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The Hidden Reasons We Don’t Have Equality At A Senior Level

Written by: Lyn Ray, 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.

 

Most of our beliefs about ourselves and society are rooted in childhood. From the minute we are born we are exposed to a huge number of stimuli every day. The things people say to us, the way they treat us, our experiences at home and in school, what we see and hear in the media. The messages we get about how we need to behave to be valued or loved. The messages we get about what is a man’s role and a woman’s role. These go into our subconscious mind, and they impact the choices we make and the things that we do.

These beliefs are often embedded before our pre-frontal cortex, the logical, rational part of our brain, is fully developed (around puberty), and so we take these beliefs to be true without being able to challenge them. Often these beliefs served us well in childhood. They led to us being praised, or not punished. After all, wanting to be accepted is a basic human need, but in adulthood these beliefs may be the root of our problems, and the real reason we are not seeing equality at a senior level in our companies and organisations.


The Mental Health Foundation reports that 1 in 5 women experience a mental health problem in a year compared to 1 in 8 men. There is a steady increase in the number of women experiencing mental health difficulties whilst the figures for men have remained relatively stable. Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to experience common mental health problems than their male counterparts and women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.


Why? This list is not exhaustive, but it highlights some of the factors that are at play.


According to the Office for National Statistics women do 60% more household work – cooking, cleaning, shopping, family admin, caring for children and elderly parents. This equates to an additional 45 minutes a day which over a year is equivalent to an extra 34 working days a year! Women grew up seeing their mums & grandmothers doing these jobs and so believe these jobs are their responsibility even though they are working considerably more hours than previous generations. Their daughters see this and so they grow up with a similar belief without even realising it.


There is also a resultant mental load from these responsibilities. They impact the people we love, and we don’t want to let them down. Many people who are driven in their careers also have high expectations in their personal lives. They want their kids to have as many opportunities as possible, to take part in sport, music or clubs, and this can involve a considerable time commitment. School holidays especially can be a particularly challenging time for working mums.


Generally, men’s careers follow an upward trajectory, albeit there may be some twists and turns along the way. That is not always the case for women. When women have children, returning to work and managing childcare can be very stressful. Some women decide to return part-time, or else move to part-time down the line but this can impact their self-esteem. According to the House of Commons Briefing, Women and the UK Economy, in December 2021 there were 15.52m women working in the UK, 62% were employed full-time and 38% part-time. From a career perspective, working part-time is likely to hinder progression, particularly into senior roles. Yet the irony is that, employing highly skilled people part-time can be a very cost-effective way for companies to access their knowledge and experience.


The menopause can also hit women hard, with anxiety, disrupted sleep and brain fog all common symptoms. These can impact a woman’s ability to do their job and most damagingly undermines their confidence. In a survey by Forth of 1000 women over 45 years across the UK, 63% of the women said their work life had been negatively affected by symptoms, 48% said they had suffered low mood, 47% low concentration and 43% memory troubles. And this comes at a time when women have worked hard for many years to establish their careers and are often at a senior level.


From the work I do with clients and my own personal experience, it is apparent that certain behaviours we were praised for as girls, can work against us in the corporate world. People pleasing can lead to a large workload, considerable anxiety and, for some, burnout. It’s impossible to please everyone – your partner, kids, parents, siblings, boss, your team, friends, customers – yet many women do their upmost to do this. No matter what they do though, it never feels enough. They struggle to say no or to set boundaries. This is compounded by a fear of conflict so it’s easier to say yes than to have a difficult conversation. People pleasing can also lead to frustration and a lack of fulfilment as they deliver other people’s priorities at the expense of their own.


Perfectionism can also hold women back. This comes from a fear of criticism so the best way to protect against this is to try to be and do things perfectly. They are driven and have high standards in all areas of their lives. This can result in them working long hours, and it’s a thankless task as perfect is entirely subjective. I am not for one minute suggesting that these traits don’t exist in men too, but they are more prevalent in women due to the different societal expectations of women and men and how we are raised as a result.


Imposter syndrome is also common, especially for women who work in male dominated environments. They question their own capabilities and fear that they are there as the token women, even when the evidence shows they more than deserve to hold their position. This insecurity pushes them to work even harder. They don’t look like me, or sound like me, or think like me – I don’t belong. Yet role models are so important. It shows other women what is possible.


Confirmation bias continues to be at play in recruitments. It’s human nature that we gravitate towards people who are like us. Hence, we end up with people in teams and on boards who often come from similar backgrounds, yet this can create group think which is restrictive and can be dangerous. Using a tool such as the GC Index can be useful to ensure teams are made up of individuals with complementary energies to achieve the organisational goal, and to foster equality and diversity.


So how do we tackle this problem? As women we need to challenge our beliefs and behaviours. What are they costing us – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, in our time? Are they limiting us? If our beliefs are not working for us, we need to instil new ones that inspire and empower us, and then support these with positive habits and working practices. If you need help with this, working with a coach can be invaluable. Or to find out more about my Empower & Inspire Programme for women in organisations, please go to www.lynray.co.uk/corporate-wellbeing.


As men, having the awareness that these factors are at play, and that women are often “fitting in” to companies that were built by men is important. Flexible working can help to ease pressures on women in the workplace, as well as bringing many benefits to men too. Being conscious of how your own beliefs and behaviours impact you and the way you interact with those around you, is also critical. Not everyone had the same upbringing as you or thinks the way you do.


As leaders, we need to recognise that the way we think, impacts how we feel which affects our actions and therefore our outcomes. Recognising we can change the way we think, opens different perspectives and opportunities, and enables us to improve our relationships and to maximise the impact we can make not just in work but in all areas of our lives. This brings significant benefits in wellbeing, productivity and happiness. Also, we need to stop glorifying working long hours. With the additional responsibilities at home, this adds immense pressure to women in the workplace. No one can work effectively when they are tired and demoralised. When is enough, enough? The time has come to support our people to work smarter, not harder.


Are we building companies, organisations and a society that will allow the next generation to thrive, irrespective of their gender? If not, we can do better.


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


 

Lyn Ray, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lyn Ray is a Transformational Coach who specialises in helping busy people become happier, healthier and more fulfilled. For most of her adult life, Lyn struggled to find balance, either overworking at the expense of other areas of her life or sacrificing her career to enable her to be there for her family. This led to feelings of anxiety, frustration and a lack of fulfilment. After becoming increasingly interested in personal development, the lightbulb moment came when Lyn recognised that she was discounting her own abilities and the opportunities open to her. She retrained as a Transformational Coach and now works with clients to enable them to recognise the unique strengths & skills they have, the opportunities open to them, the limiting beliefs that hold them back and to build positive beliefs and habits to enable them to live the life they want.

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