Supporting gender equality

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None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. Gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years ~ Global Gender Gap Report 2020

I am an advocate of equality for women and the many ways that women experience these inequalities, and have had many men tell me that I am a man-hater, or that a feminist is someone who does not like men. My answer is unequivocally no! It is important to highlight the inequalities that exist in the world for one gender. But in order to raise one gender, we do not need to oppress and hate the other. When talking about equality I often like to ask the question how would this be handled differently if the tables were turned? What policies would change if men were faced with these situations on a regular basis?

Since I live in The Netherlands, I want to spend a moment on this country. In 2019, The Netherlands fell down to number 38 worldwide on gender equality. Mainly because women spend more time on unpaid labour and many women work part-time to take care of their children. Also, the pay gap is increasing, women earn 6.4% less than men for the same job!

And it doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon! A recent article stated that although millennials and even the younger generations believe in an egalitarian society, the household chores are still performed mainly by the women. So instead of sharing more statistics, I want to share a few personal stories of inequality.

Business travel: I was speaking to a colleague who works with senior female leaders globally, and she told me that they’ve discovered that there are a number of women who travel for business purposes who eat dinner in their hotels rooms because they don’t feel comfortable  or safe to eat at the hotel restaurant or outside the hotel. And I thought: ‘Wow! I do the exact same thing!’ But I had thought it was just me being uncomfortable with a man coming up to talk to me within the first half an hour of sitting down! I thought I was the problem, because I didn’t know how to handle it! It has happened often enough, that I find it just easier to order room service. Somehow finding out that many women experience this, created relief but also an awareness of just how much we women tolerate as normal. When I have mentioned it to male colleagues, they laugh it off, saying they wished they were so lucky to have a woman hit on them like that! When you find a phenomenon where many women would rather eat in their hotel room, instead of in the hotel restaurant, we have a problem that needs to be address. This is inequality in business travel but also what your female leaders face on a regular basis.

Can we have more women sharing their stories so that we know we are not alone in this? Maybe we (men and women and organisations) can then create ways of dealing with these challenges? Men, I challenge you to ask the women around you about their experiences, you might be surprised! How can you support a change?

Networking: A coaching client of mine, who was a senior female leader in The Netherlands and an expat, told me that as the only female at her level, she did not feel comfortable to join the after-work network drinks. Why, I asked her? You need to be able to meet your colleagues and build relationships. She said that she is not taken seriously, and because it was mainly an ‘old boys’ club, they tended to treat the women attending as if they were interested in a sexual encounter rather than developing business relationships. This is inequality in networking, business relationships and a representation of women in senior leadership.

What are some of the ways you navigate situations where you’re the only female, without losing yourself? How can men sponsor and support women who are in similar situations?

Credit for your ideas: I was recently told the story of a friend who is the leader of a foundation, she is one of the youngest there. She came up with a suggestion, and a few minutes later, one of the men suggested the same thing. So, a more senior woman pointed it out, to which this man replied: ‘Yes, I know. I said it better.’ This is inequality in being heard, and receiving the credit for an idea. Well done to the woman who was courageous to point it out. We need more people pointing this out, and more women supporting women.

Equality allows for a woman’s voice to be valued as much as men. Do you notice a woman who is overlooked when sharing her point, or being interrupted? How can you raise this and allow her the space to share her point of view? As a woman, are you supporting the women around you, and below you?

Pay: A male colleague of mine had a conversation with me a while ago, and was transparent with his pay, stating that he had negotiated a high rate. So naturally my first thought was, why was I getting paid less for the same job? I contacted the relevant person and had a conversation, which went very well, and received the same increased rate. This is inequality in pay. But upon reflection, I thought, ‘Yes, I did get less than my male counterpart, but the reason was because he was a better (tougher) negotiator than I was. An area where women can learn from men: negotiation, and being courageous to ask for more. 

Men, can you highlight the discrepancies when you know that a woman is getting paid less for the same work? Women, can you address this issue and negotiate harder, and have the difficult conversation? Can you ask your male colleagues and friends for tips on negotiation? Is there a course you can go on to learn negotiation tools?

A few on the wins so far:

  • Me too’ movement: Women coming forward and exposing men who have abused the inequality that exists and hurt the women who work with them. And men who have to the face the consequences of their actions.
  • Gender balance: Unilever just announced that it achieved gender balance across its global operations. Great to see a company that has achieved a fair representation of society within its global operations. However, it took 10 years to move from 38% to 50% representation of women. We need to learn how to get more companies to achieve this representation, sooner. I am looking forward to hearing how it shifts the culture and positively impacts the bottom line. Culture changes when there is enough of a representation to catalyse a shift.
  • Equality for dads: allows for Friday’s off so that dads can spend time with their children, something I’ve seen in The Netherlands and absolutely love! Children get to spend quality time with their fathers. The woman can get some time off from child care.
  • Equality for dads: Equality allows for increased paternity leave so that dads can also have time to adjust and bond with their new born child. In Finland, the women-led government has equalised paternity leave, 7 months for each parent.
  • Equality in being human and having emotions: Finally, I believe (a generalisation I know), that a more inclusive and equal society allows for men to experience a softer, kinder work environment, that still can exceed financial goals. Men are taught that ‘boys don’t cry’, which results in men suppressing their human emotions, until it explodes in anger or violence, or a heart attack and earlier death. Equality for women, also must allow for equality in men being allowed to acknowledge an express in healthy ways the emotions and stresses that they experience.

So, there’s been some progress, but there’s still work to be done! Let’s have more conversations of:

  • What the world would look like a with greater representation of women.
  • What uniqueness do women bring to leadership? And how can we nurture that?
  • Mentorship of women, can we have more mentors stepping forward, males and females, at all levels.
  • Sponsors: This is essential! We need more leaders to sponsor women, introducing them to the right people, and circles. Let’s be honest, most of these sponsors are men. Can you find one woman that is doing a great job and you see great potential and endorse her and introduce her to the proper networks for advancement. 
  • How can we truly value and respect each other?
  • How can we create a better world for our sisters and mothers, wives and girlfriends, our daughters and the generations to come? And what impact does this have for the men in our lives?

About Racheal: As an Organisational Psychologist, and Executive Coach, I have worked with leaders internationally to build resilience and create strategies to become a more effective leader. I have a specific focus on women in leadership, and neuroscience and coaching.

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