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How Speaking at the UN Got Me to Make a Big Commitment

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the “POWER of COLLABORATION Global Summit at the United Nations.” I was invited to participate in the event’s signature panel, a discussion about gender diversity called, “Conversations with Men.”

The panel discussion was introduced by Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, Former UN Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN. The panel was led by H. E. Ambassador Elizabeth Flores-Flake, Permanent Mission of Honduras to the United Nations. H.E. Ambassador Edita Hrda, Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations, co-hosted the event and also a dinner for VIP guests and speakers the night before at the Czech consulate in New York.

Speaking at the UN, by Nan Melville

Devin Thorpe and Ivan Khan, by Nan Melville

So, let’s be clear. I was feeling intimidated and a bit out of place.

The pressure was only increased by the presence of Vince Molinari, of Gate Global Impact, one of this site’s sponsors, who is a true champion of women’s rights and who served as one of the two emcees for the day.

As a man being asked to comment on gender diversity to an audience comprising mostly women, I felt even more intimidated. And that was one of my key points. Even when men feel strongly about increasing gender diversity we often feel reluctant to talk about it and advocate for it. No matter how empathetic we may wish to be, we men can never know what it is like to walk down a street alone as a woman, whether in New York or New Delhi. We are aware that a woman’s experience is different and that sense makes some of us feel disqualified from commenting on these issues.

When asked about structural changes that are needed to improve gender diversity, I shared an experience from my trip to New Delhi in 2014. While there, I read an article about the increase in reported rapes that followed the attention that a notorious gang rape had brought to the issue a year or two earlier. The article noted–and I’m working from memory here–that reported rapes had nearly doubled but that rape convictions had not increased measurably. The article concluded that women had been encouraged or allowed to bring false claims of rape forward. The article gave no consideration to the possibility that the system was biased in favor of the accused men. These sorts of structural problems exist to greater or lesser degrees in all cultures I’ve experienced as I’ve traveled around the world–including our own here in the U.S.

Conversations with Men,  by Nan Melville

Conversations with Men, by Nan Melville

Near the end of the panel, Leslie Grossman, Leadership Consultant, Coach and Facilitator, and Vistage Chair, the other emcee for the event, asked the men on the panel to make a specific commitment to do something within their sphere of influence to change the gender dynamic. I accepted the challenge and committed to ensure that at least 50 percent of the guests on my show in 2016 would be women.

As I made that pledge, I felt safe because I always believed that I had a roughly balanced number of men and women on the show and had long planned to make such a formal pledge. The timing was perfect, except that it wasn’t.

So far in 2016, I have had 53 people on the show, 38 men and 15 women. So much for balance. My mistaken impression, however, is typical, I believe, of outcomes when we don’t measure the things we think we care about. Between now and the end of the year, I need to bring that ratio into balance.

For the balance of the year, I anticipate doing another 140 episodes. A few will have two people, so we’ll have about another 149 guests. Of those, 86 will need to be women.

Be sure to check back at the end of the year to see how I’ve done.

2 Responses to How Speaking at the UN Got Me to Make a Big Commitment

  • Thanks for sharing your UN experience. Your commitment to diversity in your interviews is a great example of how leaders like you can ensure the contributions of women are recognized.

    And thank you for sharing your gender breakdown on your radio interviews. There is always so much push back to “counting” or “quotas” for diversity. But unless we look at the numbers, it’s possible to not “see” the true disparity in opportunity.

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