Wait Is Over: Get Over Gender Fatigue And Move to Parity
Gender fatigue is a real thing. It’s when administrators, boards, C-suite types and those in charge of hiring claim that pushing for gender parity is exhausting.
That doesn’t mean you stop.
At Take The Lead, our mission is to reach gender parity by 2025 in leadership positions across all industries. No time for napping.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos recently, the New York Times reported a backlash to gender equality with many male executives saying they were afraid of working with women. Similarly, at a conference in Ireland recently, a human resources expert explained the new phenomenon of gender fatigue.
According to the Irish Examiner, “It is getting hard to generate enthusiasm in organizations with regard to gender diversity and many businesses are experiencing gender fatigue. It is hard to keep gender diversity issues on the boil and that’s a shame,” said Carol Kulik, Research Professor of Human Resource Management, University of South Australia Business School.
Other research supports the pushback. Some blame it on “political correctness,” a reaction to #MeToo and #TimesUp, as well as a cultural drive to see that diversity and inclusion is implemented in hiring, branding, panels, representation and messaging.
The Atlassian 2018 State of Diversity and Inclusion in U.S. Tech Report shows key findings about diversity—including gender—fatigue. The study of tech companies in Silicon Valley revealed:
80 percent of respondents agree that D&I is important.
Companies implementing initiatives remains flat.
Individual participation fell by as much as 50 percent year over year.
Representation, retention, and sense of belonging among underrepresented groups remains below 30 percent.
Over 40 percent of respondents believe their company’s inclusion of people from underrepresented groups needs no improvement.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Aubrey Blanche, head of diversity and inclusion at Atlassian, the enterprise software firm that commissioned the survey, said, “I’m calling it the Venn diagram of exhaustion. Everyone is exhausted for different reasons, but we’re all exhausted.”
The LA Times reports, “For those who advocated for diversity within their companies, the fatigue comes from pushing for change for so many years and seeing so little of it, Blanche said. And for those supporting, or even just watching from the sidelines, ‘We’ve been talking about diversity for so long, they’re exhausted hearing about it.’”
Other research confirms weariness expressed by directors charged with making teams gender balanced and more diverse.
“A new PwC survey of corporate directors provides some head-scratching results,” Claire Zillman writes in Fortune. “First, the good news: some 94 percent of directors agree that board diversity brings unique perspectives to the boardroom, and 84 percent say it enhances board performance. In that same vein, 91 percent report that their boards have taken some steps to up diversity—an increase of four points since last year.”
Zillman writes, “Now for the puzzling data: Even as the overwhelming majority of directors recognize the benefits of board diversity, more than half—some 52 percent—say the push toward more diversity in the boardroom is driven by political correctness, and nearly as many—48 percent—say shareholders are too preoccupied with the topic.”
Arielle Lapiano writes in Forbes, “A recent Harvard Business Review study exploring the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements’ impacts on creating lasting improvements in their organizations revealed some ‘adverse reactions.’”
Lapiano writes, “’Men and women are not talking to each other. The environment is becoming sterile and completely unenjoyable to work in,’ replied one survey member. According to the survey, 65 percent of men indicated that since the movements began it’s ‘less safe’ to mentor and coach their female colleagues. This unintentional consequence hurts the women the movement was meant to serve.”
Is gender fatigue just gender discrimination with a new name, more of the same old, same old? If so, what is the solution? For sure, it is not to slow down in efforts to hire and retain more women in leadership positions, and to have more women visible and participating in roles at the same level as men.
Gender parity needs to reach a tipping point. Discomfort or fatigue with the process should not hinder progress.
Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, writes, “Gender parity in leadership is fair, wise, and ultimately, most profitable. Women raise group collective intelligence. Having more women in leadership has real economic payoffs—up to a 15 percent increase in profitability for a typical firm. Greater skill diversity within top management increases effectiveness, reduces gender discrimination, and ultimately helps recruit, promote and retain top talent.”
There are different strategies to approach achieving gender equity, write Catherine H. Tinsley, Raffini Family Professor of Management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the faculty director of the Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Institute, and Robin J. Ely, Diane Doerge Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the faculty chair of the HBS Gender Initiative in the Harvard Business Review,
“Managers who are advancing gender equity in their firms are taking a more inquisitive approach—rejecting old scripts, seeking an evidence-based understanding of how women experience the workplace, and then creating the conditions that increase women’s prospects for success,” they write.
“The solution to women’s lagged advancement is not to fix women or their managers but to fix the conditions that undermine women and reinforce gender stereotypes. Furthermore, by taking an inquisitive, evidence-based approach to understanding behavior, companies can not only address gender disparities but also cultivate a learning orientation and a culture that gives all employees the opportunity to reach their full potential,” according to Tinsley and Ely.
So what to do to re-energize the push for gender parity?
Atlassian offers these strategies: “Equip individuals with the skills to make an impact within their sphere of influence, and raise our collective standards about how people engage in the workplace. Begin by listening to and believing marginalized people who tell their stories, and listen to them about the solutions—their expertise is valuable. Companies must create a place where teammates can have open, respectful dialogue – by understanding others’ experiences, we can learn to help them belong.”
It can start with hiring, according to Atlassian. “Tactical programs can address representation and retention issues. A diverse-slate approach to hiring, implementing a values-aligned vs. a culture-fit interview, and providing opportunities specifically for people from underrepresented groups to grow and develop are proven to be effective.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com