Thought leadership from our experts

A letter to my daughter

Dear Ariadne,

The next 15 years I am going to be working for you.

Health permitting, I will be working for others as well, clients, colleagues, other people around us. But you will be, what some call, my "higher purpose". You are probably wondering what that means and you are probably thinking that you would rather have me less time working, in the office and at home, and more time playing.

Don't worry, a higher purpose is not something that is achieved in a few weeks, or a few months. It will take a few years. In between, we will also have time to play and to do lots of other exciting things.

What is this higher purpose? It means that the coming years I will work to try to make sure that when you are grown up this question about women in business, science or politics is not a question any more. That it will not be exceptional to have a women as main protagonist or hero1 of a movie or book, or as a Nobel prize winner or head of state. That it will not be exceptional to have fathers working part time, or taking care full time of children. And that you will be able to choose whatever combination of work and family works best for you, and even change your mind about it a few times along the way if you want to.

Did you know that estimates say it will take more than 175 years to achieve gender parity? If that is true, that means that when you finish studying, even if you go to the same school than your brother, and even if you work harder and get better grades, you will have less chances to get a promotion, and, when you get promoted, you will be a minority for the rest of your career, and you will be earning less than your brother forever. And the same for your daughter, if you have one, and the daughter of your daughter. But you know what: I don't believe it. And I don't want you to believe it. It is very important for me that you don't believe in that number.

Until recently, I was not too worried about this subject. I was busy making sure the basics were in place -like the Maslow pyramid we talked about the other day. First the basics for myself, making sure I completed my education, had a good job, a stable family. Then with your older brother, making sure he was cared for, could go to a good school, finding the balance again before looking for you. And then, when you were born, this subject about women started to become really urgent. At first, it was only a conversation with myself (like getting upset when observing small acts of discrimination or gender stereotyping, or even crying when I saw videos about social experiments, like the one I have shown you and your brother so many times about kids not believing "the surgeon" was a woman)2. Then, it became a conversation with others: with you, your father and brother, with the few working mothers around me. Now, I almost feel like shouting in public about it. Some people called me recently an "activist feminist". Your mom an activist? Impossible, right?

In fact, until you were born five years ago, I would not even consider myself a feminist. I went through university without thinking about gender or discrimination because my main objective was to finish school and find a job. Only after somebody that I admire mentioned it to me recently, I realized that it is actually an achievement to be the first person (and a woman!) from my extended family that went to university. Before that, I never even thought about it. I was so focused trying to move forward, I did not realize many things. For example, some recent research3 shows that from the case studies used at top MBA schools to teach, even very diverse business schools like INSEAD, on average, only 10% of the cases show a woman as protagonist. I could not believe. Not the finding as such. But, even as a grown up woman, sitting there on the benches of INSEAD, I did not notice. All these teachers at university, all their PhDs and research on human resources, management, strategy, all their bright students, nobody ever noticed that there were no women in their books and case studies?

There are also many studies4 that show that until girls become 5 or 6 years old they don't experience gender bias. And then, the influence of all those books without women5, all those movies without female heroes, all those pink ads starts to make an impact and their confidence plummets6 …no wonder.

Ariadne, you are five years old now: don't let this happen to you, keep your eyes open, question the assumptions, do not believe in the word impossible. Dream big! Just like you do now. You will be able to achieve anything you want to. Whether that is becoming a pilot, a choreographer or the best cook in the world. And even all of them.

It will not take 175 years to change things, I promise you.

  1. I could not even spell the word heroine and now that I think about it I don't understand why there is a female word for it in English. A hero is a hero. The same way that a pilot is a pilot, a captain is a captain and a surgeon is a surgeon.