Mars and Venus: Unlocking the Power of Diversity
The global pandemic has caused a wave of disruption to our lives, our organisations and the future, with many reports forecasting an economic contraction in Asia-Pacific countries. For example, just this March, S&P Global Ratings estimated a loss of US$620 billion (S$901 billion) in total for the region’s economies, with Singapore expecting to contract by 0.8% this year.
The threat has pushed many companies to rethink and readjust business plans to reduce the impact of coronavirus, and make strategic plans for the future. It is during these crucial times that all hands should be on deck. Ensuring that a diverse workforce is installed can bring tremendous returns to teams and organizations, including higher level of innovation and financial performance. Previously, experts have cited gender equality in APAC could add US$4.5 trillion (S$6.2 trillion) or 12 percent of regional gross domestic product.
In addition, this global crisis has provided a stage for women leaders to demonstrate their strength and resilience. In government offices, healthcare industry, and in companies, women leaders are doing a great job leading people through this crisis, which recently gave rise to a discussion of the underestimation of women leaders. People ask: why are there not more of them?
At Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), we have historically examined these issues, so we can form solutions to help organisations cross that barrier. In our most recent research report, Overcoming Barriers to Women’s Leadership and Unlocking the Power of Diversity, we surveyed both men and women for their perspectives on gender issues.
The Gap: Differences and similarities between men and women
In this study, men and women agreed that the top three important career advancement events are: leadership development training, promotion and increase in salary. Both genders were also similar in the average times they asked for these opportunities, showing that women are as ambitious as men. However, women reported the recipient of career advancing opportunities less than men, but what do men think?
The findings found that men and women do perceive gender issues differently. While 72% of women participants agreed that there is a gender pay gap, only 44% of men agreed so. Similarly, while 60% of men said that both genders get equal opportunities in the workplace, only 37% of women said so.
As women advance their careers, they face hindrance from both within and outside. The Pull is internal driven, including self-limiting thoughts, perfectionism and prioritization of life. The Push is external driven, including unconscious gender bias, lack of support from home and the workplace.
While both men and women agreed that women face career barriers, women are more likely to “see” them compared to men. Women rated all the career barrier factors higher than men, and such perception gap is bigger for Push factors. For example, 74% of the women said that lack of leadership development program is a career barrier for women’s career advancement, only 45% of the men thought so. Also, women were twice as likely to say that men do not support women to become leaders, and that male managers are more likely to select and promote men.
The difference in perceptions may be due to their different experience at work.
Good news is, experience can change both men and women’s perception of gender and diversity. Five experiences that are critical in triggering the awareness of gender issue and the importance of diversity include: being a minority, working with other social groups, inspired by respected leaders, witnessing the return on diversity, and becoming parents.
Bridging the gap: crossing the bridge to the future
As more women and the younger generation enter the workplace, we witness a change. The stereotypical masculine leadership traits and behaviours no longer works. Both men and women agreed that to be future fluent, leaders need both masculine (objective, rational, and firm) and feminine (empathetic, understanding, and people-oriented) muscles.
We don’t want to wait for another century to close the gender gap. The future is now. As predicted by the World Economic Forum, gender diversity shouldn’t be one gender’s agenda. It needs both genders to take action.
Women would have to pull their weight. The report found six mindset shifts that can help women overcome the “pull” challenges at work. Successful women should keep reminding themselves: “I can do it!” “I can choose!” “I deserve sponsorship!” “My voice needs to be heard!” “I am ambitious about my ambition!” “I am resilient!”
Men can also help lift the barriers faced by women to push the status quo by taking the following actions:
- Lead or participate in discussions of women and leadership. Men’s participation brings in different dynamics in the conversation and indicates its importance of EDI to all talent in the organization. Such discussions also help both men and women be aware of the biases they may unintentionally hold, and learn the benefits that diversity can bring to their teams.
- Take conscious actions. Small, daily actions contribute to a more inclusive environment. For example, one interviewee shared how avoiding gendered language (“you guys”) and offering smaller-size branded shirts for women employees made a difference within his teams. Consciously supporting women at critical decisions points such as in the selection and promotion process, and when providing developmental opportunities.
- Challenge assumptions. When decision-makers question whether a woman would want a new role, men can challenge the assumption by suggesting “Let’s ask her”. Challenging assumptions also means considering the possibility for different styles and skillsets: “Here’s the profile of the last person in this job... but what competencies might we need now?”
- Provide challenging opportunities, and feedback. Women are often not given the feedback they need to improve or take the next step. Men can commit to giving female colleagues helpful feedback, steering them to needed assignments and opportunities -- as well as stepping up to be coaches, mentors, and sponsors.
- Strengthen women’s network. The right relationships and ties are assets in getting access to information, earning promotions, and gaining opportunities. Effective leaders rely on networks to influence others and to get results. Men can use their access to networks to create connections and open doors for women.
Diversity brings a tremendous return to teams and organizations, including higher levels of innovation and financial performance. But to unlock the power of diversity, organizations must make deliberate efforts.