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A Letter to America’s CEOs: Gender Parity Is an Economic Imperative

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Dear CEOs and business leaders,

As the size and global span of corporations have grown over the years, so too has their commitment to social change. Heightened competition coupled with a more sophisticated and demanding consumer has led to increased innovation, enhanced corporate social responsibility efforts, and in turn, greater value for both business and the communities they serve.

From poverty to education – our global corporate community has made significant inroads to drive social awareness and inspire a call to action for greater progress and prosperity. But for all the good we have accomplished together, it seems that some of the biggest challenges still left to tackle can be found within the walls of our own institutions.

When it comes to gender equality and cultivating a stronger foundation for female leadership, have we gone far enough? If we are to be candid, I am afraid I’m not so sure.

A simple Google search reveals a lot about the current thinking about women. If you type ‘women should’ into the search bar, Google’s autocomplete suggestions offer insight into what people think women shouldn’t do rather than what they should: ‘women should not vote,’ ‘women should not work,’ and ‘women should be seen and not heard.’

Because humans take their subliminal cues about how to behave from whom they perceive to be the majority, this is a powerful way to reinforce negative social norms – in the home, in our communities and in our places of work.

The benefit and value of female leadership in the workplace is clear. In fact, a 2010 global survey of executives found that 72% agree there is a direct connection between gender diversity and business success. Yet only 28% say it is a top 10 priority for senior leadership.

These numbers suggest that it may not be as much about shattering the glass ceiling but rather an onus for all of us to prime the pump along the way. The best outcomes are had when change comes from within – and in the case of gender empowerment, it needs to start at the top.

Our company takes no moral high ground to lecture others. We too have much work to do when it comes to improving gender equality and reducing barriers to success throughout our own institution. But as a global organization with employees across 85 offices worldwide, it’s an issue we cannot afford to ignore.

What we have found at Ogilvy Public Relations is that by engaging both men and women on this issue, we can achieve greater gender equality across all levels of leadership.

Men have a critical role to play in advancing diversity and inclusion efforts, particularly in the realm of gender equality and bias. Yet too often, men stay firmly affixed to the sidelines – not necessarily because they don’t care, but because they don’t see it as their place or responsibility.

Last year, Ogilvy launched a Women’s Leadership Professional Network, sponsored directly by our executive team as an opportunity to facilitate mentorship, sponsorship and training programs for gender bias and empowerment within the organization.

Today the WLPN group has more than 200 participants in our New York office alone – and many of them are men. Together these men and women are helping create a new narrative to effectuate change and make meaningful improvements to our corporate culture.

To be sure, crafting a great narrative is no substitute for genuine action. But if we can couple that real work to change gender bias with stories that prove a new majority of males has arisen – we can redirect social norms.

Warren Buffett famously said that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was only competing with half the population. Today fortunately that couldn’t be farther from the case – and we are all better for it. The competitive landscape is filled with bright women and men ready to tackle our future challenges. But if we are to maximize this potential, we must reframe the gender gap – not as a women’s issue – but as a moral and economic imperative that must be solved together.


Christopher Graves is the Global CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations and serves on the board of its parent company, the Ogilvy & Mather Group. Mr. Graves is a member of the UN Women’s Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council (PSLAC), a CEO-level taskforce designed to advance global work in the areas of economic empowerment, violence against women, and closing the women’s funding gap.

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