Since the inception of International Women’s Day (IWD) more than a century ago, we have indeed come a long way in our quest toward gender equality, but the task remains monumental. The scales are still skewed, especially when it comes to women in leadership and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Many metrics have been developed to measure gender diversity – workforce mix, recruitment mix, leadership mix, pay parity, and the engagement gap, to name a few. And organizations are meticulously focused on measuring and reporting these metrics. But we still need to “cross the Rubicon” when it comes to achieving the goal that is this year’s theme for International Women’s Day: #BalanceforBetter.
The metrics may serve a good corporate branding and record-keeping purpose, but they will only take us so far. Metrics often fail to capture the real workplace issues that women face, because standalone, consolidated numbers can’t reveal the granular individual realities.
What is really needed is a change in mindset to one that views reality from the perspective of women. When organizations understand the specific, genuine challenges that women face in the workplace, they are better able to promote behavior and policy that is inclusive and fair, to make the workplace truly a better place for women.
In the movie “What Women Want” (2000), Mel Gibson’s character has an epiphany and is able to read women’s minds. I clearly do not profess to be endowed with any such powers, but this is my take on what is needed to create a balance for the better in the workplace:
W: Winning Environment – A work environment conducive to success regardless of gender helps create a culture geared toward the general success of the individual as well as the company. Organizations need to create bias-free environments where people are acknowledged for their work rather than their gender.
O: Opportunity – Everyone needs an equal opportunity to exhibit their potential. We all want and deserve a shot at success and a path to key leadership positions – and not just as a one-off, exceptional case. Glass ceilings need to be shattered permanently.
M: Motivation – A winning environment that provides real opportunities will help provide the motivation to excel. Unfortunately, work-life balance is still a bigger challenge for most women that it is for most men. Equal opportunities and equal pay are long overdue, and organizations should do as much as they can to bring this balance into the workplace.
E: Empathy – Our mental stereotypes and biases can often get in the way of understanding other perspectives. Organizations need to move beyond these and develop a keen sense of empathy to be able to relate to the viewpoints of every gender. We need to acknowledge that perspectives that are unfamiliar to us may add value in a unique way. We all benefit when we develop the empathetic skills that allow us to shine a light on our biases and embrace new perspectives. According to a 2018 Businessolver study, 87% of CEOs believe that empathy in the workplace is tied to an organization’s financial performance.
N: Nurture – Outmoded gender-based discriminatory practices have steadily given way, but organizations now need to tilt the scales the other way. To effect permanent change, companies need to intentionally foster the development of women in the workplace to bring about balance, and make it a priority to groom women for the leadership roles of tomorrow.
Events around IWD are a great reminder of balance for better and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to put it into practice to make the world work better.