Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Closing the global gender gap through active listening

By Dr. Sachiko Scheuing, European Privacy Officer at Acxiom

Last year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Gender Gap Report 2022 which found that it’ll take “another 132 years to close the global gender gap.” Looking at the world around me, I’m not sure if I find this completely shocking. We’ve certainly made progress, that much is undeniable, but we can’t forget the steps we are yet to take in creating an equitable workplace. 

For example, alongside my day-to-day role, I’m also co-chair of FEDMA – the Federation of European Data and Marketing Association. In the past, when I’ve mentioned this in conversation, it’s been met with surprise. 

Born in Japan, and raised in Malaysia and Indonesia, I come from a culture where I, and so many others, have had to challenge how women are seen compared to men. This is why it was so refreshing for me when I first came to Europe and settled in Germany, a country which has made it into the top 10 countries with the smallest gender gap according to the report.

This background and my curiosity has also spurred me to become involved with Acxiom’s Women Lead business group, a global initiative that supports women in their careers and increases awareness of gender equality within the organisation. 

While in Germany I have never felt directly discriminated against based on my gender, I’m aware of the need to continue the conversation around gender parity and creating a workplace where people from all genders and backgrounds can thrive. And this is what drives me every day.

Inspiring a career in STEM

Women are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), areas of study where jobs are constantly flexing as new digital skills are needed. We must overcome this high hurdle of thinking that STEM subjects are difficult or more suited to men, or we risk putting women at a disadvantage when it comes to their careers.

We must inspire young women to enter the STEM industries – and the way to do this is through helping them understand the multitude of opportunities open to them across the sectors. For example, a seemingly dry area of discipline, such as maths, can actually be very creative.

I always remember an algebra lesson in high school in which the teacher gave us a whole bunch of boring formulas to input into a graph. But after all the hard work, all the lines came together to form the outline of a rabbit. By injecting fun into tasks this way, we can encourage people to see the joy in the subject and this initial interest may later go on to inspire them to pursue a career in that field.

Girlstart, one of the organisations Acxiom supports, does exactly this with the aim of increasing interest in STEM by providing free after-school activities and summer schools in underprivileged communities. This initial interest can spark motivation from school through to university, helping young women work towards reaching their full potential when they enter the working world as independent adults. 

In today’s society, developing digital skills and being able to do simple calculations or analyse and interpret data is a must for a career in any industry, so building these skills and the foundations at a young age is incredibly important.

Engaging in active listening

Regardless of where we are in the world – and wherever our country of residence ranks when it comes to gender parity – it’s up to us as individuals, organisations, and institutions, to do our part to overcome the challenges that women continue to face.

One simple act that makes a big difference is engaging in active listening. Unlike regular listening, active listening requires fully concentrating on what is being said and remaining connected to the person you are speaking to throughout the conversation.

I strongly believe it’s the foundation of successful communication between everyone, regardless of factors such as gender, race, ethnicity or sexuality. It can promote a feeling of being valued and heard, create a sense of trust, and strengthen working relationships.

For example, when it comes to gender, stereotypically speaking, men are more direct with their communication style and bring points across easier, whereas a lot of times women are misunderstood because they aren’t as direct. This is something I’ve faced personally in my day-to-day interactions, and I’m sure many others have felt the same.

But by engaging in active listening, we can really begin to understand the motivations, feelings and issues for women and girls and act upon this to create real change in our industries and play our part in helping close the global gender gap.