The footwear retail industry is shrinking. And in a global work environment, access to centralized, up-to-date information for team members across time zones is critical to a business’s success. Bluescape’s virtual workspaces — which allow departments to collaborate with one another wherever they are — promise to deliver just that.
But the software company’s CEO, Peter Jackson, says the possibilities that these virtual workspaces offer extend far beyond just better general team collaboration and more organized workflows. In fact, Jackson believes that this type of technology can help give voice to the contributions and ideas of otherwise overlooked team members. Here, the CEO weighs in on how Bluescape’s digital workspace collaboration software can help women in the workplace be celebrated, while showcasing their credibility.
What do you see as the largest challenge women face in the workplace?
“In my career, I’ve seen many of the common challenges that women face in the workplace. There are three main ones that limit women, which in turn, limit their employers from benefiting from their talent. The first one is the marginalization of women’s voices.
“In meetings where men are the majority, comments by women are frequently talked over or ignored only for someone else later to make the same comment to much praise. The message being sent to women is that their opinion is not valued. The result is they fall silent and do not contribute. Men tend to overtalk in meetings and take a majority of the meeting time, without leaving space for women to provide their input.
“The second is unconscious aggression. It is behavior that telegraphs that women don’t belong or don’t measure up. It can be as simple as not asking women their opinion, a man putting their hand on a woman’s back, excluding them in emails, customer meetings, golf outings or a beer after work. It sends a signal that women are different, ‘not one of us,’ and they don’t measure up.
“The third is stereotyping. A woman who demonstrates strong leadership skills is referred to pejoratively, while the same behavior in a man is praised and held up as an example. That sends mixed signals and further complicates the struggle women have in finding their voice and style. All of these challenges limit women from speaking up, stepping up and contributing their best work and ideas. Everyone loses — the employer, women and men.”
How can technology enable women’s voices and contributions to be heard more clearly in the workspace?
“Technology, in general, can have a democratizing effect. It enables people’s voices to be heard and their value recognized without the visual filter of gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Technology — for the end user — can level the playing field, and that helps women’s voices to be heard and taken seriously. A female footwear designer or manufacturing worker in India can have the same powerful voice in the design and collaboration process as a male colleague has in North America.”
How might your company’s offerings, specifically, help?
“Bluescape unifies conversation and content collaboration in persistent digital workspaces so teams can work better, quicker, have the big picture and stay on the same page. Within Bluescape, teams can productively meet, share, comment, develop, iterate and decide without dependence on email.
“So much of work today is done with dispersed team members, and Bluescape presents a unique opportunity for women to be heard and recognized for their leadership and intellect. A digital workspace has the effect of democratizing voices and contributions because the focus is on the task at hand and how it relates to achieving the business goal. Anyone can add comments, content and engage in conversation — digitally.”
“Here is a real-world customer example: designing an athletic shoe. Instead of being in a room repeatedly meeting with pictures, drawings, sticky notes and plans, digital workspaces enable everyone to upload their ideas and diagrams, and comment on the work in progress. For the female executive and designer, they can focus on collaborating and commenting in discussions. The gender dynamic is significantly reduced, and everyone’s contribution is on equal footing.
“Since our digital workspace never goes away, it’s easy for managers and leaders to see how the design evolved, the decisions that were made and why, as well as when and where material suppliers were included in the process — and from whom the best contribution came from. Efforts and contributions by women are better tracked and their work visibility raised. Performance metrics and measurements spotlight the high female achievers and leaders. The result is not just a better, more successful shoe but also greater valued input from women and minority staff.
What can leaders do better to support women’s advancement in the workplace?
“I view CEOs as having an important responsibility as advocates for women, minorities and members of LGBT groups within their workplace. Companies need to strive to achieve a balanced leadership team and a board of directors made up of both male and female executives. This is also true with the overall composition of hiring a diverse workforce. The actions leaders can take are common sense and must come from a place of empathy and emotional intelligence.
“Some of the simple practices include: calling on women for their opinions and insights in design review meetings, product portfolio planning sessions, material evaluation and sourcing discussions — and then really listening to them. This is followed by building on their comments in the conversation and executing on their ideas.
Why is the concept of women’s empowerment a priority for Bluescape?
“I was a child of the ‘60s growing up in Berkeley, Calif., with a single mother who worked full time and raised five kids. We grew up during radically charged and rebellious times, which influenced my thinking and values. We were taught there was no difference between race or gender. Everyone was to be treated with acceptance and respect. My mother was a teacher of a deaf and blind school, which taught us a lot about empathy and reading people.
“My belief is that all people — all women, all races and all those who are handicapped — are created equal. They just have different talents. I look at individuals and say there’s productivity in everybody. You have to find and focus on a person’s strengths. I’ve applied a lot of methodologies to how I lead people and how we deal with customers by using a lot of the skills that I had learned from being around deaf and blind kids.
“This involves the ability of reading — and getting a good feel for — what the people are trying to say without saying it, and watching how they express themselves. Sometimes it’s not mixed in just the words. I chose to work at Bluescape for the way our technology democratizes the workplace, giving everyone a voice.”
6 Steps to Better Empower Women at the Office:
Jackson offers tips on how business leaders can help promote equality in the workplace.
- Focus recognition, job responsibility and project opportunities on employee productivity and measurable results.
- Ensure women and men in the same job are paid the same, and support pay transparency.
- If you see behavior that does not reflect your goals and values, say something. Silence implies approval.
- Make investments in women at all points in their career through coaching, mentoring, education, etc.
- Model the inclusive behaviors you want your employees to engage in.
- Intentionally recruit and promote women leaders for open positions as well as board-of-director roles.
Editor’s Note: The article is part of FN Labs, a sponsored-content series. For more information about sponsored opportunities, contact Lauren Schor at firstname.lastname@example.org.