The past few years, there has been plenty of media engagement around achieving gender equality in the workplace. While those conversations remain important, and serve as a reminder to hold the door open for women, it’s now time to pivot the talking into action.
How can we begin to move beyond the platitudes and into actionable, achievable planning to create equality in the work place?
Not just leadership positions: Women serve important roles throughout organizations
Much of the (well-deserved) focus in the news has been on women attaining leadership positions within companies. This is, of course, critical to advancing equality, but we shouldn’t forget that women are needed in many roles throughout an organization in order to climb the executive ladder.
Traditionally, women have been relegated to roles in such a way that it fuels competition between women, rather than camaraderie. Instead of viewing any open positions as opportunities for women, there is a false conception that women can only serve in particular role or that there is only so much “air up there” and the number of roles available to women is finite—a fact that completely eludes the professional man climbing the ladder.
This begins at a young age, where girls begin to fade from leadership considerations at an early age due to gender bias. Don’t believe me? Consider the following from the Harvard Graduate School of Education:
“..despite the gains that women have made in professional and political life, teen girls face a powerful barrier to leadership: the biased perceptions held by their own peers. In a survey of nearly 20,000 students, the report found that 23 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys preferred male political leaders to female. Only 8 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys preferred female political leaders.
And in terms of students’ preferences for leadership on their school’s student council, students overall were least likely to support giving additional power to the student council when it was led by white girls, and most likely to support giving more power when the council was led by white boys.”
It is important that we to recognize that women are equal to men with regard to skills and abilities, and build from there.
Failing up: Not just for men
While failing is often celebrated for men – they were so brave to try; they made mistakes and learned – failure for women is frequently seen as a fault, not a stepping stone. This, too, begins at an early age.
Society tends to place undue pressure upon girls at a young age to strive for perfection, while encouraging creativity and leadership traits in boys by allowing them to try and fail. This disparity between perfection and risk is also born out in the bias uncovered in a 2011 study by Mckinsey’s which highlighted that men are often promoted based on their potential, whereas women’s ability to progress is tied to their accomplishments.
“We’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave, says Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. “To truly innovate, we cannot leave behind half of our population.”
Saujani recounts her run for Congress, and how within crushing defeat, she found empowerment.
“On Election Day, the polls were right and I only got 19% of the vote. The same papers that said I was a rising political star now said I wasted $1.3 million dollars on 6,321 votes. Don’t do the math! It was humiliating.
Now, before you get the wrong idea, this is not a talk about the importance of failure. Nor is it about “Leaning In.”
I tell you this story of how I ran for Congress because I was 33 years old, and it was the first time in my entire life that I had done something that was truly brave, where I did not worry about being perfect.”
Only when the stumbles of women are viewed through the same lens as their male counterparts can we begin to evolve, not just in the corporate setting, but in the societal setting as well.