From Father to Daughter, a Powerful POV on Gender Equality

December  19,  2016 / By Yvette Signore

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Taylor intern Yvette Signore was tasked with conducting an interview on gender issues for her Marist College course ‘Gender, Culture, Communication.’ In this wide-ranging conversation with her father, Taylor’s CEO & Managing Partner Tony Signore, they address the topic from a business perspective, covering issues such as compensation disparity, perception of women in the workforce, and the importance of managerial development.

I will never forget one of my elementary school teachers for the wisdom she imparted on my fellow classmates and I many years ago. At that age, my dreams were to attend Yale, become a lawyer, and go on to become the President of the United States (Gosh, have things changed). Although my parents had always encouraged me to dream bigger than the five oceans combined, a boy in my class told me that my dream of becoming President was stupid. I will never forget his disheartening words, that I will never become President because I am a girl, and girls are not Presidents.  My teacher had overheard this and sat everyone down on our classroom rug. She said, “No matter what we look like – black, white, boy, girl, or anything in between – we are all equal and we are all human. No one is more or less qualified than someone else to fulfill a dream based on appearance or biological make-up.”

I took her words to heart, and at that age, I had assumed (because she thought that way), all adults must think this way since, as children, we tend to believe all adults are mature and correct 100% of the time.  As I have matured and have become more exposed to the world, I realize that is not entirely true. Sexism, for example, is one of the reasons why I know that our world is not entirely made up of adults who possess common sense, balance and intelligence.

This assignment has given us the chance to speak with someone to better understand their perspective of sexism in our society.  I decided to interview the CEO of a public relations and marketing company, Taylor Global, where I conducted my summer 2016 internship. Knowing this man is a passionate advocate for feminism, I believed he would be the perfect candidate to add value to my paper. He was very excited to be part of this assignment as soon as I informed him of the topic.

“I must say, having a wonderful wife, two incredible daughters, and so many aspiring and talented women at Taylor, I believe it is my responsibility to do everything I can to empower as many women as possible. I must also serve as a positive role model and ensure that our executives at Taylor become better managers.”

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The first question I asked was, are men and women treated differently in U.S. society and should they be? He believes that women are most definitely and wrongfully treated differently, and he provided a business perspective to this question:

“When you analyze employment statistics, especially white-collar positions, you’ll find an unsettling gap in compensation levels between men and women with similar educational backgrounds and relevant experience.” He elaborated upon his response and provided further validation via a national study he had reviewed in the Harvard Business Review.

“In 2010, I began collaborating with an outstanding organization that has been promoting the advancement of women in the workplace since the 70’s. Catalyst (catalyst.org), conducted an extensive nationwide study that tracked the employment progression of women with MBA’s over a 10-year period. While the leadership of America’s most prominent companies had placed an emphasis on gender equality within their respective organizations, the study statistically demonstrated results that were disappointing and surprising to these corporate leaders.” He believes that this all traces back to the lack of preparation and development at the managerial level, and added, “A majority of the highly-intelligent, motivated and qualified women who participated in the study had noted a correlation between poor management skills of predominately male managers (during the critical early years within an organization) with a lack of opportunities, recognition and advancement.”

The next question was whether or not he believes men and women have different communication styles or similar communication styles, and why. His answer continued to incorporate valuable points from a business perspective, but it certainly can be applied more generally.

“I believe their communication styles are quite similar.  What’s different, however, is how communication styles amongst men and women are PERCEIVED differently in the workplace. For example, during my 30 years in business, and 12 as CEO of Taylor, I have worked with many senior executives who possess a firm and more formal approach to communicating; a very high expectation level; and a low tolerance for mediocrity.  In some instances, the men who embody this style and approach are viewed as ‘strong, empowering leaders.’  Female leaders, however, with a similar communication and leadership philosophy are sometimes labeled as ‘mercurial, temperamental and domineering.’  This is completely unfair, inappropriate and unjustified in most cases.”

This issue is evident outside of the workplace as well – where women and men have similar attitudes and behaviors yet they are perceived differently. I recall a time during my freshman year when I was involved with a group project. I had communicated (in a rather strong tone) my disappointment in fellow group members for demonstrating a lack of interest and commitment to our assignment. During one of our meetings, I was called “bossy” because of the manner in which I had expressed my concern.  I found it interesting, months later, when I learned that my boyfriend was in a similar situation.  He told me that one of his group members apologized for being lazy and told him that he appreciated his strong leadership position in speaking out. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, speaks about this issue in her book, “Lean In”. She described that when males are assertive and speak up they are referred to as “leaders,” yet when females act the same way they are referred to as “bossy” – which is why she started a movement to ban the word, “bossy.”

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The third question I asked the Taylor CEO was, what do you think of when you hear the term “feminism;” what image comes to mind; and has your view of feminism changed over time?

“I think of strong women who not only recognize unfair business practices and policies but are also ready and prepared to take a stand and vocalize their views. I applaud these women who are willing to accept the potential consequences to do what is right and ultimately what will benefit others.  The images that come to mind are related to my childhood in the late 60’s and early 70’s, when the feminist movement became solidified and developed into a force to reckon with. While many men and the media portrayed ‘feminists’ in a negative light 40 – 50 years ago, today most people look back and appropriately view these women as role models and heroes. I am proud my daughters and my son view them as such, for these strong and visionary women made a great sacrifice for the advancement of women in our society.”

In the last and final question, which I designed, I decided to expand on this idea of how the sexes are treated differently, and asked about his views on this subject outside of the United States. Throughout his years with Taylor Global, he has worked extensively around the world in more than 60 countries, and on every continent. The final question was, throughout your experiences on-site in the Middle East and Africa, how have you seen the treatment of women evolve in that region of the world?

“I began working in the Middle East and North Africa in the late 80’s, when women in most countries in the region (Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, UAE, for example) had very few rights and liberties.  Over the past 10 – 15 years, there has been significant change in the UAE from a gender balance standpoint, and some progress within Muslim countries in parts of North Africa. While we have seen some rights afforded to women in Saudi Arabia during the past few years, I strongly believe they are still far behind.”

He then began to discuss a piece he read recently in the Opinion section of the New York Times that outlined advancements the Saudi government has made with women’s rights. He had a strong reaction to the New York Times piece, and expressed the following:

“A quarter century ago, it was very difficult for me to work within a society where women did not have a voice or positions of prominence…anywhere.  No right to vote; to drive a vehicle; to move about the community without any limitation. Sure, some progress has been made but the Saudi government and the Royal Family, based on their influence in the region, could have led the way years ago in truly advancing women’s rights and education for all. In my opinion, they have been far too late in realizing what I believe to be a universal human truth, that any society which fosters a culture of higher education and leadership for women will have a bright future for all people.”

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I personally thought this was an amazing and enlightening interview. His progressive mindset is one that I believe everyone should possess to achieve success not only in the workplace, but also in life. His stance on the topic of feminism is an inspiration to me and to many others he works with, and I truly feel he makes a difference in this world. It is our responsibility as human beings to do what is right and inspire others to do so as well, and he perfectly exemplifies this. I am so proud to have worked with him this summer during my internship, but I am even MORE proud to call this man, Tony Signore, my father.

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