March 8 is International Women’s Day. It amazes and frustrates me that we need to have a day to celebrate women! After all, we make up half of the population and half of the workforce.
So, why do we need an International Women’s Day?
While women have made great strides with respect to influence, opportunities, and job equality, there are still significantly fewer women in top positions globally, women still have to battle with gender pay gaps, and women are often subjected to more…. unbecoming… (okay let’s call it what it is – sexist) behaviour in the workplace.
This is not to say that men aren’t subjected to ‘unbecoming’ behaviour – it is a two-way street. But gender stereotypes against women are more alive and well than any of us want to admit. If you need some proof, take a look at the Everyday Sexism Project.
In the workplace, women have made leaps and bounds in the last 50 years, but recent progress has been slow (even stalled!). It will certainly take many more years before systemic sexism and discrimination have been eliminated.
A recent Forbes article graphic, shown below, illustrates the proportion of senior management roles held by women WORLDWIDE in 2015.
What’s interesting about this infographic is that the highest percentage of female managers are in industries that are typically considered “women’s professions” – education, social services, healthcare, hospitality, food and beverage. Where are the captains of energy, manufacturing, and logistics?
So, again, why do we need an International Women’s Day?
It creates awareness about the inequities that continue to exist and celebrates the progress that has been made. It makes us stop and think, at least for one day, about the work that is still required, by both males and females, in terms of making substantive changes to the inequality that still exists.
What’s holding women back?
Traditional gender roles
Women are still very much perceived as, and in reality are, primary care-givers and housekeepers. This requires a balancing act more frequently than their male counterparts. And, in some cases, we’re not helping ourselves! I’ve heard senior women say, with a laugh, “I need a wife.” How many men have you heard say, “I need a husband”?
Generally, women see work as only ‘one piece of the pie’ and see work-life balance as crucial to being satisfied in life. Working ‘anywhere, any time’, which is expected in some professions, and certainly at the top levels of companies, is not an option for many women.
We don’t help ourselves
In general, women tend to believe that they need to have 100% of the qualifications to apply for a new role, feel that they need to do their work perfectly, and work twice as hard as men to succeed. While there may be some truth to the latter statement, with the former beliefs, women hold themselves back.
Women in leadership roles are judged differently
When we see women in leadership roles acting decisively and providing direction, they’re called ‘bossy’. When we see men do the same, they’re called assertive. What’s worse is that women often have to assume this bossy persona in order to be heard and perceived as legitimate.
In most societies, we’ve been socialized to believe that the man is the breadwinner, the father, and the head of the household. This translates to organizational settings. Hence, many women feel that they don’t belong, don’t fit in, and don’t deserve to be in a leadership role.
Our preference for collaboration is holding us back.
It is well known that women utilize different leadership styles than men. We tend to be more collaborative. This is holding us back as indicated in this HBR article: Collaboration is the Hidden Tax on Women.
Hmmm….collaboration holds us back, yet being assertive holds us back as well? How does that work? I am staring to feel like there is something deeper at play here…
Men tend to be evaluated based on potential and women on experience. How can there be equality when the playing field is uneven from the outset?
Corporate culture is created by the leadership styles of those at the top of the organization. The absence of diversity in leadership styles is a challenge for many women, and the many feel that their communication and leadership styles don’t fit with the prevailing culture of the company.
The list could go on…
Why is women’s equality important?
It is good business! A McKinsey Global Institute report finds that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. That’s significant!
Companies leverage the value of all of their people, not just those of the male gender.
As a leader, what can you do to support, encourage and leverage female leadership?
- Give women the same kind of game changing assignments that are given to men.
- Provide women with sponsors within the organization who will support, coach, and promote them.
- Create flexible work arrangements that appeal to both men and women. Work-life conflict is not only a women’s issue! Read more here.
- Reward employees for the work that they do, rather than the hours they work.
- Educate managers on gender bias, what it is and how to avoid it.
- Evaluate everyone up for promotion on the same metrics, rather than judging men on potential and women on experience.
Barriers exist for both men and women. Addressing those barriers is not a “women’s issue” or a “men’s issue”; it is a “people issue”. Promoting and addressing the systemic and societal barriers and constraints that limit women’s advancement should be important for all organizations.
How can you make a difference?
Some articles that provide different perspectives that are worth a read: