Empowering Women in the Workplace: A Conversation with Book Author Jonathan Sposato

Making the workplace empowering for women is not only the right thing to do for families and society at large; it also creates better outcomes for your organization or business itself. That’s the assertion of author Jonathan Sposato, whose new book, “Better Together,” is all about solutions. Sposato is PicMonkey’s founder and chairman, so we’re tickled to see in print the ideas he’s developed over his long tenure in tech. We’re also jazzed because enabling creative collaboration is one of PicMonkey’s greatest goals, and we’re solidly behind solutions for making that collaboration more successful.

PM: What is the kind of legacy thinking that gets in the way of a gender-inclusive workplace?

JS: The old school thinking suggests that women somehow aren’t capable of great ideas simply because the current lineup of unicorn companies aren’t helmed by women, or that women are not ambitious and don’t shoot far enough, or that women simply communicate in ways that are unclear. ALL of these legacy beliefs are backwards. Women entrepreneurs have amazing ideas (I see those every day in my deal pipeline) but face more friction getting funded and recruiting key shareholders. Women ARE plenty ambitious but care a lot about setting others’ expectations realistically, particularly the opinions of those to whom they are accountable. And women communicate in great ways, ways that purposely preserve their work relationships and ease tension with others. Men need to now LISTEN LOUDER and not misinterpret these as tentativeness or “too fluffy.”

PM: What results will companies and organizations see in the short term and in the long term, when they support women better?

JS: In the short term, the energy of the team will be totally different. Better. The work dynamic will shift to a more inclusive, collaborative, and communication centric culture. I guarantee this is palpable. It certainly is, every time I bring a visitor to PicMonkey. I hear comments like, “Wow it feels different here. I see equal numbers of women and men. The energy is vibrant. People look happy!”

In the long term, you will realize greater profits, happier customers, and more fulfilled employees. This is the direct result of the fact that greater inclusivity for 75%+ of household buying power (women) means better problem solving across various parts of the business (product roadmap, pricing, brand, customer support, etc.). There’s lots of great research out there showing that teams with more than 33% women outperform teams with no women along a number of hard business KPI’s (return on capital, profitability, or dividends payouts). Better business results also stem from the ongoing retention of talent. When people are happy and feel valued, they don’t leave a company. So you have no cost of switching. Often you see much more positive manifestations—your company becomes a magnet for even better talent. When word gets out that you have an amazing culture like we do at PicMonkey, lots of great people want to come work there!

PM: How should inclusivity champions counter objections they may hear from co-workers who think it’s just too hard to make progress in this area?

JS: I would say it’s not hard at all. It really isn’t. The hardest part is a mental shift that this is something worth committing to and if you’ve already read this far you probably know, deep down, there is something valid about my argument. Inclusivity is not just the right thing, but a smart thing because you are going to get better business results: more profitability, better products, a better culture, etc. It doesn’t cost more money, it doesn’t demean or devalue the contribution of male employees, and you don’t need to achieve perfection in one grand swoop.

PM: Why do family-supportive measures figure into the formula and what are some specific ideas you’d like to see more of?

JS: Family-supportive policies are absolutely important. As master architect Jim Rohn said, “_Whatever good things we build, end up building us.”  _So there is a self-defining opportunity for you, as a company, to create gender-inclusive physical surroundings. But it is not just the surroundings, of course. The physical needs to be supported by  the values and policies. I talk about many of these in the book. One of them is companies being okay with people working from home at times when their families need them. The parent employee is not lazy, nor taking advantage of the company. Good hard-working people want to work with other people and be surrounded by their colleagues. You can get more done. So, simply trust that when other arrangements have to be made it is only temporary and the result of the logistical difficulties of balancing family with work that many people (mostly working women) face in our society.  

Work-from-home flexibility shouldn’t be an issue we associate with just female parents, but it definitely benefits women.

Other ideas I discuss in the book are having mother’s rooms installed for nursing moms, or moms who want to nap; banning meetings before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m., and making the workplace friendly for visiting kids.

Creating spaces for kids in the office helps parents on random school break days.

All these are things we have at PicMonkey. One reflection of how well this works can be seen in the reactions of visitors (and we’ve had anyone from US Senators to venture capitalists to new recruits): big wows and bigger smiles!

PM: Can you top-line a few more specific solutions?

JS: In the book I discuss specific and actionable things that any company, manager, or team leader can do to create a culture where women and men can thrive together. I discuss increasing female visibility in leadership both within and outside your company, which gives more junior women at the company more support in their career paths. I discuss the concept of “reverse mentoring,” which is great for companies comprised mostly of older male managers: you institutionalize open channels for senior leadership to spend time with the younger members to hear their thoughts about the future of the company. In the process, you’re grooming the younger women for picking up the leadership mantle. I discuss specific ways for companies to clearly define various levels of behavior under the broad umbrella of “sexual harassment,” so that victims and companies alike can be aligned on what constitutes a fireable offense and what doesn’t.

The book really is rich with information and—considering that gender equality is still the number one unresolved social issue of our time with vast economic and social impact—I encourage everyone to give these ideas a try at your workplace!

To pre-order the book from Amazon, click-tap your mouse-finger over here. To pre-order the book from Barnes & Noble, click-tap your mouse-finger over here.

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As PicMonkey's content director, Cooper says her goal is to make words happen good. She's been spearheading PicMonkey editorial since day one, relying on insights from her years working at Microsoft, other startups, and producing television programs for PBS and NBC.