Gender Inequality in the Workplace

September 19, 2016 | By Cognadev

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Remember, too, that being equal does not mean being the same. Now, let’s proceed. – Joanna L. Krotz

The issue of gender is a culturally loaded and sensitive topic. No matter how empathetically addressed, it tends to evoke emotional responses. However, given the considerable impact of gender-related matters in the workplace, it justifies a closer look.

It is generally accepted that men and women differ and that these differences are rooted in both nature and nurture. Within society, girls and boys are moulded by diverse experiences, norms and expectations. Within the workplace too, opportunities for men and women differ.

Women are, for example, underrepresented in business leadership. Recent statistics show that:

  • In Britain (2014), five of the FTSE 100 CEOs were women.
  • In the USA (2016), 4.4% of woman hold CEO positions in S&P500.
  • Within the 145 Big Nordic Companies, only 3% had a woman as Chief Executive.
  • In Canada, 8.5% of the top business jobs are held by women.
  • In Japan, approximately 6% of women hold management positions.

Kumi Sato, winner of “Business Stateswoman of the Year” in 2012, commented that “Looking at the talent pool, they ignore half of the population”. This is surprising given the frequently voiced need for talent and leadership in the work environment.

What women have to offer

  • Women generally are better listeners than men. They are more discussion oriented whereas men are more action oriented. Listening, empathy and communication skills are needed to build trusting relationships with employees and customers. These communication skills tend to result in providing clearer expectations and more comprehensive performance feedback to others. Terri Levine summarises it as: “Women ask questions, men tend to give answers”.
  • Women are known to be consensus builders and, within the interconnected world, collaboration seems more effective than the competitive and authoritarian leadership styles that are often associated with male leadership.
  • Women value the rights of others, are more tolerant of differences and tend to show more fairness. This means that they are often regarded as more ethical.
  • Women tend to be more patient and are generally willing to wait longer for results.
  • Women seem more successful at inspiring and activating passion in their employees — and passion seems to be closely associated with the loyalty of subordinates.
  • Women also tend to demonstrating higher levels of technical “hard” skills than men.

These findings suggest that it is not a myth that women are generally more people oriented than men. These skills are particularly important within the lean and challenging modern workplace, where the ability to make staff feel inspired, valued and individually recognised provides a definite competitive edge.

Women in business

According to Thomas Malone, Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the author of The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style, and Your Life (Harvard Business Review Press, 2004), “the standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group. But so far, the data shows that the more women, the better”.

In fact, additional research on the impact of gender diversity indicates that “groups don’t just get smarter when they simply included an even number of women and men. It was even more specific than that: The more women a team had, the better they performed.

DDI’s research has indicated that companies led by women also tend to perform three times better than those led by men.

This DDI study is not the first to suggest that women leaders boost companies’ financial performance. In a widely-cited 2012 Harvard Business Review blog post, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman described their survey of 7300 business leaders in which the effectiveness of male and female managers were rated. Leadership roles throughout organisations were considered, not just at executive levels. They examined 16 different “competencies”, such as taking initiative and driving for results. They found that women rated higher than men in 12 of the categories. When it came to total leadership strength, they concluded that “at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.”

Is the best man for the job indeed a woman? If so, why are there so few women around boardroom tables?

What are the factors that could prevent women from reaching the top?

The glass ceiling that holds women back may be related to factors such as the impact of the broader system, including cultural expectations and the organisational culture; workplace trends; powerful connections; availability of childcare and family support systems; the strength of “old boys’ network”; job segregation; gender discrimination; sexual harassment and inadequate enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. This, unfortunately, is not an exhaustive list.

According to an overwhelming number of research findings, the key characteristics associated with leadership is related to the individuals themselves: their sense of self, their confidence, and what they believe in. We are often reminded that “Confidence is the cornerstone of leadership” and that “Without confidence, there is no leadership” – Francisco Dao. This confidence, however, needs to be anchored in reality and not in wishful thinking. One needs to be able to know and trust oneself. This is particularly true for women who wish to realise their leadership potential.

Cognadev can assist potential leaders to understand their cognitive preferences and capabilities; their worldview, perceptual frameworks and value systems; their motivational drivers, what drains their energy and what their self-insight and interpersonal skills are.

Each aspect can be assessed in an innovative and scientifically-based manner to provide the potential leader with the necessary skill and confidence to excel within a suitable leadership environment.