By SafetyCulture Team   |  
March 8th, 2021

An open letter from our Chief People Officer on shattering the C-Suite ceiling

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Our Chief People Officer, Anna Wenngren, wrote an open letter to SafetyCulture staff on her path to executive leadership and what choosing to challenge means to her.

International Women’s Day is a time for celebrating all that women have achieved, despite the obstacles. It’s a time to acknowledge the resilience and resourcefulness displayed by many in the pursuit of their passions. It’s also a time to reflect on our experiences. As such, I thought I’d share some of my personal journey with you.

The path to the C suite was not an easy one for me. I have experienced both harassment and discrimination as a consequence of being born a woman. As a younger professional I received unsolicited and unwanted shoulder massages thrust upon me whilst sitting at my desk. At a different company I was overlooked for a promotion I spent years earning because the male decision makers determined that I was of an age where I was ‘probably going to have kids soon’. 

Later in my career I was summoned to a meeting at a hotel with a visiting senior Executive who refused to meet me in the lobby because the lobby wasn’t ‘confidential’ enough for the HR subject matter he wanted to discuss. It was his expectation that I met him in his hotel room. At yet another company, the senior executive who managed our region learned the names of every male on our leadership team and simply referred to me as ‘the lady’ given I was the only female. And to finish off, possibly the most offensive thing that has occurred was being told by an older man (who was my boss’s boss), that I had great ‘assets’ and that I should do a better job of ‘advertising them’ when I got dressed in the morning. 

Sharing my story with you really brings back those memories and I feel both sad and angry. I’m sad because my story is a common one. Many of my female friends who work in the corporate world have had similar experiences. We console each other over glasses of wine and offer emotional support, but it does little to change the status quo. It’s this that makes me angry. We need a collective mindset shift of colossal proportions. We are experiencing an agonisingly slow pace of change. And what saddens me is that we (humanity) are capable of so much more.

The Global Gender Gap Report published last year revealed that gender parity will not be attained for a further 100 years. That essentially means that none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. What a sobering thought.

The World Health Organisation states that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights. The coronavirus outbreak exacerbates existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere – from health and the economy, to security and social protection. 

Women play a disproportionate role in responding to the virus, including as frontline healthcare workers and carers at home. The pandemic has also led to a steep increase in violence against women and girls. With lockdown measures in place, many women are trapped at home with their abusers, struggling to access services that are suffering from cuts and restrictions. Emerging data shows that, since the outbreak of the pandemic, domestic violence has intensified.

We can all help to make the world a better place. When I raised the fact that I was devastated that domestic violence had intensified during the pandemic I had overwhelming support from our Senior Leadership team to take steps to help anyone who was in such a situation. Consequently, SafetyCulture will now be introducing Family & Domestic Abuse Support for all employees. Whilst we deeply hope that no employee ever finds themselves in a situation where they need to access this support, our intention is that should anyone ever feel unsafe, there may be some small comfort in knowing that we will be there for them.

Whilst many of these global issues feel ‘too big’ to know what to do in response to them, we should not underestimate the smallest of actions that individuals can take – especially men. Whilst the sexual harassment that was directed towards me earlier in my career was despicable, it was my male colleagues who changed the course of my story.

One evening at a leadership dinner where I was the only female present, I was being addressed as ‘lady’ by the senior regional executive I mentioned earlier. I politely requested that this man address me by my name. He continued to address me as ‘lady’ because he found it funny and my local CEO stepped in. He stood up at the table and stated that I had made it very clear that he was being offensive, and that he was not only being offensive to me but to everyone at the table who respected me as a valued member of the team. With that, all of my other male colleagues stood up in solidarity. The restaurant went quiet and all the other diners stopped to look. This senior executive was forced to apologise to me so that everyone would sit back down. He never referred to me as ‘lady’ ever again. 

Every one of my colleagues who chose to stand with me was drawing unnecessary attention to themselves. But they did it anyway and I have never felt so professionally respected. My male colleagues may have felt that their actions that night were small, but they gave a voice to me when I had none; they changed behaviour where I had been unable to; and they saved me from an evening of feeling bullied, disrespected and unappreciated. No act of kindness goes unrecognised. I carry the gift of that evening with me every single day.

I’d like to thank the many wonderful men who are taking small steps every day to make the world a kinder, fairer place for women. Many of you are my colleagues at SafetyCulture. Your generosity humbles me. And to my amazing female colleagues, your tenacity and determination inspires me constantly! 

We have much work left to do at SafetyCulture on our own path to parity, but I am confident that this team of wonderful human beings will make great progress in 2021 and I couldn’t be more proud to work alongside you all.

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