Like a (Lady) Boss

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Somewhere along the way in life I absorbed the idea that gender equity had been achieved in our society, and it was not to be questioned or interrogated. It was implied women had equal opportunity to build a fruitful career, if they chose to do so. That a university degree opened doors to better opportunities, a respectable career and a decent paycheck (in the least a paycheck above the minimum wage. Especially if I’m expected to pay back my HELP debt – hello Australian government!). Perhaps I’m letting personal disappointments and bitterness skepticism colour my perceptions. Perhaps not.

In February 2018 women comprised 46.9% of the Australian workforce and in the 25- 29 age bracket 39.9% hold a degree, compared to 30.9% of men. Yet women earn on average 15.3% less per week, hold 13.7% of chair positions, are 16.5% of CEO’s and make up 29.7% of management roles.

There are myriad factors that restrict and limit women’s career trajectory, they are interpersonal, managerial and structural. Some of the structural issues seem so big they are beyond the influence of any one person, after all changing culture is something which happened over generations, not overnight. But most people have things they can actively change/ contribute in their small sphere of influence. It’s not just up to women to ‘lean in’, everyone can support women in the workplace. Here’s how:

  1. Understand unconscious gender bias – Our unconscious biases reside beyond conscious control, the brain’s way or filing information relating to past experiences, stereotypes, upbringing etc in order to make quick decisions. These biases challenge the idea of a ‘meritocracy’ as they reveal the playing field is not be level to begin with. Be aware of how these biases reveal themselves, for example using gendered language in describing female employees or making assumptions about someone’s leadership abilities due to their gender.
  1. Amplify – If you hear a co-worker being interrupted, talked over or having someone else take credit for her work/ ideas, bring the focus back to her. For example: “that’s a great idea, I think Michelle expressed that same point earlier” or “I don’t think Deb is finished talking, I’d like to hear the rest of what she has to say”.
  1. Policies – Make sure company policies are family friendly. Encourage men and women to utilise maternity/ paternity leave. Ensure transparency around what employees are paid and offer equal pay for equal work. Provide options for working parents such as reduced hours and job sharing. Make staff aware of sexual harassment policies, and that it is taken seriously.
  1. Speak up – Got a Weinstein in your workplace? Report and call out any sexism/ harassment/ inappropriate behavior you witness. Especially if it relates to women in less influential positions than yourself with more to lose by speaking up, or younger women who might have less workplace experience. Listen to and believe women who report. Foster a culture in which it is safe for women to fully express themselves. 
  1. Hire/ mentor/ promote women – Encourage job applications from women by stating in job advertising you are an equal opportunity employer. Invite female staff to networking events (which, it should go without saying, should not be held on the golf course/ in the male toilets/ at the pub on skimpies night. Yes, this still happens). Mentor women. Create and implement targets for equal gender representation in management roles.

Though experiences of marginalisation vary, most of these ideas also apply to the inclusion of people of colour, those with disabilities and LGBT people in the workplace.

I’m not going to list all of the great qualities/ life experience/ attributes women bring to the workplace and management roles. We are not a monolithic group, rather individuals with varied strengths and talents. Men should not need convincing. If you support women’s equality, support women in the workplace. It’s the right and decent thing to do. And I don’t want to die a receptionist.

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