International Women’s Day (a UN adopted initiative) is coming up on 8th March – this Thursday. To commemorate this day, I’d just like to publicly reflect on the amazing things that women around the world bring to our working, social, and family lives – as well as the challenges they face, and opportunities we all have together.
I first became interested in gender advocacy through conversations with my wife, Dr Katherine Rock. Katherine is a strong female role model, and active gender advocate. Katherine has published a number of blog posts on the topic of gender imbalance in her profession as a Patent Attorney – research from which has subsequently been published in the Australian Intellectual Property Journal. Katherine is also a 30% club scholar on the MBA program at the University of Cambridge in the UK, and a co-chair of the Wo+Men In Leadership committee. Sufficed to say, it is a topic we discuss a lot! Whilst living in Cambridge with Katherine, I was invited to take part in meetings with the mixed-gender Wo+Men In Leadership ‘special interest group’ – and it was here that I became aware of the concept of a Manbassador. I love the idea of adding male voices to the chorus of change, and it was this that motivated me to write this post. It’s a topic I am really passionate about, and hopefully some of the links I provide will be interesting – and, perhaps, cause some people to reflect and question some of the assumptions they may have.
Despite many amongst us believing that women have won their equal place in society, the reality (and evidence) is in fact much more complex – and unfortunately, often far less positive. Women at all stages of life face myriad forms of discrimination, bias, and stereotyping – from the subtle and insidious, to outright sexism and violence. If you really want to open your eyes, I invite you to spend 5 minutes reading through the testimonies on the incredible Everyday Sexism Project website, set up by Laura Bates. You can filter by country, which really helps you to relate to the experiences the women in your community go through every day – just for the biological fact that they were born female. Your Mum, Sister, Wife, Daughter, Friend. Pretty shocking, and in some cases heartbreaking stuff.
At school and in the community, young girls are socially pressured (often unintentionally) into interests that oftentimes lead towards low paying jobs. This regrettable socialised bias is a significant contributor to the gender pay imbalance. In the workplace, from the start of their careers women face an uphill battle against entrenched organisational and personal sexism. They have to fight against biases such as the competence/likability paradox – which states women can either by perceived as likable, or competent… just not both at the same time (a constraint that does not seem to affect men!). For a full exploration of this and other biases, hop over to the Harvard Gender Action Portal – it really is a one-stop-shop for the latest evidence, strategies and business cases in favour of gender equality.
However, the situation intensifies when women become parents – our so-called progressive societies quickly forget their social contract with women, and positively encourage them to leave the workforce. For women trying to maintain a career – many face enormous challenges with implicit and explicit sexism in the workplace.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! People are thinking about it all wrong. Stacks of evidence out there (again, pop over to the Gender Action Portal) says that diverse teams make better decisions, and outperform their peers – often by considerable margins (here is another recent report from McKinsey). It makes business sense to have a diverse team. And it’s easy to understand why – by having more contrasting views within a team, it is easier to avoid group think, explore more options, and constructively challenge orthodox views and opinions. Even an ardent conservative thinker would have to concede that if having diverse representation in teams improves business results, then it should be a organisational priority.
At The Solution Collective, we currently have just shy of 25% representation of women on our team – and for what they currently lack in numbers, they certainly excel in terms of impact towards our business goals and on our team dynamic. Are we the perfect working environment? No, not by a long shot – but we do try our best to support the women amongst us, because when they succeed – we all succeed. I’d love to see more women on our team, and would strongly encourage applications from women for future positions as we grow.
Happy International Women’s day!