Despite all talk of equality in the 21st century, you don’t have to cast around very far to see gender bias still at work across many companies.
A recent Forbes article stated that our unconscious biases are significantly holding women back - Harvard’s global online research study of over 200,000 participants showed that 76% of people are gender-biased, believing men are better suited for careers and women are better suited as homemakers.
Take a minute to look around your workplace. How many top-level managers and C-Suite directors are female?
If the answer is most of them – you’re definitely in the minority!
It’s a fact that across big Pharma, IT and Life Science industries, men still hold the higher paid, higher responsibility level jobs across business, with women still trying to break that glass ceiling. I still see women underrepresented in C–Suite, and some still getting paid less for similar work and even getting left behind when it comes to promotion
Despite being excellent jugglers – balancing careers, raising children, providing food and comfort as well as finding time to socialise, exercise and (maybe) even relaxation – women are still not treated with the value they deserve in the workplace.
Is Gender Inequality Due to Behaviour Patterns?
I recently read an interesting Harvard Business Review survey that sparked this whole article idea. The survey aimed to establish if gender inequality was due to behaviour, or if something else was afoot.
Over four months, HBR monitored hundreds of employees in one office with a view to confirming whether the women had different behaviours to the men. So, for example, less face to face time with their manager, fewer opportunities to engage with senior staff and less access to mentors.
The data found that there were no differences whatsoever in the behaviour patterns of the men and women surveyed. So, if there’s no difference in behaviour, why would anyone consider that men and women should be managed differently?
Are you guilty of treating team members differently based on their gender?
The Motherhood Penalty
Many women opt to take time out of their career or need flexible working patterns to juggle their external family commitments. Unfortunately, the pressures of the heavy workload that inevitably comes with senior roles make it more difficult for them to advance in their careers with these restrictions.
Additionally, women historically have taken lower paid and/or part–time roles to allow them to raise families.
The knock-on effect of these situations on their careers has become known as the ‘Motherhood Penalty’.
Many find it impossible to build a career path from a young age (employers are too worried they will leave to start a family) or are struggling to get back into work after having raised children (lack of up to date skills, etc.)
Perhaps the answer lies in companies adjusting their culture to support working parents better, so they don’t have to make that choice between family and career?
Aversion to Risk-Taking
It’s also frequently implied that women don’t take risks, aren’t good at negotiation and are less confident than men, and this is why they need to be ‘managed’ differently.
Here’s Forbes’ take on women’s ability to lead and take risks:
‘Women make 41% of purchasing decisions, and women-owned businesses have a massive impact on our economy. Women control trillions of dollars of wealth and influence more than 85% of retail decisions. The US alone could add up to more than $4 trillion in annual GDP in 2025 if women attain full gender equality, according to The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United States, MGI. Companies with greater gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.’
Still think women can’t make decisions?
Do Women Make Better Leaders?
Women make up less than 5 per cent of CEOs, and less than 10 per cent of women are top earners in the S&P 500.
Women are less likely to be promoted to managerial positions than their male counterparts, although studies consistently reveal that female leaders tend to be better than male leaders at every level on the corporate ladder.
This could be due to the fact that women tend not to be complacent – they are continually trying to do more and better to prove themselves. Constant pressure (real or imagined) to avoid making mistakes and continually prove their worth are cited as drivers for women leaders.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the very thing that makes them great leaders is the gender bias that hounds them?
Employers can redress the balance by developing positive plans to encourage and support women to apply for more senior roles. Reviewing flexible working policies and introducing working from home or alternative hours across all levels can also help with aspects of balancing childcare with enjoying a rewarding career. Reviewing paternity leave with more enticing benefits will also help redress the balance.
Additionally, creating workplace cultures that embrace flexibility and increase opportunities for all staff will give individuals greater choice and promote wellbeing at work.
Addressing Inequality in Your Team
So, what can leaders do to focus on reducing bias and gender inequality in the workplace?
I would advise starting with the cold hard facts. To provide a tailored solution, it’s crucial that you ask the relevant questions for your own workplace.
- “Does our company culture discriminate against female employees?“
- “Are we making assumptions about female employees that promote existing stereotypes?”
- “Do our policies have a bias against female employees?”
Your team should be managed as individuals on a level playing field to allow them to achieve their best as individuals…not gender stereotypes.
The future of a great workplace is one that embraces individuality and responds to individual needs. Focusing on cultural and organisation changes will reduce gender inequality and create inclusive workplaces. This will enable your team to show creativity and innovation, and help you retain valuable talent and enjoy increased market share.
Here’s your checklist for making it happen:
- Improve opportunities for all your team
- Encourage men and women to apply for senior roles
- Encourage men and women to share childcare responsibilities without penalty
- Increase diversity across the team
- Offer mentorship opportunities
- Embrace inclusiveness – a sense of belonging and acceptance as a company – and embed it in the business ethos
- Hire with a conscious bias for diversity in gender
Christine Lagarde, Chairman of the International Monetary Fund, said, “When women are called to action in times of turbulence, it is often on account of their composure, sense of responsibility and great pragmatism in delicate situations.
“If Lehman Brothers had been ‘Lehman Sisters’, today’s economic crisis clearly would look quite different.”
Here at Zestfor, we now offer programmes to help you to optimise your leadership skills and personal development and get the best out of your team. If you would like to find out more, then send a quick email here.
Until next time,
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