I recently had a chance to speak with my friend and Take The Lead board member Leon Silver, co-managing partner of the Phoenix office of law firm Gordon & Rees. Leon is a lifelong supporter of women’s rights and co-founder of The Liberty Project nonprofit.
Gloria Feldt: You recently welcomed your first grandchild to the world, a baby boy named Greg. Looking forward to his future, can you tell me what you want the world to look like 25 years from now—in terms of gender roles and relationships both at work and at home?
Leon Silver: Simply put, I’d like for us to not to have to talk about gender roles. I would like to see an equality of judgment and an equality of merit. I don’t want Greg to live in a world where you are defined by your gender or by other people’s expectations for what you ought to be because of your gender. I’m not a fan of defined gender stereotypes or judgments or conclusions that get made based on gender differences.
G: In the legal field, women who choose to work and to be mothers often find themselves at a disadvantage. According to 2014 figures released by NALP earlier this year, only 17 percent of equity partners were women and only 5.6 percent were racial/ethnic minorities. What’s holding women back?
L: In my experience, women are often penalized because they are assumed to be too involved with their kids and to be responsible for maintaining the home—whether that is actually part of their life at home or not. For example, it is often assumed women are not able to travel across the country to take a deposition. Thus, men are sent on these assignments instead. Too often, these decisions are made without ever even asking the women, the perception being: “This is what the man is supposed to do and this is what the woman is supposed to do.” This needs to go away.
G: A recurring problem that seems to affect just about every industry is the belief that success in the workplace requires someone else to fail. It’s the “Apprentice” mentality: I have to do better than you, to step on you, and to beat you in order to advance my career, without regard to the benefits you truly bring to the team. Looking ahead, do you see this changing?
L: The idea of competition within the workplace to see who outperforms whom isn’t very efficient. There are philosophies of group dynamics that suggest that when you work together for the benefit of everyone, you are much more successful—and profitable. By the same token, when you talk about a diverse workplace, there are studies that suggest that when you bring together people of different backgrounds, different life experiences and different cultures, and you unite them in the pursuit of a mutual goal, you end up with a much better result—if you do it right. People from different backgrounds approach things differently, and this is a good thing.
G: What is your motivation for being an outspoken advocate of diversity in the workplace?
L: It’s simple. Hiring a demographically diverse workforce improves a company’s financial performance. A 2014 Gallup study suggested that gender-diverse teams perform better than single-gender teams for several reasons. One reason is that men and women have different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, allowing for better problem-solving and ultimately, superior performance.
When my grandson enters the workforce, it is my hope that professional relationships will have shifted to a model where the group seeks collective success. Imagine the possibilities if we eliminate the win-lose model for teams that are truly working together to accomplish something.
G: So how do we begin the movement that will lead to the end of gender roles as we know them to create a better world for our kids and grandkids?
L: The first step is to walk the walk and lead by example. In order to achieve this change, we must ask people to open their eyes and to think ahead. We have to overcome the “This is how’s it’s always been done” mentality. I hope that by leading by example, I will be a part of the movement to disrupt antiquated gender roles and to create a world we want to leave behind for future generations.