This week we bring you the second of a series of guest blogs from male PwC gender equality champions with Connor Deeks sharing the very inspiring story of why he is HeForShe and how he is trying to make a difference.
You’ve probably been seeing a lot lately about UN Women’s HeForShe initiative, and maybe even about PwC’s support for this important effort to support global gender equality. PwC is a founding HeForShe “IMPACT 10x10x10” champion -- one of 10 corporations, 10 universities and 10 governments committed to identifying and testing approaches for addressing global gender inequality. I am very proud to work for a firm that is making such a significant commitment to such an important cause. That extraordinary level of commitment to issues of fairness is a large part of why I work here.
But I would add that, for me, HeForShe is about mobilizing everyday individuals to support global gender equality. I am an accountant. My realizations have not been stunning, and my perspective is not unique. There was no transformative epiphany. I do not have celebrity star power and it’s unlikely I’ll be asked to address the United Nations. I am an ordinary man living an ordinary life, but I am part of an important effort.
And yet, a gesture I made in support of gender equality has received some attention. Back in 2014, one year removed from university, I was so inspired by PwC’s Aspire to Lead webcast with Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg that I made a donation to my alma mater, Oregon State University (OSU), to purchase copies of her book Lean In for Graduates and had them distributed to business students who were about to graduate. With the help of a matching gift from PwC, I was able to get the book into the hands of 124 students. A close friend and fellow OSU alumnus got caught up in the spirit of the initiative as well. With my friend’s help, and again with matching funds from PwC, this past spring we were able to hand out 200 more copies.
Part of my ordinary background is that I had amazing parents -- both healthcare professionals – who taught me and my three brothers to value fairness and to stand up for what’s right. I also had a best friend whose mom was an executive at a Fortune 500 company, and I absorbed some of her perspective just by being around her during my teens. In high school, I had fantastic teachers who were women. And when I got to college, the professor who had the biggest influence on me – who got me genuinely excited about a career in accounting – happened to be a woman.
But while I don’t have a “story,” I do have a genuine passion for global gender equity. And with that passion comes the responsibility to do something about it.
As a student at OSU’s College of Business, I had been a member of Dean Ilene Kleinsorge’s Student Leadership Circle. Energized and inspired by Aspire to Lead, I went back to Dean Kleinsorge to see how we might get Lean In for Graduates into the hands of as many students as possible. We’ve done that and will continue to do so in the hopes that in the near future every graduate from OSU will leave with the book. Dean Kleinsorge is also passionate about gender equality in the workplace, and from that passion she and the University have developed the Women’s Leadership Program, which includes a women's leadership curriculum for male and female students as well as a mentorship program that will pair successful female professionals in the Northwest, including women at PwC, with promising female students at OSU. Through her thoughtful efforts, I’ve been able to have a lasting impact on a place that I care about, on an issue that is so important to me.
I’ve been asked why I care so much about this -- my honest response is, how could I not care? My hope is that everyone will find his or her own way to address gender inequality. When we handed out the books, we included a note: “Be a driver for change.” It was important to me to send a message to young professionals that they don’t have to wait 10 years to get involved or push initiatives forward. They can do something now… and sometimes even the smallest actions can lead to something greater.
We should be aware of and avoid buying into any damaging gender stereotypes, such as negative perceptions of successful women. The first step is the awareness that comes from a webcast, a book, a blog post, or a conversation. And once you have that awareness, you need to do something about it—commit to HeForShe, donate to a charity that supports women and girls in any capacity, or simply stand up against global gender inequality and make your voice be heard. When we can all do that (and I do mean when, not if), gender inequality will be that “thing” people used to talk about.
Until then, I am an advocate for global gender equity. I am HeForShe.