I accepted my invitation to the UN Women’s HeForShe Summit without knowing much about it. Since the day of the event, the mission hasn’t left my mind. HeForShe is focused on getting men to take the lead as strong allies for gender equality. 

The HeForShe Summit ignited my passion to change what the future holds. We can’t make the progress we envision and need if half of our population is being pushed down. I firmly believe in equality, but idealism is not going to change the world quickly enough. Believing in “what’s right” will not magically close the economic gender gap or eliminate harassment. An idealistic point of view will not produce enough progress in a short enough time. 

Idealism isn’t the answer; realism is. 

Some leaders may not believe inherently in gender equality like I do, but they do believe in the bottom line. They believe in profit, innovation and growth. They believe in capitalism. So, let’s harness that motivation to get the results we want!   

Conversations about diversity need to be connected to business results consistently. The good news is that the data is there: A compelling body of evidence shows that organizations with more diverse boards and leadership teams achieve better financial performance. According to Deloitte, diverse workplaces are twice as likely to hit or exceed their financial goals.  

It makes sense intuitively. If a group is trying to process issues or come together to improve or find solutions, we don’t want people looking at things the same way. Other opinions are valuable, and the way to hear and embrace those perspectives is to fill the room with people you respect who are different from one another: different ages, sexual orientations, industries, genders, countries of origin, religions, families, and years of experience. … The list goes on!  

I’m experiencing the benefits of diversity firsthand through a newly formed chapter at YPO, a leadership community of chief executives. Our chapter, YPO New York Polaris, is built around diversity and inclusion, so the topic is front and center.  

As the DEI Officer, one of my roles within Polaris is to meet new prospects. Those conversations always lead with our value proposition: We believe New York is the greatest city in the world because it’s the most diverse city in the world. We’re building a chapter that represents and looks more likeNew York. We proudly and boldly lead with that as a guiding principle rather than having a behind-the-scenes “quota” we’re trying to fill.  

Quotas can have their place and can be helpful to use benchmarks for tracking. However, effecting change is about so much more than the numbers. Context matters a great deal. In the case of gender equality, we’re trying to do all this work and make progress within an environment of what many call ‘toxic masculinity.’  

During the HeForShe Summit, panelists discussed their personal experiences and the call for “respectful disruption,” or changing our behaviors and decisions to achieve the best outcome for all genders, and suggested the need for more positive role models and evolving our expectations of men. We’re acculturated to behave a certain way, and, in practice, that behavior is detrimental to us and the people around us. We’re seeing the epidemic of physical and mental health challenges and growing suicide rates amongst men. 

Before calling on men to be active allies for gender equality, we need to create a safe space to reframe what it is to be a man today. Gender equality won’t be solved without men at the table, and they won’t show up if they think they will be vilified. Spaces like the HeForShe conference can spotlight those leading the charge, provide those role models, and help us all navigate thorny, sometimes provocative topics in a collaborative setting.  

This issue is vast and complex and will take more commitment than any of us (even working in DEI) ever predicted. Breaking through the status quo is difficult and uncomfortable, and that’s why everyone likes to stay on the same path, even if they talk a different game. However, it is necessary to create a world where everyone can achieve their full potential. Whether someone is motivated by doing what’s right or by doing what’s profitable, we need to do what it takes to drive results. This is absolutely a way to harness capitalism for good. We all benefit from a more equitable business world.  

A more equitable future is personal to me. 

On a personal note, being at the event immediately made me think of my daughter, Izzy, the fierce, strong-willed leader who earned the nickname the “Mayor” from her preschool teachers.  

Izzy, now 5, is too young to know about the societal constraints she will be facing her in life as a girl and as a woman. She’s beautifully ignorant of them and has all of the momentum and confidence that girls around the world have before they bump their heads up against all of the forces that hold them back and tell them to play small. But eventually, she’s going to experience them.  

As her father, I want to prevent that. I want Izzy to realize her fantastic potential with the same spirit and enthusiasm she has now. But I know the heartbreaking reality of what she’s facing. Eventually, she’ll be studying and working in settings far outside my sphere of influence. I can only hope that nobody will clip her wings – by talking over her when she’s trying to share an idea, giving credit to her male colleagues for a strategy she put forth, failing to provide her with the raises she is due or promoting her.  

I call on leaders to join the commitment – realistically, not idealistically.  Let’s make a real difference for Izzy and all the other girls like her, who deserve a world where they can dream big.  

YPO is a global advocate of the UN Women’s HeForShe initiative.