in India recently to highlight the good work that the foundation has been doing globally to address gender biases. According to Thomas, India has a lot more to do  when it comes to addressing issues related to gender discrimnation at the societal level and even at the workplace.

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Thomas spoke about the inspiration behind the foundation, its role in India and why women globally need to support this cause. Excerpts:

What was the inspiration behind setting up Lean In? 
When Sheryl (Sheryl Sandberg) was writing the book Lean In, she wanted to do something to support the cause of women as well. We wanted to bring women together to support each other. We also knew that women often have a harder time getting mentorship and sponsorship. Research shows that coming together and sharing experiences and cheering each other becomes as effective as traditional mentor-mentee relationship. This finally led to Lean In.Org, which has now become the community that empowers women globally.

What kind of gender conversation are we witnessing globally and how can we address the gender biases that prevail?
First, it’s important to remember that gender diversity is not a men vs women conversation. In fact men are also on the receiving end of gender bias. So it’s not just a woman’s experience to struggle with biases.

When it comes to biases, the fundamentals are the same across nations, however they are a bit stronger in a country like India compared to the West. In India, there are women who do not get the support they need at home which is a complicated cultural issue and needs to be discussed.

Tell us about your work in India?
We have 900 circles in India and we talk to women about experiences at the workplace. Interestingly, these workplace conversations or biases here are  similar to what we have seen in other parts of the world. The good news, however, is that a lot of corporates here are taking up the cause of gender diversity which is bound to create a positive impact in the long run. 

Having worked with women across the world, what are the biggest challenges women face when it comes to gender bias?
Two thirds of women in the US face micro aggression everyday. We found that women are frequently speaking over at meetings and having their confidence challenged even in areas of their expertise.

There is also something called ‘The Only Experience’ where there is only one woman in a project. There is also the issue of shared responsibilities at home, which is still a nascent conversation in India.

As I said, we have created circles, which are small groups, where women come together to share experiences and learn new skills . These are antidotes to micro aggressions and what we know is that 86 per cent of women in these circles have experienced some sort of positive impact in their lives.  

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