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Are Women Broken?

Written by: Roula Clerc-Nassar, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Gender balance is a high priority across numerous governments, organizations, and corporations and multiple initiatives to help evolve workplace culture and enhance inclusion have been implemented. Despite this, a significant gender gap continues to exist. Only 11% of heads of states are female [1]. Within Corporations, women run 7.4% of the Fortune 500 companies [2]. In Artificial Intelligence, an area that is forging the future, women are also under-represented at 22% [3]. According to the World Economic Forum, the gap is projected to close in 136 years of which 36 years have been added due to the COVID outbreak which has impacted working women well ahead of men[4].

This raises questions as to what is standing in the way. Are women ambitious enough? Are they capable or broken? What is needed to break the deadlock?


Women are an asset that is delivering huge upside to the economy and society


Women join the workplace with a high degree of ambition:


Women have been coming in force into the workplace with better qualifications and a higher level of ambition than men. Women are over-investing in their education, to prepare themselves for successful careers and earning the majority of Masters (60%) [5] and Doctoral (53%) [6] degrees. As they start their careers, women also aspire to top management positions ahead of men (43% vs. 34% respectively). However, overtime women’s aspirations drop, while men stay [7].


Women’s presence in the workplace pays dividends:


Women are a great asset to the workplace, driving economic growth and improving businesses’ financial and organizational results. For example, a study by the Peterson Institute of International Economics, covering more than 20,000 firms in 91 countries, has shown that the higher the number of Female Directors in the C-suite, the higher the Net Profit performance [8]. Beyond corporations, a McKinsey Global Institute report finds that “$12 trillion, or an incremental 11%, could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality” [9].


The benefits from women’s presence in the workplace span the population at large:


More diverse workplaces bring tangible benefits to men as well as women. A more prosperous business or economy will have tangible benefits also on men’s jobs, remuneration, and purchasing power. Some of the policy changes to support women such as flexible work arrangements and parental leaves to name just a few, can also be advantageous to men and to society at large. In fact, research conducted in Europe and in the US by Øystein Gullvåg Holter, has concluded that a high degree of gender equality has positive effects on men’s quality of life, helping them get improved well-being, less depression, and lower suicide rates vs. less gender-equal societies [10].


A highly uneven playing field is preventing the realization of the full upside that women bring:


While women are intent to prove themselves and succeed, they face multiple challenges from the on-set that put them at a competitive disadvantage vs. men.


In the big scheme of things, women are still new in the job market and have less proven tracks to tap into today, and fewer inspirational role models to follow vs. men.


On top, the work culture in which women need to perform is different from their own. The work environment has been forged over centuries by men for men. Some of the attributes of this environment, such as high competitivity, low vulnerability, emotional toughness, putting work first, showing strength and even ruthlessness sometimes, is highly unnatural and challenging to many women.


Lastly, women lack the support system that men typically have. A large majority of women today continue to shoulder a disproportionate part of household responsibilities. At work, women also struggle to find the sponsorship that is critical for career advancement, while this comes more naturally to men helped by unconscious biases. At the social level, working women also face higher expectations and criticism, reinforcing their natural propensity to feel guilty for not being full-on with their family.


A dual strategy that aims both to evolve the environment and support women is key to break the deadlock


Create a more inclusive environment:


Evolving the environment to ensure that women no longer swim against the current is key. Interventions like quotas, flexible work arrangements, parental leaves, and training on unconscious bias are examples of levers that should help retain and develop female talent. The ultimate outcome as this comes fully to fruition is to create a culture and a definition of leadership that reflects the best of what both men and women can bring to the workplace.


The change will take time to fully unfold:


As we emerge from hundreds of centuries of male domination, with strongly entrenched beliefs and biases as to the role of men and women, we can only applaud the progress made, but also recognize, as we have been experiencing over the past years, that reverting this will take time. In fact, “no more boys or girls” a documentary run by the BBC in 2017 showed how gender stereotypes continued to be present with kids as young as 7-years old, with girls having lower self-esteem and boys struggling to express their emotions, and “gendered” interests being fixed early on in a child’s development [11].


Supporting women to navigate the uneven playing field is a must:


Until this inclusive environment unfolds, women continue to be at a very significant competitive disadvantage vs. men. To accelerate progress, it is key to support them to understand and navigate the challenges that the uneven playing field creates.

There is a wide concern however that this kind of support could put the onus on women to change. So much so that numerous organizations have decided to refrain from providing it, leaving women to doubt and fend for themselves. While well-intended, this concern is hampering the progress and contributing to maintaining the gap, if not worsening it. We do not worry when we put high potential talent through development programs, as they are about growth and enhancement, not change. The same should apply here. Besides, we cannot expect women to wait until the environment changes, just like we cannot ask a man with a serious ailment to forgo treatment until a preventative cure materializes.


In addition, as this new environment unfolds, both genders will need to flex and learn new approaches to be more rounded and effective. Supporting women to navigate the existing playing field will help give them a head-start as this new culture becomes a reality.


Bring it all together


My answer is that women are not at all broken. In fact, they are a great asset to the workplace and their advent helps businesses, the economy, men, and society. They face however significant hurdles that prevent them from realizing their potential or the full upside that they can bring. Evolving the work environment is a key unlock but will take time to materialize. Supporting them on top to navigate the challenges will not only help them grow into more rounded leaders and realize their potential but will also give them a head-start to navigate the new environment, as it materializes.


Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

 

Roula Clerc-Nassar, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Founder of Ellumine Consulting & Coaching, Roula Clerc-Nassar is on a mission to get women professionals to the top of their game to help make the world a better place. To that end, she works directly with women professionals, as well as with corporations wanting to advance their female talent and create a more inclusive environment. Before founding Ellumine she was for 24 years in the corporate world, in 2 leading multinationals, where she grew through the ranks to top levels while retaining her female leadership style. Throughout her career, she has been best a growing people and building high performing teams and has sharpened her competency through multiple coaching accreditations. Roula also brings her research acumen to her new line of work to deliver leading-edge assessments and individual & group coaching services that drive impact. A truly multi-cultural individual, Roula is a national of 3 countries in 3 different continents and works with individuals and organizations across many parts of the globe.

 

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