It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that, whatever you say to them, they always purr: "If they would only purr for 'yes,' and mew for 'no’, or any rule of that sort," she had said, "so that one could keep up a conversation! But how can you talk with a person if they always say the same thing?”
The conversation around women in the workplace is riddled with familiar platitudes. We have made progress, but it has not been significant.
We have heard a lot of people pose the question-‘Why does it have to be you as a woman? Why not you as a human being?’ This type of question is a way of silencing a person’s specific experiences.
Gender matters, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a renowned Nigerian writer and feminist once said “Men and women experience the world differently. Gender colors the way we experience the world. And we need to change that.”
Let us look at some recent facts.
The Global Gender Pay Gap report finds that gender parity is shifting into reverse this year first time since the World Economic Forum started measuring it. It would take 217 years for disparities in pay and employment opportunities for men and women to end.
When women enter the formal labor market, their paid work and their role as workers are often seen as a subsidiary or supplementary to their principal role as homemakers. This impacts how women are paid.
Recruiters value competence and commitment in men but reject high achieving women as ‘less likable.’ When you submit identical resumes with high scores, a male candidate is 2x likely to get called for an interview-and 3x if a STEM major.
‘The ‘think leader, think male’ bias runs deep: when asked to draw a leader, most people draw a man.
The conversation around fixing this is wide-ranging and sometimes contentious. Whenever the talk turns towards solutions, it is always about women lifting up other women. Be assertive. Lean in. Walk into that interview and claim the space that you deserve and don’t let your male colleagues talk over you in the meeting. Fight micro-aggressions.
The question to ask is – Why is it women’s responsibility to fix a system that continually victimizes them? Recently several high profile women unveiled Time’s Up, a plan to address ‘the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that has kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential.’ It is beautiful to watch women step into power. But it is also time for well-intentioned men to stop floundering and play a bigger role. Women have not installed the glass ceiling and it is not our sole job to demolish it.
For far too long, women have been denied access to the mentorship and sponsorship that men enjoy. They’ve been shut out of the bonding on business trips and bar crawls, the guidance given on golf courses. Women are 54% less likely to have a sponsor and 24% less likely to get advice from senior leaders.
And it matters: mentorship and sponsorship are critical to promotions and raises, stretch assignments and flexibility. The #Metoo campaign has had an unfortunate backlash and has scared some decent men away from creating opportunities for women. This should not deter men from playing their part. In fact, more men should commit to #MentorHer. We’re at a pivotal moment for gender equality at the workplace. We need to see men working with and mentoring women. We need to see men come up with a large scale action plan to help female workers address systemic gender inequality and take on the burden of fighting gendered socialization.
There is a wall of silence on how exclusion is perpetuated and every time a man speaks out for his female colleagues it breaks a crack in that wall.
Gender stereotypes imprison men too. If men felt free to be vulnerable and human, if they were allowed to be truer versions of themselves, things would change for women as a natural consequence. It is time we start viewing gender as a spectrum instead of a set of opposing ideals.
As inclusion champions, we have a mission. The mission is not ticking checkboxes or achieving ‘diversity targets’ but creating a workplace which is truly inclusive. A workplace which does not push certain individuals including women to the margins for who they are and the choices they make. To allow alternative stories to be heard. To hit at the insidious ways in which exclusion works. This will require something more than saying the same thing again and again.
It is time we craft our own mirrors and stories into existence.
I invite men to take on this mantle. Step forward and speak up.
‘If not you, who? If not now, when?’
Image Credits: Huffington Post UK