Gender Equality Starts at Home

The historic events of the last two years have driven me to be a much more introspective person than ever before. I’ve always prided myself on being someone who can “see both sides” of an issue and have often acted as an arbitrator both in my personal and professional life. However, the extraordinarily divisive politics, global pandemic, and social unrest that we’re all currently living through have caused me to think even deeper about not just others’ viewpoints, but about the social forces that have precipitated much of this. While there are plenty of difficult things we must discuss and focus on during these challenging times, ultimately I find myself encouraged by the positivity I’ve seen exhibited by the women leaders and colleagues at Prove as well as the amazing women in my family. 

I’ll start with the women I’m fortunate to work with. In truth, prior to writing this, I have never consciously thought much about whether I report to a man or a woman. Believe it or not, it’s been about a 50/50 split over the course of my professional career. Within my current business unit, a majority of the leadership team happens to be women

Prove Revenue Meet-Up in Chicago (September 2021)

As our company celebrated Women’s History Month recently, I took particular notice of the many women leaders I’m surrounded by in our organization. What struck me is not just the professional caliber of this group of women, but their dual focus on supporting their families outside of work and mentoring other women on the job. These leaders have ‘made it’s in this male-dominated industry despite the unfair challenges and biases that were even more prevalent decades ago but continue to this day. Instead of just saying, “I figured it out, why can’t you?,” I’ve seen women in more senior roles regularly take time out of their busy schedules to coach and advocate for other women who are in the early stages of their careers. This solidarity and advocacy are so important to combat the bias that still exists in today’s workplace and it’s critical that men follow in their lead and do their part as well. At previous employers, I’ve witnessed first-hand the bias towards advancing strong males over strong competent females. With the same attributes, the strong-willed and confident males were seen as good leaders whereas the females were labeled as “challenging personalities” and were often side-lined and experienced a much slower career progression. 

At home, I believe it’s extremely important to openly and regularly discuss bias and inequality with your children. Previously, as a professional white male who has not experienced this bias myself directly, I felt that perhaps it was not my place to bring this topic up. Truth be told, it’s hard to discuss openly because it can be uncomfortable. However, I think this discomfort is what I and millions of others need to get over. I - and we as a society - need to bring these conversations out into the open and show not only my daughter but also my two sons, that these biases exist and persist in our everyday lives. 

Outside of the workplace, I have been very fortunate to have very strong female role models in my family as well. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who went back to school to get an advanced degree and became a teacher. She taught me both about selfless love as well as hard work and ambition. She worked so incredibly hard for both her kids and her students alike. My wife, in a similar fashion, has shown me how high confidence and extreme kindness can exist together in a person. I’m in awe and inspired by her positive outlook every day and so grateful that my daughter has her to look up to. My wife chose to stay at home with our children and is now venturing back into the working world. She’s experiencing the challenge of going “back to work” after 12 years. We are discussing this as a family and explaining to our kids the choices we made then for her to leave her professional career and the decision now to get back into it. This echoes my point about the importance of conversation and allowing all voices to be heard equally. We want our kids to understand our choices for working vs. staying at home and let them know that it was indeed a choice that came with sacrifices and not an expectation. 

Mike Bechtel and family

Ultimately, I think respect is the key to everything. I work hard to always demonstrate this at home. I want my daughter to find a partner who will love and respect her as I do her mom. I want my boys to grow up knowing how a partner should be treated. I believe that in order to reduce bias, stereotypes, and inequality in the workplace and our society at large, we should have more uncomfortable conversations when these actions are observed. Everyone makes mistakes and it’s difficult to know sometimes what the “correct” thing is to say. However, if we do better at addressing this kindly in the moment (as awkward as it may be), I believe we will accelerate progress towards a better society for everyone. 

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