Take Action For Parity On International Women’s Day And Beyond
International Women’s Day is 108 years old this year, with a rich history of participation across the globe, including activities, events and keynotes in the U.S. celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of all women. With much more to come.
Knowing your history is the first of the 9 Leadership Power Tools created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. “Know your history and you can create the future of your choice,” Feldt says.
But what can you do to take action and create real change?
This year, the theme is #BalanceforBetter, because, according to IWD, “Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage.”
Take The Lead, with the goal of gender parity in leadership across all sectors by 2025, agrees with the IWD mission to gender equity is “essential for economies and communities to thrive.”
The necessity for awareness of the inequity is buttressed by the latest facts and stats from the 2019 “Women in The Workplace Survey” by LeanIn:
1 in 5 women are C-suite leaders in this country
1 in 25 women of color are leaders in C-suites
1 in 5 women are “only’s”
50 percent of employees surveyed say they are committed to gender diversity
24 percent of seats in parliaments globally
13 of 195 countries are led by women
4 of 113 U.S. Supreme Court Justices have been women’21 percent of board seats are women
Feldt writes, “Information has its own power. Quantifying discrimination can motivate companies to change hiring policies or politicians to change laws.”
She adds, “We can continue to rail against them and get the same results. Or we can create a new, positive and solution-focused story about how women can achieve parity, and barrel right on through to make breakthrough progress in the 21st century just as the second wavers did in the 20th.”
According to Feldt, “Power and energy come from going into new spaces, not from standing still or remaining mired in half-century-old tropes. It’s a difficult shift to make for three reasons we must understand if we are to change them.”
In accordance with that need to shift that Feldt asserts is necessary, the focus of IWD has shifted from activism in its founding years of the 1900s to the 1970s. That shifted into feminism with protesting and lobbying hard for inclusion, influence and equality. The 1980s was about “Fix the Women” programs that were well-meaning in trying to help women become more confident, visible, well-networked and assertive.
The 1990s were about changing the organizations. The number of women’s conferences and networks also increased significantly. More recently, the notion of equity has been supported by the men as allies notion. With male CEOs signing on with commitment to helping build diverse and inclusive organizations that challenge stereotypes and bias.
From this year to 2020 and beyond, the expectation is parity, as it is with Take The Lead. But there are biases in the way. What can you do to acknowledge these biases in the workplace and to raise awareness and correct for them?
Understand that performance bias is based on deep-rooted—and incorrect—assumptions about women’s and men’s abilities. We tend to underestimate women’s performance and overestimate men’s. Women discuss their abilities related to past successes, while men tend to discuss ability based on potential. So ask the same questions regardless of gender, about potential as well as past performance, and offer feedback and promotion with the same criteria.
Attribution bias is about the tendency to give women less credit for accomplishments and blame them more for mistakes. Make sure women are given credit for ideas in meetings and for project outcomes. Make sure women are not interrupted when they speak in meetings or in groups. In performance reviews, acknowledge credit where credit is due—with names attached.
Likeability bias is about women needing to be liked and men needing to be effective. Address interactions and collaborations with knowledge of this “likeability penalty,” describing women in terms of effectiveness, not whether or not she is kind or people want to go to lunch with her.
Maternal bias is a huge burden as women with children are seen as less competent, committed, valuable or important to an organization. Have family leave and parental leave policies firmly in place and be sure that you do not make assumptions about availability, ambition or intention to parents in the workplace. If in doubt, ask the person directly about availability and flexibility.
5. Affinity bias is about gravitating toward people like ourselves in appearance, beliefs, and background. Go out of you way to collaborate with, mentor, socialize with and hire people who look and think differently from you in the workplace.
6. Double discrimination and intersectionality bias is due to race, sexual orientation, a disability, or other aspects of identity. Understand and eliminate discrimination in the workplace for any of these biases. Offer implicit bias training to staff and administration.
And how can you affect change and implement these strategies as an individual, as part of an organization, as a leader or as a participant in your workplace culture?
According to IWD, you can point out the facts. You can say, “It’s great that we have those two women on the leadership team, but they’re only two out of fifteen. Women are half the population, so women are still really underrepresented.”
Additional suggestions include, “As a longer-term solution, suggest creating detailed metrics for performance reviews, including clear expectations for leaders.”
The hiring process can be transparent and held to high standards of equity. “Research shows that when teams agree on a set of clear criteria and use it consistently for all candidates, the hiring process is fairer and the most qualified women and men can rise to the top.”
At the helm of Take The Lead, Feldt says the mission is to take direct action to shift to gender parity in leadership by 2025.
“The steps are simple but not easy, as I describe in my own Leadership #Power Tool 7, Create a Movement. It takes finding your sisters and brothers who share your concerns, having the courage to raise the issues with decision makers, and putting those together with the facts and a strategic plan for change. Then execute on the plan and stick with it until the change is ingrained in the culture.”
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