The past year piles on to an already challenging environment for women, and it presented new challenges.
For example, four times as many women than men dropped out of the workforce in September 2020—that’s roughly 865,000 women compared to 216,000 men.
Men already outpace women in leadership positions by a significant margin. Men and women have vastly different experiences when it comes to work and leadership. Ask any woman in a leadership position and you’ll hear consistent themes of what was different for her compared to her male colleagues. Many obstacles are self-imposed resulting in a mindset where “women feel they must be 100% qualified to apply for a position while men will apply if they are 60% qualified.” The bar is set differently for women. The expectations are different for women. Judgement is different for women.
Consider this: Men are judged based on their potential; women are judged on their past performance. Countless studies show how women are judged more harshly than men when it comes to business, employment and leadership. Where men need to consider competency and masculinity, women have a plethora of relevant and non-relevant criteria that come into play. Appearance, clothing, weight, hairstyle, are evaluated very differently for women than men. Furthermore, women are often doing the “judging” of other women, so this isn’t a “men versus women” problem. It’s an “everyone” problem.
How do we fix it?
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8 is “#ChooseToChallenge.” A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions.
We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. We can all help create an inclusive world.
Understanding and talking about gender barriers and considering solutions for your business is a great place to start. Honestly evaluate your organization on this. It’s easy to assume it’s not an issue.
Consider implementing leadership development programs for women in your organization.
Find ways to encourage women to pursue leadership opportunities. You may not be aware of the reasons that women might be shying away from leadership positions. It can range from confidence to time constraints to feeling advancement isn’t available to women in your business.
Think like a parent of daughters.
Research shows that both male and female leaders who have daughters are more likely to champion gender diversity.
Invite women into the conversation.
It can be challenging for some women to jump into a male–dominated conversation for a variety of reasons, including a simple, biological factor of having a quieter voice.
Ensure your Board of Directors has balanced representation that includes women.
Women accounted for less than 20% of board positions in 2019. Women bring a unique perspective to male-dominated boards, especially in business. Nonprofits typically have a higher number of women serving on their boards.
Women need to be more confident, have a louder voice and build networks. Often, the barriers for women are self-imposed. It takes effort and work to get beyond that.
Men in the workplace need to support women’s professional growth.
Many men want to champion women but they aren’t sure how. If you sincerely want to know, ask a woman you know in a leadership position. Most are more than willing to support your effort.
Women need to support women.
Far too often women spend energy on tearing other women down. This makes us all weaker. Empowered women empower women.
Let’s #ChooseToChallenge this year and beyond.