What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Leadership in a Workplace First Environment
Over the years, the one question I’ve often heard being asked around – which I’ve never quite understood – is: “What is it like being a woman in leadership?’ My natural instinct is one of indignation “Why should it be any different from being a man?”
Unfortunately, though, whilst the workforce is waking up to the reality that talented women contribute as much as men to an organization, the reality is that we still have a long way to go. In fact, if we look at estimates from the World Economic Forum they suggest that the gender gap won’t close until 2186.
So, what are we leaders getting wrong then? How can we get that balance right? Perhaps it starts by recognizing the unconscious bias that’s present in the decisions that we make every day.
When hiring: Don’t think separately
The most effective organizations, in my view, are those that don’t simply use diversity in order to secure legitimacy but use it to actually increase the cultural competence in their workforce.
Companies must avoid thinking of men and women separately. It isn’t about categorizing, it’s about being able to bring together people with different identities uniquely and in a way that makes them both feel inclusive.
As a leader, this requires an important degree of both emotional and social intelligence – the ability to rise above the need of having to justify or validate, which would imply turning this into a box-ticking exercise.
When promoting: Leadership isn’t innate
Research shows that even when a woman has the same experience, tenure, and jobs as men, they have a much lower chance of being promoted. What is stopping us from ensuring the likelihood of promotion comes down to capability and readiness, irrelevant of gender?
Well, many of us erroneously believe that leadership is innate – people are born as leaders. What’s more, many of us think this principle applies mostly to men not women. When it comes to promoting women we often assess more thoroughly: Will she be able to cope with the pressure? Can she lead a team?
We don’t do that all that often with men.
The reality? Neither men nor women are born leaders, it requires skills like any other new role that one must learn and apply. A person will not necessarily be ready to become the ‘best’ mentor or the ‘best’ team player just because they have the technical expertise, regardless of gender. They are separate skills and we need to teach them before promoting someone.
It’s no surprise then to see so many managers lacking the right leadership skills – which in turns means the inability to hire, coach and motivate other team members correctly.
When determining pay: Think rationally
Equal pay dictates that staff doing the same job must be paid the same amount. The trouble is that very rarely are jobs the same nor are the values we need today’s staff to bring to our business. I, therefore, agree that it’s not easy to pay everyone equally nor is it always fair to do so. However, it’s equally unacceptable to use irrational judgments to determine pay.
I am a firm believer that in this day and age, we should be paid based on our value added. That is – not simply for what we do within the scope of our profession, and definitely not because we belong to one gender or another or are older or younger than our peers, but because we’ve got a set of skills that are invaluable to the company.
This implies the combination of traditional ‘hard skills’ – the ones required to get the job done on a practical level, ‘softer skills’ – a combination of people skills, social skills, attitudes and social and emotional intelligence and finally, what we like to call ‘cultural significance attributes’ – an individual’s character traits that foster your company culture.
At the heart of our efforts to fight against this, our role as leaders should be to help all women in our workplace understand the matchless value they bring to their company; help them define leadership on their own terms and confidently determine their professional trajectory.
So let’s all #PressforProgress. Together we can do this!
About the author: Deborah Knight, is the Director of Client Services at Perkbox, an employee benefits service that is designed to reward employees for all their hard work and make life a little more affordable.