Lars Einar Engström has lived in France, England and the U.S., working as a management consultant since 1979. He has been an employee at large companies and has run his own consultant company. Engström was responsible for European management development for Apple, and developed leadership programs with INSEAD in France and London Business School in the UK.
Then there’s the interesting little book which Engström wrote,
“Confessions of a Sexist (I had no idea it was this bad)”, in which he takes a deeper look at gender diversity in the business world.
“We are all sexists,” he writes. “None of us can claim to be the exception that proves the rule. And very few men have the right to call themselves true feminists.”
But gender diversity is profitable – not only according to Engström, but to hundreds of reports and studies (including some by Harvard Business School, London Business School and Cornell University) as well. A company is simply more successful if it has women in the top positions.
There are nineteen of us who have made it to this “breakfast presentation” to hear Engström speak about the profitability of gender diversity - seventeen of us are women. Engström is a good speaker, and we are all ears as he discusses his views, experiences and his book.
His book includes the “rules” men have when dealing with women in business. These rules include:
“1. To make you invisible. You simply aren’t there or are forgotten.
2. To ridicule. Your comments are joked about.
3. To withdraw information. You are served with blurry information or are kept out all together.
4. To punish you in two ways. Whatever you do, it turns out wrong.
5. To make you feel guilty or shameful. A combination of ridicule and double punishment.”
Engström was himself a sexist, as he admits already in the book’s title, before he woke up and smelled the coffee. He used all kinds of tricks trying to keep women at bay in the world of business. He writes, “I pictured and unfortunately still sometimes picture women as being one of two categories: the strong and the weak. Yet, on page 12, he reassures us: “To avoid any misunderstanding, I want to emphasize that I am on women’s side.”
There’s money in this, if you dare dip into it. Companies would profit greatly by tapping into female talent and take the path less traveled by hiring women for top positions. A mixed group, reports show over and over, is a more profitable group. Women think differently than men, usually more long-term, and they have a clearer view of the whole picture. In fact, companies that look like boys' clubs often end in disaster. In order to get a mixed and diverse company, Engström proposes that companies guarantee equal salaries, that there are women and men on all levels, that there’s a young man as Gender Manager, that there are sanctions against sexual harassment, and that gender always has to be on the agenda. We’re far from that – even in a country like Sweden, with its luxurious maternity leaves, for example.
“You can’t say ‘Oh, we talked about gender at a meeting three years ago ... do we really need to address it again?’” cautions Engström. “It has to always be talked about.”
The subject is a hot potato. All women - I dare say – recognize that Engström’s speaking the truth. Most men choose to pretend it isn’t the truth. That alone makes this an important book not just for people studying the issue or as a weapon for feminists, but for anyone working with humans. In all fairness it should be added that a few successful companies - including Skanska, The Nielsen Company, Volvo, JP Morgan, and McKinsey – have made active strides to employ and retain talented women and to create a more gender-diverse - and thus effective - workforce.
By the way, I lied when I said there were nineteen of us: seventeen women and two men. The men present were there because they had to be: Consul General Ambassador Ulf Hjertonsson and Niklas Arnegren, Officer for Academic and Cultural Affairs at the Swedish Consulate General were present by default. In reality, no men showed up for the presentation.
Written by Eva Stenskär
Engström's book is available at www.amazon.com and through www.athenapress.com