The past couple of weeks have been very eye-opening in America, on many fronts. And with the election of Donald Trump to the White House, despite overwhelming polls predicting that Hillary Clinton would break the most visible glass ceiling in the world, we must re-examine our ideas about gender in our society.
America, we’ve been kidding ourselves.
Despite a growing body of evidence that companies with more women in leadership and on the board have better financial performance, an overwhelming number of Americans still think men are better at business strategy, better at financial management and better at negotiation than women. Even more striking, one-third of Americans think that we won’t see gender parity in the workplace for 100 years or more. Think about it this way: people think we will be vacationing on Mars before we will have gender equality.
Depressing. Or motivating, depends on your perspective. Personally, I am a fighter. So what can we do about it? I believe that realizing you have a problem (or realizing you have a bigger problem than you thought) is the first step to changing it. Here’s my take on three simple things leaders of both genders can do to make it happen.
1. Stop shying away from talking about your experience as a woman in leadership (or your experiences with women in leadership). It doesn’t make you less of a leader to talk about your unique experience, whether it is because of gender or something else. But when we brush off that discussion as being too “pink” we inadvertently reinforce the belief that gender bias no longer exists.
2. Take advantage of the high level of media interest in female leaders, but don’t allow others to “pink-wash” you (or the women in your organization) by limiting the conversation to soft topics like workplace issues. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to be on the front lines of advocacy for workplace policies that are family and woman friendly. However, by defining ourselves as leaders exclusively by those topics, we reinforce the stereotype that the “heavy lifting” of business strategy and financial management are being handled by the boys.
3. Be more than a mentor. Be an advocate. Amplify the ideas of women, be sure they get the credit they deserve. Women are encouraged from a young age to develop high levels of emotional intelligence. To be collaborative. To worry about the outcomes over who gets the credit. These are all good things. But they are also the reasons that we need advocates (of either gender by the way) – people who are willing to put some skin in the game of a woman’s career by recommending them, advocating for them and publicly supporting them, not just coaching them one on one.
Unconscious bias is called unconscious for a reason. But we have the power to change it. One conversation, and one leader at a time.