Women are still faced with gender bias, and this is also the case in our workplaces. Sure, many companies are really trying hard to promote equality and diversity, but women are still dominating lower-paying entry-level and administrative positions while men are continuing to hold positions at the management and executive level.
It is clear that this gender inequality is hurting our companies’ performances. More and more women have come to astonishing achievements over the past decades, shattering gender-related barriers in just about every aspect of our lives.
These days, more and more young women choose a career in a traditionally male-dominated sector such as technology, engineering, or the trades. More women are running for public or political office than ever before, and more and more women are setting up their own business or get educated in fields like aviation or aerospace.
No longer have young women to choose between family and marriage or a high-powered career. Women of today are wanting it all, just like counterparts from the other sex. At the same time, we can see only a few succeed in reaching their goals, just a few.
So while more and more women are flooding into the employment market and breaking down all sorts of gender barriers, they continue to be less or under-represented in management, executive, or other senior positions. We see these this sort of differences also in sports. This all happens despite the fact that numerous studies have shown that companies will perform far better when well-educated women become part of their management and executive teams
Why this disparity?
Women are advancing only so far before they will hit a glass ceiling, an invisible barrier. How can this be? There are many and complex reasons for this phenomenon, but let’s take a closer look.
In a lot of corporate cultures, promotions are just not a result of performance. Often, working long hours is needed to demonstrate ambition and commitment. Some positions require much business travel and in some sectors, working in different roles in various (inter)national locations is a way to get ahead.
This sort of requirements often put women at a disadvantage as their spouses may have their own careers so relocating every some years could be no option. And though many men are contributing more and more to childcare and housework than, for example, 30 years ago, they still do far less of these tasks than women.
Women are still the primary caregivers so they will not be able to devote 12 or more hours each day to their work, often 7 days per week. Consequently, women are often sidetracked and forced to take on roles that enable them to take care of family duties and responsibilities.
Outright gender-based discrimination may no longer be part of contemporary business practices, but there are definitely very powerful yet mostly invisible
barriers to the advancement of women that are rooted in a cultural belief about gender, and at many workplace practices and structures we still can see interaction patterns that definitely favor men.
To give you an example, highly effective leaders usually need to be strong, assertive, and confident, usually, traits associated with masculine attributes. Yet when a woman acts in a similar way, she is often viewed as uncaring, aggressive, or abrasive. When women leaders demonstrate more female character traits and act empathic, nurturing, or collaborative, they’re often seen as lacking in strong leadership skills. You see, women are often in a no-win situation.
Additionally, women are generally seen as being not as ambitious as men, predominantly due to their family duties and responsibilities. Yet many studies have indicated that there’s hardly any difference between men and women when it comes to aspiring for management and leadership positions in a company.
Recent studies have revealed one more factor that’s holding many women back: lack of self-confidence and this already starts during their academic education. One study involving male and female MBAs discovered that whereas most women regarded themselves as at least equally capable of performing their tasks as their male colleagues, most men regarded themselves as more capable of tasks than their female counterparts. Shocking, isn’t it? So actually the problem is not a lack of confidence in women but a stunning and misplaced over-confidence in men.
Promoting Gender Equality
So what can companies do? Quite a few companies have undertaken a number of strategies. Let’s take a look at some of these:
Buy-in top down. Major cultural shifts will not happen unless the senior management wants them to happen. Top-down endorsements will make sure that more women will be included in talent management, succession planning, management programs, and eventually, the boardroom. See also this post how, for example, the Brits face some more difficulties as they wouldn’t know how to address a “Chairperson.” (ha, ha)
An inclusive work environment. During the past few decades, more and more young women were encouraged to get ready for traditionally male-dominated employment sectors like high-tech and engineering. Numerous highly-educated women responded but only a few stayed. Most quit, never to return. Studies showed that probably more than half of all women working in engineering, technology, and science will eventually leave those fields because of a sense of discrimination and isolation, a hostile male-dominated culture, or total lack of clear employment and promotion paths. Over the last decade, nothing changed, so was also found in studies. If companies want to attract and keep talented workers, both male and female, and of all sorts of backgrounds, they should not only say or pretend to be inclusive, they need to BE inclusive!