Diya was one of the few women managers at a big company. Being smart, hardworking and career-oriented, she was the first choice when it came to leading a team for a crucial company project. She ensured that the team gave its best and the project turned out well. However, her good performance did not reflect in her performance reviews discussions. As the leadership team sat her down for a discussion, she was told that her team was quite unhappy about her bossy demeanor, and that her feedback to her team was abrasive. While Diya tried to explain that she only provided constructive criticism to the team for the project, her leaders maintained that she should tone down her demeanor and build better interpersonal relationships at the workplace.
This is a story that many women at workplace face day in and out. The work- place is still dominated by men, and for women who seek to succeed in leadership positions, they usually face criticism and flak for being demanding, bossy, loud, difficult, and insensitive along with many such labels. Little is realized that this can make them question their self-worth and erodes their confidence. Many researches have revealed that women continuously face social penalties for exhibiting strong leadership characteristics. Like in the case of Diya, while women employees and leaders are applauded for delivering much- needed results, they are also reprimanded for being ‘bossy’, ‘abrasive’ and ‘dominat- ing’ — behavioral traits that are usually associated with men.
It is paramount, not only to consider systems and process change but also the softer or emotional aspects — pride, uncertainty, and fear
According to Catalyst’s Double bind report1, three predicaments can potentially undermine women’s leadership as well as their own advancement options — extreme perceptions, where women are perceived as too soft or too tough but never just right; high competence threshold, where women leaders face higher standards and lower rewards than men leaders; and finally, competent but disliked, where women lead- ers are perceived as competent or liked, but rarely both.
A change to this mindset is an immediate necessity and the corporate world in general, should focus on the right behaviors and competencies that are required by lead- ers such as empowerment, humility, cour- age, accountability, etc. Leaders, change agents, and employees across cultural contexts must be able to manage excitement as well as the difficulties, doubts and disappointments, and develop well-informed and targeted strategies to successfully navigate and increase inclusion.
Cultural ethics, perceptions and customs prevalent in the society often influence how organizations function, frame strategies and approach issues. This could also include how behaviors and employee communication is construed at a company level. Be it while envisioning change for the over- all structure and scope of the organization or while setting standards, it is what the leaders from top management initiate and communicate, that the rest of the organization follows. Societal cultural norms, even though may vary within regions and coun- tries, still set a basic outline for workplace cultures.
An overriding corporate culture (i.e., the headquarters’ culture) does not always translate into local or field offices (and vice-versa). Local offices have their own organizational culture or entrenched set of values and beliefs, which in turn form work practices, styles, and behaviors. Many organizations recognize this when developing D&I programming and customizing practices that extend beyond a one-size-fits-all model. Change does not manifest itself in the exact same way in different organizations in similar locations, or even in different regions of one organization.
Catalyst’s Culture Matters: Unpacking Change and Achieving Inclusion2, presents a Corporate Practice Change Model with three interacting and revolving dimensions to help companies “unpack” the change process and navigate the dilemmas faced by leaders. By integrating change management and human behavior theories as well as Catalyst knowledge and research, this model depicts the interaction between change accelerators and change milestones, showcases successes as guideposts to see how change is happening at key points, normalizes the setbacks as hidden and profound learning opportunities that occur along the way, infuses organizational refinement and learning as core to the change process.
The need to develop well-informed and targeted strategies to successfully navigate and increase inclusion is a business imperative. It is paramount, not only to consider systems and process change but also the softer or emotional aspects — pride, uncertainty, and fear. This has particular relevance in today’s global economy, in which oftentimes different societal and cultural dynamics, norms, and practices influence how people relate to one another and how business operates. The world is evolving in ways that com- pel organizations to constantly re-evaluate how business is done and how to ensure their diverse employee and consumer base is connected to the business. Significant shifts in the demographic composition of the labor force, the blinding speed of innovation and technological advances, as well as human rights and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives present challenges and opportunities for organizations to develop robust diversity and change agendas.
Cultural ethics, perceptions and customs prevalent in the society often influence how organizations function, frame strategies and approach issues
These are inspiring times for cross- cultural collaboration and strategic action focused on embracing difference and leveraging inclusion. Forward-thinking companies are at the helm of navigating such changes — building innovative and data-driven strategies and leveraging organization’s core identity, championship, relationships, and design, and processes to cultivate inclusive workplaces that factor in changing societal trends.
While a few diversity and inclusion practices have been in existence for some time now, the need of the hour is conscious efforts to kick in and deal with the issues at workplaces. Here are some notable actions that can be taken by individuals and leaders to bring in change and ensure gender diversity inclusion at workplaces:
Crack the communication conundrum
Words reflect workplace culture and can reinforce negative gender stereotypes. Stop using these common words, which harm women's advancement opportunities, and focus on performance and outcomes instead.
- “She comes across as abrasive” – This can put women in a stressful double-bind where they feel they are never just right when it comes to communicating their comments – Instead, shift attention away from style and focus on her work performance.
- “She’s so helpful” – This diminishes women’s contributions, relegating them to ‘supporting’ rather than ‘central/ leading’ roles – Instead, describe her contributions to the project or team.
- “She gets overly emotional” – This puts unfair pressure on women to monitor and manage their emotional expressions – Instead, describe the consequences of her behavior without using labels.
- “She lacks leadership gravitas” – This undermines women's identity and perceptions of their leadership abilities – Instead, stop using code and explain what you mean other than “not her”
- “She should stop being so judgmental” – This undermines and discredits women's competence and qualifications to offer critical feedback – Don't make it about leadership style, but whether she is demonstrating good judgment.
Catalyst’s Flip the Script3 suggests three ways for leaders to change the way they behave.
- Pay Attention – Check on the language used and see if it is different for women and men
- Question Yourself – Check if you or anyone in the workplace is unintentionally holding women to a higher standard
- Ask for Help – Ask someone you trust, to review your work for gendered language