Today is International Women’s Day. Across the globe, it’s a day for honouring the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – and this year it marks a call to action for accelerating gender balance.
I’m the first to admit that the conversation about gender balance in the workplace can get uncomfortable – that as a man it can be difficult to know exactly how to react to days like today. Is it even right for me to comment, or should the voices today belong only to women? Am I limiting my own opportunities if I support initiatives that will change the long-held norms of this industry? Am I actually supporting an attack on the positions my male colleagues have worked hard to achieve? Am I being blamed for the under representation of women in senior roles because I’m in one of those roles myself?
The answer to these questions of course is no.
It is increasingly clear that promoting gender equality not only promotes and protects the rights of affected women; but it also contributes to better functioning businesses – because of diversity of thinking, better financial results, improved decision making, reduced staff turnover, and making the most of the best talent. Removing the workplace barriers for 50.8% of the population will improve businesses and economies.
And it’s the right thing to do.
The easiest way for me to put it into context is that as a parent, the ambitions I have for my daughters are no different or less than those for my son. I think few would disagree that women are equally as qualified as men, women are equally as driven as men…yet we see that in the workplace women continue to get worse outcomes.
Viewing gender imbalance as a women’s issue and leaving it to women alone to ‘fix’, means that any failures will rest at the feet of women instead of being identified as systemic deficiencies. That kind of approach doesn’t recognise the site of most organisational power. The fact is that in most businesses both the human and financial resources are controlled by men.
Something we can all agree on is that developing a culture that demonstrably and actively values all talent is a low cost, high return strategy for any business; and that’s why challenging the gender imbalance is important for everyone. It will require behavioural changes from both women and men; it means learning about and facing our unconscious biases; and it means committing to stay the course when improvements don’t work exactly as planned.
There are some practical things we can all do to help accelerate gender balance:
o Reconsider invitations to speak at or attend industry events where there are few to no women
o Recognise that things won’t always work, like gender-balanced interview panels and diverse candidate slates, but it doesn’t mean we stop trying and it’s never a wasted effort
o Fully examine what options are already available to you at work, like flexible working and shared parental leave, and ask for what you need
o Learn from companies and industries with a better gender balance
o Understand your own unconscious biases
So today, while the achievements of women across the globe are being celebrated, let’s remember the shared responsibility we all have in challenging the gender imbalance and promoting inclusivity.