Kirstine Stewart, the author of Our Turn is urging us not to settle for a seat at the table, but to lead the discussion, to shape the direction and set the agenda.
Kirstine, a Canadian television executive, was recently in Brisbane for The Brisbane Writers’ Festival presented by UPLIT. Having left a traditional media role, she took the leap to a tech company when she accepted a role at Twitter, which quickly led to the position of Vice-President of Media, North America (a role she recently left).
“I think there’s a perception moving from more traditional media to newer media that there would be vast differences, but ultimately business runs as business runs,” she told shebrisbane.com.au
“Even though you’re in the wild world of tech and things are different, I wasn’t going to a start-up. Twitter was already in its sixth year and I was expecting it to be vastly different but, there were more similarities than there were differences,” she says.
“That was a good thing because I could apply all I had learned in the years before going to Twitter.”
Companies do better with women in top jobs
In Our Turn she delivers a wonderfully written, hands-on tome providing compelling research and statistics on why companies do better when women hold the top jobs.
“I really want this book to empower, or embolden women, and to show them what’s possible,” Kirstine says.
“The best thing has been the stories that I get from people who have read the book and then been prompted to make change. It has really exceeded my expectations, by a long shot.”
Using a ghost writer, Kirstine drew on her own experiences as a television executive, and extensively referenced research reports, to reveal that women in leadership do better – they gather information from a wide range of sources, make informed decisions swiftly, and crucially, are more innovative.
“When business professors at the University of Maryland and Columbia University studied the effect of gender diversity on top companies in the S&P Composite 1500 list, they found that firms that prioritised innovation saw greater financial gains when women were part of the top leadership ranks,” she wrote.
If greater diversity at all levels of a company’s structure improves the bottom line, Kirstine argues that the cadre of white men holding the power in the top echelons of our biggest companies are not doing those companies’ bottom line any favours.
“A Harvard Business Review study from 2013, involving 1800 professionals, found that firms with true diversity were 45 per cent more likely to report a growth in market share over the previous year, and 70 per cent more likely to report the capture of a new market. A diverse company simply has a better shot at connecting with global markets that are only becoming ever more diverse.”
The challenges Twitter presented
But while she indeed makes a very strong case for empowering women, the irony is that she worked for four years at Twitter, a platform defined for free speech, not all of which is kind to women.
“It’s a real tough situation that Twitter finds itself in because it was very much built on the protection of free speech,” Kirstine says.
“Absolutely they see the seriousness of it but the debate of how to address it is difficult when free speech is a central mandate of the company.”
And the problem is certainly complex, with more than “a billion tweets every two days”, according to Stewart, monitoring and censoring such a volume of content is an overwhelmingly large problem to tackle.
“Snapchat is building itself in a world where no comments are allowed. Newspapers have given up allowing comments and so there’s that strategy,” Kirstine says.
“And on the other hand, Facebook faces the challenge of censorship and is criticised for suspending someone’s account who was having trouble with the police recently – there is debate around where they should have drawn that line, if at all,” she says.
“I think [the management team at Twitter] is taking it seriously and trying to figure out internally how to grapple with that fine line. They have made incredible headway with regards to the attack on the terrorism, or those kinds of accounts, but they still have a way to go with the regular occurrences that happen on a daily basis to women and people of colour,” she conceded.
Giving voice to the individual
“The one thing that made me proud of being at Twitter was that despite all of that it does give a voice to the individual in a way that the individual didn’t have before; there were opportunities like #beenrapednotreported, the hashtag went around and it started a conversation,” she says.
“It’s much harder for people to get away with things these days, you see how quickly the truth gets uncovered. I think Twitter has a lot to do with that.”
Next on Kirstine’s agenda
Even though there has been significant success with her first book, Stewart is not certain about a follow-up.
“I don’t know if I will write another book. I didn’t intend to write the first one!”
Photo of Kirstine by Markian Lozowchuk