Welcome to our March 2021 IDEA Box blog.
In this month’s IDEA Box blog, we are discussing Gender Equality. One of the biggest surprises in writing this blog (second only to the fact that people actually read it) has been how much of the literature is dominated by white, male authors. On reflection, this stands to reason. If corporate leadership roles are dominated by men then clearly these individuals are more likely to be the subjects and authors of books and articles on leadership topics. It is a vicious cycle that perpetuates the status quo and presents a barrier to inclusion and diversity.
Here’s what we learnt this month …..
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado-Perez
According to Criado-Perez, most of recorded human history is one big data gap. The lives of men have been taken to represent the lives of humans overall. When it comes to the other half of humanity there is often nothing but silence. This is the gender data gap and these are four takeaways:
- Different points of view lead to better outcomes: The female viewpoint is considered niche even though women make up half the population. Citing several examples, the author points out that most subjects are framed through the white male prism. Many of the ensuing inequalities are unintended, they come about as a result of the gender data gap. These inequalities are not just a moral concern, they are an economic concern too. As one might expect, excluding 50% of any market leads to poorer financial outcomes.
- We need more female leaders: It often takes a senior female team member to spot that a change is necessary. Because senior positions are often dominated by men, modern workplaces are riddled with design flaws such as doors that are too heavy. It took Sheryl Sandberg’s first pregnancy for Google to introduce designated car parking spaces for pregnant women.
- Listen: According to a 2015 study, women are the more interrupted gender. The author cites a US presidential debate where Donald Trump interrupted Hilary Clinton 51 times while she interrupted him 17 times. Although Trump may not be representative of men generally, Clinton was also interrupted more regularly by the host, Matt Lauer. As we discovered in Idea Box #10, empathetically listening to others is one of the habits of highly effective people.
- How do we close the gender data gap?: By closing the female representation gap. Criado-Perez believes we must increase female representation in all spheres of life. This recent Irish Times article discusses female representation in corporate Ireland. It’s worth a read.
Apparently, Sigmund Freud once declared; “Throughout history, people have knocked their heads against the riddle of femininity.” The author believes that the answer was staring Freud in the face all along. All “people” had to do was ask women. Criado-Perez’s thought-provoking book is available in all formats.
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, Melinda Gates
Gates believes that gender equity lifts everyone. From high levels of education, employment and economic growth to low rates of teenage pregnancy, domestic violence and crime, the inclusion and elevation of women correlates with the signs of a healthy society. Women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together. Here are four takeaways:
- Distribute work evenly: Unpaid work is a vital enabler of economic progress, however, it is unevenly distributed between men and women.
- If you want to excel you need support from the people around you: Very few people can do it on their own. At Microsoft, Gates reported to a woman who supported her efforts to work in her own style in a culture that rewarded results. She believes that this is why she was able to get promoted and succeed. If she had tried to do it on her own, without colleagues who encouraged her and a boss who supported her, she would have failed.
- The power of peers, mentors and role models: We find the guts to make things work when we see them working for people we respect.
- It starts with culture: According to Gates an abusive culture is one that singles out and excludes a particular group. This is less productive because the organisation’s energies are diverted from lifting people up to keeping them down.
Of The Moment of Lift, Barrack Obama said; “I’ve called Melinda an impatient optimist and that’s what she delivers here – the urgency to tackle these problems and the unwavering belief that solving them is indeed possible.” It is available in e-book, hardcopy and audiobook.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg
Ask most women whether they have the right to equality at work and the answer will be a resounding yes, but ask the same women whether they’d feel confident asking for a raise, a promotion or equal pay and reticence sometimes creeps in. Sandberg considers what women can do to change this. Here are four takeaways:
- Start at the start: Sandberg believes we often treat boys and girls differently; “The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies.” According to this argument the encouragement we give boys in childhood makes them more likely to seek leadership roles in adulthood. As a parent of two girls and one boy I understand the point, however, this Atlantic article suggests that such modes of thinking might be outdated and that gender diversity (rather than everyone just regressing to a homogenous mean) is essential in a functional, prosperous society.
- Sit at the table: According to Sandberg if you ask a man to explain his success, he will typically mention his own innate qualities and skills but if you ask a woman, she will attribute her success to external factors. Women, she believes, are often plagued by Imposter Syndrome. Sandberg encourages women to take their seat at the table even if they feel underqualified. The likelihood is that a lot of the men sitting at the table don’t know what they’re on about anyway. I added that last bit based on personal experience, but I’m fairly sure she would be ok with it.
- Finding mentors: The author believes that searching for the right mentor has become the adult equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. If women can just find the right mentor everything will be ok. We’ve given the wrong message to young women. It shouldn’t be; “find a mentor and you will excel” it should be “excel and you will find a mentor”. She goes on to say that any male leader who is serious about moving to a more equitable organisation should make mentoring and sponsoring women a priority.
- The myth of doing it all: It isn’t possible. Instead of perfection we should aim for sustainability and fulfilment. Success is making the best choices we can and accepting them. The secret is there is no secret.
The author’s central thesis is that more women are required in leadership roles to break down barriers and deliver gender equality. While this book is dated in places it is well worth reading.
The Truth About the Gender Pay Gap, Sarah Kliff, Vox, September, 2017
Kliff discusses the gender pay gap noting that the causes are often counterintuitive, making them difficult to identify and remedy. Here are two takeaways:
- Wage discrimination works in subtle ways: Financial returns in the highest-paying jobs disproportionately accrue to those who can work the longest, least flexible hours, and as such; “These types of job penalise workers who have caregiving responsibilities outside the workplace. Those workers tend to be women.”
- Industries where certain work hours are more important than others have larger gender pay gaps: When jobs have more flexibility the gender wage gap declines; “Making hours more flexible — and workers more interchangeable — will lessen the economic benefits of the rigid work schedule.”
You can check out the article here.
The Importance of Mentorship, Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama, The Michelle Obama Podcast, September 2020
Obama and Jarrett (former advisor to President Barack Obama) talk about mentoring in the workplace and the importance of equality and diversity in leadership. Here are two takeaways:
- Diversity is about more than equality: As Obama puts it; “We don’t want women to be like men. That’s not what we are fighting for.” She believes that women bring a different perspective to the workplace that is both important and relevant.
- Make mentoring a priority: According to Obama; “Formal consistent mentoring can change the trajectory of a child’s life. We have seen it again and again and again, even if they don’t end up in a certain place, it changes the fabric of how they see themselves in the world……..if we could do it in the White House, under some challenging times, I know that every corporation, every bank, every office can think of a way to do something formalised like that, for the young people in their communities.” The same clearly goes for the people in our organisations.
Listen to the podcast here.
How to Design Gender Bias Out of Your Workplace
Equity expert Sara Sanford discusses gender workplace bias and how organisations can counter it. Here are two takeaways:
- Frequent evaluations matter: Annual evaluation reviews are “petri dishes for bias” as they increase the risk of personality criticism. On the other hand, personality criticism vanishes when shorter more frequent evaluations are adopted as these tend to focus on recent, specific projects.
- It is not about the optics: The percentage of women in leadership roles is not what matters. What matters is a workplace culture that promotes equal opportunities for everyone. Sanford notes; “When assessing a company’s culture, we measure the gaps between men and women’s experiences. The smaller the gap, the more equity is at the centre of the culture”.
Watch the video here.
A game of two halves
Check out this gender equality index game to see how your life might turn out based on your gender and country of birth. It literally takes 10 seconds.
Thank you for reading our blog. Next month we will be discussing Purpose.
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