Equality Expert

Jenn Willey

Founder and CEO, Wet Cement

“I approach gender equality the same way I would a complex mathematical equation; you cannot solve it by only looking at one variable.”

Please tell us about Wet Cement and the survey you recently completed on female advancement and leadership development.

Wet Cement helps people, teams, and organizations achieve their potential and make their mark. Like with real wet cement, there's a window of time where you can take advantage of an opportunity, make a change and leave your mark. We help men and women, individuals and companies, achieve their potential and get to the next level.

We recently did two rounds of surveys. The first one surveyed 50 male executives to understand from their perspective what was holding women back. I've been helped along, through most of my career, by incredible successful men. What if we were able to tap into their mindset and have an honest dialogue?

We also surveyed both men and women, at all levels, to see where there were differences between their perspectives about gender at work. We focused on three key areas; first, inclusion in work-related events and activities, secondly, how gender microagressions shape the careers of women, and lastly, what is the impact of caregiving on their career.

What are the greatest obstacles to female advancement in companies and industries?

I wanted the surveys to dig into what women can control, and still holding them back. So the survey did not include external barriers driven down from culture. Things like unconscious bias, lack of formal mentoring programs, the impact of maternity leave and the reality that there are more men in leadership roles (who historically tend to hire others who mirror themselves).

Four out of five of the male executives said confidence was the number one thing holding women back from advancing in the workplace. Not far behind, was their lack of clear and direct communication. Communication relates to everything from verbal to non-verbal, body language, written language, and meeting interruptions.

Two things stood out in the survey findings that included both sexes. One was around caregiving. It was not surprising that women were missing work more often than men to care for their family members. But the difference in their mindset of how concerned they were about the impact on their career was unexpected. Men who were missing work were not concerned at all, while women who were missing work were dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety related to this.

The other interesting finding was around being left out of key events that happen at work, which are opportunities to build relationships, be a part of the conversation, and develop mentors. We found that half of the women felt that they were being left out of events, but only one out of ten of the men reported the same.

How do we overcome the barriers to advancement and get more women into leadership positions?

I approach gender equality the same way I would a complex mathematical equation; you cannot solve it by only looking at one variable. I think you have to focus on three different variables, or parts of the equation.

One is women. We need to help women understand what internal barriers they can control and behaviors they can change, so they can do better in areas of confidence, communication, self-advocacy, negotiation, and being nicer to ourselves so we don’t burn out.

Number two is men. We need men, especially in management roles, to psychologically understand what holds women back, either externally or internally, so they can become the modern male leaders for the world we live in. We want them to become conscious of their behaviors, because I truly believe the vast majority of men come from a great place, they just need insight and knowledge to help them operate better.

The third is around leadership. There is the easy stuff like investing in training programs for women, teaching women to advocate for themselves, helping with career planning and putting in place formal mentoring programs. The bigger topics are things like flexible work arrangements, maternity leave, paternity leave and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Even things like what is your approach to company culture? What kind of environment are you creating? Are you building strong internal company relationships?

Ask Her:

What's the first thing you do when you wake up?

After checking my phone, and brushing my teeth, I work out.

Who is your business idol?

That’s easy, Shelley Zalis.

What’s your guilty pleasure at the end of a long day?

Laying in bed with my fifth grader and sharing stories with him about my childhood, which for some reason he loves to hear.

What advice would you give your daughter, or a young girl, starting her first job?

It's the same advice that I got from my father. Number one, work harder than anyone else. Two, find meaning in what you do. Lastly, smile and be nice.

“I approach gender equality the same way I would a complex mathematical equation; you cannot solve it by only looking at one variable.”

How do you define an inclusive work culture?

An inclusive culture is one where everything is a meritocracy. It is a simple concept where everyone has a fair shot at everything–a fair shot at resources, training, mentors, networking, flexible time and career advancement.

If we get to a place where this is the focus, then men won’t be asking, ‘Why am I left out?’ When you shift the conversation from diversity and inclusion, advancing women, or gender equality, to what would it be like to have a meritocracy–where everybody has equal access–all of a sudden everyone is included. where everybody has equal access, all of a sudden everyone is included.

Why is workplace equality a business imperative?

It's so critical that you focus on the bottom line, and how it's not only good for humanity, but it's good for business. In this crazy world we live in, where the rate of change is faster than it’s ever been in history, most leaders feel they have seventeen balls in the air but only two hands. Now you throw another proverbial ‘ball’ at them related to addressing diversity and inclusion, and the response will be “what is that going to do for my business?”

It’s a lot easier to get people’s attention when you look at the numbers showing you are going to beat the market, get a higher return on equity and in the end, drive hard dollars and cents for investing in an inclusive workplace.

About Jenn Willey:

A career as a TV News Anchor and Reporter transformed into being an innovator in technology and media. Jennifer Willey has led teams across strategy, marketing and business development at leaders like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Oath/AOL, Yahoo! and WebMD, as well as start-ups like Everyday Health and Sharecare. This resulted in her unique ability to communicate with confidence, uncover business challenges and find solutions, build strategic partnerships, develop talent and tell stories to change mindsets and behavior.

Over the past decade, Jenn’s passion has been advancing women in business while climbing the corporate ladder. She is the Founder and Chairperson of the WebMD Women's Leadership Network, a founding member of the AOL (now Oath) Women's Network, served on the Board of the Alliance for Women in Media, a Csweetener Mentor for Executive women in Health Tech, and volunteers as the Expert Sales and Communications Trainer for Rent the Runway/UBS’s not-for-profit “Project Entrepreneur.”

Now she uses her talent to help women - and the male leaders they work with – achieve their potential through Wet Cement’s Gender Equity Programs. Jenn lives in NJ with her husband, Cavapoo and her greatest achievements, her two boys.