According to the Global Gender Report female talent is under-used and undervalued. Men’s wages are rising faster and further and at this rate it will take another 217 years before pay is equal. A crazy statistic to introduce this month’s topic of diversity at the workplace.
To me, men and women are the same in the workplace. Whether you are a man or a woman, I need you for what you are good at, for your skills. In many of our companies and even countries a cultural change is needed to make this kind of thinking common.
What’s important is that companies choose people they need considering the phase they are in and the challenges they are facing.
In a TED Talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, someone considered one of the most influential voices in encouraging diversity in leadership, she said that it starts with you. Whatever you as a woman can do to get to the top and go against common ideas about women at the workplace, you should do. One of the things she mentioned was sitting at the table. She explained that women usually stand in a meeting room and do not sit down at the table, for example when a seat needs to be gotten for her. This is because women systematically underestimate their ability. You might notice it as well, when you tell a man at your workplace: ‘’You did a great job’’, he might respond with a simple ‘’Thank you’’. When you say the same thing to a woman, she might respond saying: ‘’I received a lot of help from colleagues’’ or ‘’I was lucky’’. I have never considered myself less because I am a woman and I think this is why I am here, working together with an amazing team on amazing things. When women stop thinking of themselves as less, that’s when real change happens.
On the other hand, when you are on the receiving end and become aware of this, it will change cultures as well. Therefore, companies need to include woman at the table to strengthen their teams with skills, opinions and ways of thinking that they need. I am an advocate of strong discussions at the workplace. When the discussion stays respectful and you can at least understand the other’s point of view, it will make you better equipped to truly make an informed decision.
In the same TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg also mentioned that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, most people will also think of him as a cool guy, someone you would like to have a drink with. However, for women it’s the complete opposite. When a woman is successful, she is not liked. Think of the word ‘’bossy’’. This word is used often towards women that are assertive, but if men or boy act the same way, they are not called bossy because it is expected of them to be like that. It’s a deep problem in society that is not only on the side of the man or the woman. We are all taught from a young age that a man should be successful in the workplace and a woman should have kids. In order to change, we not only need to appreciate women that are successful in the workplace, but also men that do more or great work with family and kids.
It doesn’t just stop at the two genders of man and woman. Many minorities such as people from the LGBT community and ethnic backgrounds face discrimination at the workplace. Everyone has this bias. Whether you are working in a call centre, or sitting at a board meeting every month. Even if you care deeply for the topic of diversity, it can be hard to spot your unconscious bias at work. I believe that we should see people for their worth, their skills, and not their skin colour, orientation or gender. You just have to be open and listen to others. Change will come from that.
Of course, these changes are usually more easily adopted by younger generations than older ones. Even I caught myself when I was in Sweden not too long ago, where they have ‘gender-neutral’ or ‘no-gender’ toilets. A toilet everyone can use, female, male or anyone else. ‘’But that’s weird!’’ I found myself thinking. But then I realized it doesn’t matter. As long as it works, right?
Youtube: TED talk: Why we have too few women leaders | Sheryl Sandberg