I grew up in Turkey in the 70s and 80s, one of two sisters, in a family with very strong female figures around us. When I began secondary school at the age of 11, there were about 20 girls and 90 boys in our year group. Frankly, other than having separate varsity sports teams, I very rarely thought about our differences in terms of who we were and what we could achieve.
Then I went to university in the U.S. and was frankly quite surprised that there were people around me getting a degree in “Women’s Studies” and marching for gender equality. How blissfully unaware I was about my own good fortune that I personally never felt like I had to fight for a right or that I thought I could not achieve something simply because of who I was. I had a similar experience in my early professional career, where diversity was largely appreciated by my employers. It was only when I joined Egon Zehnder and started listening to many stories of individuals who felt constrained–prevented from reaching for their dreams–that I realized there were many variations to this theme. There were unconscious biases baked into everyday language and decisionmaking processes, limitations on defining goals, expectations that were revised based on someone’s identity. It was then I recognized that my journey had been not a standard one and that inclusion, equality and diversity (not just of gender but any diversity) were issues we had the responsibility to discuss openly and consistently.
Today, I have two daughters, who are eight and six, who are diverse by definition – they have parents of two different nationalities, two different faiths, and they themselves are growing up in a third country. They attend a mixed-gender school, where their class roster reads like the United Nations. Their school emphasizes raising children who want to “have a go at everything” – boys take ballet class, girls play cricket. Other than the occasional interest in a sequined dress versus a Nerf gun, there is very little that differentiates them from a boy because they are treated as individuals, as opposed to a student of a certain gender.
They like Super Heroes as much as they like Lego Friends and can watch a football game with as much, if not more passion, as any self-respecting fan. Their dreams are not gender-specific; what they want to be when they grow up is determined by their belief that they they can conquer anything they put their mind to, just like how they learned to swim, ride a bike or write beautifully. What I want for them, more than anything else, is to bottle up this confidence, this blissful moment when anything is possible and play it back to them along the way when life will perhaps not be as fair to them as it has been to some others.
I am so proud that we at Egon Zehnder are leading this debate on diversity and inclusion and that we are actively turning to our daughters, seeing the world through their eyes so we can help create the environment in which they will continue to flourish the way they did when they were my daughters’ age. My wish for my daughters is that they are only limited by their own imagination, and never by someone else’s view of them based on their gender or any other identity that makes them “them.”
My ambition, as a girl who luckily did not feel constrained by invisible boundaries around her and as a mom whose only goal is to raise two wonderful girls who will give to society more than they will take from it, is to continue developing the leaders of the future, for whom seeking diversity in thinking will not be the exception but the norm. My hope for my daughters is that they never feel the urge to write a version of this note when they get to be my age because by then we will have progressed so much that this debate will be so very obsolete.
Gizem Weggemans runs the Communications and Public Affairs Officer practice from Egon Zehnder’s London office and is a core member of the Firm’s Consumer and Hospitality/Travel practices.