Oct 21, 2021 | Sandra Pierce


I was looking forward to curling up this past weekend with two recently published books from two powerhouse women:

“Nothing But The Truth – A Memoir”, by one of Canada’s top criminal lawyers, Marie Henein, and “My Life in Full, Work, Family and our Future”, by former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi.

No matter how long I’ve been in the workforce, I come to such memoirs looking for answers, answers that could be shared to help women everywhere better navigate professions, many of which are still dominated by men.

They weren’t quite what I expected.

“Despite all the progress we have made, the modern workplace is still replete with damaging customs and behaviours that hold women back”, wrote Ms. Nooyi. “This is gender bias – and it affects every woman’s success.” “….this bias just grinds away at their confidence, which then affects their competence, and, at some point, attacks their performance. ….. many people get caught in this doom loop.”

“We women are never quite right,” writes Ms. Henein. “A little too much of this, not enough of that. Perpetually in need of tweaking. If we could just tone down, speak up, be more assertive, know our place, be slightly less ambitious or shrill, dress less provocatively, look more feminine, be thinner, heavier – we would be perfect!”

And if I wasn’t totally discouraged yet, the former PepsiCo CEO made this bold statement, “The ideal worker is still viewed as a male, with no family commitments that would encroach upon their business life and somehow everybody is judged against that person.”

She also wrote of up-and-coming women who moved on because of how they were managed in their midlevel jobs.

“One way I recognized this happening,” wrote Nooyi, “was when I listened to the performance appraisals of the top two hundred people in the company. I was in on them because we paid attention to rising leaders….. I noticed that when a male manager was evaluated, the talk would go like this: ‘He did a good job, delivered on most objectives, and…’ then some details about this man’s terrific potential. A woman’s evaluation would get a different twist: ‘She did a great job, delivered on all of her objectives, but…’ and then some details about some kind of issue or personality problem that might derail her future success.” She referred to it as the “and/but syndrome.”

By weekend’s end I was a mess of emotions. Anger definitely. I’ve written about this many times in the past, and can’t believe I’m still doing so. I also felt vindicated and fortunate– vindicated that all those micro, and not so micro, aggressions that I’ve experienced weren’t just my imagination. Extremely fortunate to be in a profession where it didn’t prevent me achieving my goals. But at times, it wasn’t a lot of fun along the way.

It reminded me just how tough professional women have to be to climb the corporate ladder.

But most importantly, it reminded me of what my late father advised -- the necessity of speaking up in life and never be afraid to raise your voice if you’re not being heard.

He loved to share stories of what is possible. Dr. Tadataka Yamada was one such example.

In 2000, Dr. Yamada, who became chairman of research and development at Glaxo SmithKline, was horrified to learn that his company was a complainant in a lawsuit over access to drug therapies for HIV/AIDS patients. GSK was one of 39 pharmaceutical companies charging Nelson Mandela and the government of South Africa with violating price protections and intellectual property rights in their efforts to access lower priced antiretroviral drugs.

There were many at the company who were so opposed to this lawsuit, but they felt they lacked the power to change the company’s direction.

Dr.Yamada felt differently. In one-on-one meetings with individual board members of GSK, he stressed the company’s moral responsibility to alleviate human suffering and tied it to the long-term success of the company. And by April, 2001, all 39 companies dropped the lawsuit against Nelson Mandela; GSK and others reduced the prices of antiretroviral drugs by 90% or more. Yamada went on to accomplish many great things at GSK but the real moral of this story :

A single person with a clarity of conscience and a willingness to speak up can make a difference. When you skillfully bring a voice and a vision, others will follow and surprising things can happen—even culture change on a large scale.

So in the words of Madeline Albright –“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”