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By Your Edge Blog Team | March 08, 2021

We #ChooseToChallenge Men Be Better Advocates for Women in the Workplace

As part of our Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day celebrations, we’re pausing to contemplate what more can be done to create a gender equal world.

Today is a day for celebration! Women have accomplished so much through the years, and their contributions to society are compounding by the minute.

However, many are still challenged to become the independent thinkers and innovators they were born to be. Gender biases still exist, and women – despite their best efforts – occasionally find themselves hitting a brick wall (or glass ceiling) when chasing their dreams. Why is that? We’re well into the 21st century – the era of modernization and digitalization and “advanced” societies, yet many women are still striving for equality and feeling the need prove their worth. What is it going to take to level the playing field, especially in the workplace?

Though we don’t have all the answers, we have gleaned incredible insights from the conversations that have been taking place at Zebra in recent years, especially with members, mentors and allies of our Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN). Because change doesn’t happen behind closed doors, we are sharing some of the key learnings from both our casual coffee chats with colleagues as well as global forums with women’s rights activists in a three-part series called “Around the World with WIN”.

Over the next three weeks, we’re going to speak with WIN leaders from EMEA, APAC and LATAM to understand the unique ambitions, struggles and movements emerging in each region – and they won’t all be women.

In fact, for our first interview today, we sat down with Richard Thompson, who is currently the global co-chair of WIN, as well as Gilles Gabillet, the co-chair of WIN in EMEA, to talk about the lingering inequality issue and what action is being taken by the men at Zebra to become better allies and forge more opportunities for women in the company, the technology industry and their communities. Read on to learn more…

Your Edge Blog Team: Rich, we understand you’re the first man to take on the global co-chair role for WIN. What compelled you to step up and serve a women’s inclusion network this capacity?

Rich: I’ve always been passionate about inclusion and diversity (I&D), both in my professional and personal life. So, when the opportunity to become the co-lead of WIN came up, I jumped at it. WIN wanted to ensure there was a balanced perspective, and we believe having male and female co-leads helps to ensure we can speak to the rest of the organization in a balanced manner (Rich co-leads WIN with Emily Cates, whom we spoke to last week.)

Your Edge Blog Team: And Gilles, you’re also serving as a co-chair of WIN at the regional level in EMEA. Was that at the encouragement of the women that previously filled that role? Or did you volunteer?

Gilles: I knew that Becky Brookes, EMEA Channel Marketing Director, was looking for someone to co-lead WIN with her in EMEA. So, I contacted Becky to let her know I was keen to co-chair WIN.

Your Edge Blog Team: Rich, you are based in the U.K. and Gilles you’re in France, but you are both working to create a more inclusive culture for women across the entire EMEA region. Have you found disparities in progress based on stigmas that may still exist within various local cultures?

Rich: I am looking at this from an EMEA perspective as well as a global one. I am lucky enough to have a global role in my day job here at Zebra – heading up the OEM business. Because of this, I’ve been able to see the cultural and behavioral differences firsthand. Having become part of WIN, and therefore talking about gender equality more frequently, I've become more acutely aware of the different approaches to this in different countries. This is not specific to Zebra. The great thing for me is I now have a platform to use to bring the conversation to the table – be that with customers, partners or Zebra colleagues. Honestly, prior to being part of WIN, I would have been less conscious of the biases that exist and less likely to talk about them. For me that’s the best part of being part of WIN: I have a reason to say something. Interestingly I do find that most people I talk to on the subject are genuinely interested to discuss it and to know more.

Gilles: There are indeed disparities between the different regions and countries we interact with in EMEA, but this is exactly what WIN is about. There are legal and social barriers holding back women’s empowerment in certain countries. Progress has been made in women’s education, in ratifying international conventions promoting human rights, and in incorporating gender equality into national constitutions. But not enough has been done to bring legislation and social norms into line with these advances.

Your Edge Blog Team: People often use the terms inclusivity and equality interchangeably, but do you believe they are the same thing?

Gilles: To me there is a thin line between the two. Equality is making sure we are all ‘equal’ and treated alike, while diversity is about recognizing, respecting and valuing differences in people. It is important to understand someone's differences so that you can include them and treat them equally and fairly.

Rich: I do agree there is a difference, but the two are intrinsically linked. One can be inclusive but not equal to gender and vice-versa, so I think it’s important that everyone understands that. Being part of WIN, I’ve heard about some examples of where, unfortunately, there is still unconscious bias that creeps in. However, I honestly think a lot of people are not aware that they may be contributing to this. I feel it’s my role as a male member of WIN to amplify that perspective – to open people’s eyes to what goes on day-to-day and ensure we do something about It.  

Your Edge Blog Team: Rich, beyond your work with WIN, you’ve engaged with an organization called Catalyst on its Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) initiative? What have you gained from that program? And how have you been able to apply those learnings to advance Zebra I&D initiatives, particularly as it relates to gender equality?

Rich: Yes, engaging in the MARC group within Catalyst has been very informative. I was recently fortunate enough to participate in its annual conference, and I learned a lot. I’ve learned that many organizations are in the same place as us and are aware of the need to continue to improve their organizations’ cultures when it comes to I&D. I’d say Zebra is progressing well, but we heard many times at the conference that I&D is a continuous journey – you never get to the end. There were some fantastic speakers at the event including some CEOs of large multinational organizations, including one of the largest consumer goods brands in the world. These folks have been working hard on I&D – and especially gender equality – for 20+ years. They have achieved many things but also learned lessons along the way. Working with the recently formed I&D team under Natalie Bodus, I (along with the other colleagues who attended the event) have provided a lot of feedback about what we heard and subsequently formed a working group to enable us to bring these learnings to Zebra. When it comes to men advocating for women, the comment that sticks with me the most from the event was “ need to come in off the sidewalk” meaning men need to speak up when they see or hear something wrong – we need to AMPLIFY our female colleagues.

Your Edge Blog Team: Zebra believes that every person should have the chance to reach his or her full potential, and work is being done every day to facilitate the professional growth of women at all levels within the company and across all business functions. In fact, there are a number of women in global leadership positions at Zebra, and many others who have had the opportunity to “switch careers” and fill new roles within Zebra that they may not have been possible elsewhere. However, this isn’t necessarily the case at other organizations. What best practices have you seen employed at Zebra that you think others should replicate?

Rich: I think Zebra has made very positive progress in the last couple of years. Expanding our I&D organization is a big step. The enthusiasm for the creation of more Inclusion Networks is also very encouraging. Something that we heard from MARC and that Zebra is now doing is recognizing that I&D must come from the top – from the Executive Leadership team. We have executive leaders as sponsors of our Inclusion Networks, and I&D is now firmly on the agenda of our leadership team. Many people have noted the importance that I&D has been given by Zebra CEO Anders Gustafsson in town halls and in other events such as our annual sales kickoffs (SKO). Another great thing I see emerging is working with our partners on I&D related topics. For example, at the SKO events, the I&D section was sponsored by one of our partners and its CEO was the host of the panel discussion.

Within WIN, we are making strides to ensure we celebrate the successes of women in the organization, including promotions, new hires, awards etc. This helps to amplify and create more awareness for the topic of gender equality. Something I like that we do internally is that we discuss the need for improvement with gender equality and I&D as a whole. We are being honest with ourselves – were not pretending we are perfect. We know we have work to do, and we’re prepared to invest to do it. There are many people volunteering and giving up a lot of their own free time to help the company improve in these areas. I don’t think that would be possible if we didn’t have the right culture in which these people want, and are actively encouraged, to do this. That’s an important aspect for any other company to consider.  

Gilles: Zebra also has an internal employee communications site called zConnect which has been a great platform for sharing all kinds of useful information with colleagues throughout company. It also provides a wide range of support resources, including career opportunities and learning tools.

Your Edge Blog Team: Gilles, you were actually the first one to participate in that job swap program, correct? What was your experience with it?

Gilles: Yes, with my colleague Tracey Wong. We were the first ones to rotate jobs at Zebra, and it was an amazing experience that I recommend to anyone who has the same chance within their companies. It’s a great opportunity to expand your skills, learn new things, and discover other parts of the business you are not familiar with. You certainly walk away from your comfort zone but it’s worth it.

Your Edge Blog Team: The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. How would you challenge other men to become advocates for women in the workplace? What should they do to ensure women have equal opportunities to contribute, grow and be their authentic selves?

Rich: I would challenge all men in to give the topic some real thought – to not be blinkered to what we see in front of us every day. Look at the amount of women on the next internal Zoom call you are on – is it balanced? If you see a woman being ignored or sidelined during a conversation, then stop and do something about it. We know this happens today unintentionally. I think it’s a societal thing. We're not really taught to take actions like this, and the workplace generally isn’t designed as a place where these kinds of conversations can easily take place. There is only one way to change that – to say something, do something. This is not me being critical, I speak from my own experience. I know that before I was part of WIN, I didn’t think about this as much as I do now. And I know that the more men I can tell about this, the more others will realize the same and change will happen. I’m positive about that.

Gilles: I truly believe gender diversity provides immense value for businesses. One of the most powerful benefits of diversity is the diversity of thought. We must build teams that demonstrate unique complementary skills and allow for various perspectives to be applied to each situation.

Your Edge Blog Team: Thank you both for sharing your thoughts and for being such strong allies to women. We look forward to reconnecting with you in the coming months on the continued progress being made at Zebra to eliminate gender biases and foster equality.


Editor’s Note:

You can learn more about Zebra’s I&D initiatives in these blog posts:





We also encourage you to subscribe to the Your Edge blog to be notified when new posts publish, including the next two parts of our “Around the World with WIN” series.

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