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Gender Equality and Women in the Workforce Mini-Series: What Can I Do?

By Tom Scriven, CFA | Wed Feb 21 2018
In this blog series we've discussed the inequalities that women generally face as employees and entrepreneurs. It isn't a fair playing field for most women and that bothers me. Over the last few weeks, I have had conversations, listened and read about the day-to-day challenges women face in the workforce and have asked the question, "What can I and others (not just men, but certainly men) do to reduce these hurdles and see greater equality for roughly half of our workforce?"
The women I spoke with repeatedly reported that they are less likely to take or receive credit for accomplishments or to have their ideas or opinions acknowledged (1). We see a similar dynamic in negotiations for employment or promotions - women are less likely to negotiate and, when they do, they're less likely to know their market value and competitive standing. These dynamics may be part of the reason we see such a dramatic drop in the representation of women in upper levels of management. While women represent 49% of entry level employees, they represent just 35% of Senior Managers and Directors and just 20% of C-Suite employees.
An easy next step for me, then, is to amplify the exceptional accomplishments and contributions of women around me. I enjoy doing this already - after all I am married to an accomplished attorney and advocate for refugees and am surrounded by so many entrepreneurial and admirable women. For example, at RENEW, I have the honor of encountering some of the best and the brightest entrepreneurs in Ethiopia, including women who are transforming their industries, leading companies to become market leaders and shining stars in Ethiopia. Our Exec's Program, CFO100 program, pitch events and other happenings at The Exchange in Addis Ababa allow me and others at RENEW many opportunities to interact with, promote and amplify exceptional business women.
Level the Playing Field.
One of the conversations I had recently was with a professor of management at a U.S. business school who shared with me her and other's findings on gender inequality in the workplace. This professor mentioned studies and tests (2) that reveal that a female candidate for a position, promotion, pay raise or grant funding typically must significantly outperform a male candidate, in some cases by 2.5X (in the case of grant funding), in order to succeed. To counteract this dynamic, this management professor recommended that I and other employers read resumes and reviews with the candidate or employee's name removed. This practice avoids, or at least reduces the possibility that our preconceived notions (OK, stereotypes), unwitting as they may be, will influence decisions in a way that we do not intend.
Another recommendation this professor offered is for me and other employers to carefully consider the definitions we use for leadership when evaluating candidates for management positions. Many of us recognize the benefits of a transformational or more collaborative leadership style in achieving buy-in and input from team members and in fostering creativity and inspiring excellence (3). Yet, many employers continue to evaluate candidates based on traditional, 'command-and-control' styles of leadership, even if they expect leaders to exhibit transformational leadership styles once hired (4). By evaluating candidates (again, anonymously) based on a transformational rather than transactional leadership style, I and other employers may start to level the playing field for those female candidates who may tend more towards the former style.
Support Networking Efforts and Mentor.
Another area where women report facing challenges is in networking and mentoring. The women I spoke with said that their professional networks are not as strong as their male peers and they are less likely to have a mentor. They are also less likely to be a regular part of a group of peers who share connections or chat about industry trends, business development, compensation or advancement. Family responsibilities may contribute to this, as may gender segregation that seems to naturally happen sometimes at work (for example, after-work events oriented more towards men). Then, there is the desire to avoid compromising situations, prompting men to follow practices such as the 'Pence Rule' (5) and choosing not to work, travel or meet alone with a person of the opposite gender who is not the person's spouse. Women have shared that they admire the good intentions underlying these practices but that any rule should be applied equally to both genders. Otherwise, women miss out on opportunities that their male colleagues have to receive mentoring, grow their social networks or go the extra mile even if it requires staying late.
At RENEW, my colleagues Matt and Laura Davis started inviting the team in Ethiopia to play soccer together after work one Friday a month followed by a dinner together. When I am in town, I have the joy of dusting off my cleats and getting out on the field with the team. Everyone is encouraged to join in on the fun but if someone chooses not to, he or she can meet up afterwards for dinner. These evenings create opportunities for all team members of different ages, genders and extracurricular preferences to spend time together and strengthen their personal networks.
I am encouraged to use these evenings and other opportunities to be equitable as I choose whom I will mentor or if I offer an opportunity to work on a project that may require long hours or late nights. This can present challenges when female colleagues are involved if I wish to avoid the appearance of impropriety or one of us feeling uncomfortable. But it is only fair that I find a solution that is applied fairly to colleagues of both genders, so that I can do my part to promote the professional development of both men and women.
We all have experienced the benefits that greater inclusivity offers - whether it is in our companies, our portfolios or our lives in general. My colleague, Erin O'Connor, wrote in an earlier installation in this blog series about the increased performance companies and portfolios realize from greater gender diversity. From the discussions I have had over the last few weeks, I have some next steps on how I can contribute to this worthy goal and hopefully now you do, too: Amplify, Level the Playing Field and Include.
1. On this point, I encourage people to read a recent Wall Street Journal article, "How Men and Women See the Workplace Differently." ("From ordinary meetings to executive offices and boardrooms, many more women than men feel that they don't get credit for their ideas, or that their contributions aren't recognized-slights felt even more acutely by women of color.")
2. For example, the Goldberg Paradigm and the Implicit Association Test.
3. J. Coleman and J. Whitehurst. "3 Priorities for Leaders Who Want to Go Beyond Command-and-Control." Harvard Business Review. May 28, 2014.
4. H. Ibarra. "Why Command-and-Control Leadership is Here to Stay." Harvard Business Review. September 20, 2012.
5. Vice President Pence, to avoid the 'appearance of evil' and circumstances that have led other men to prey on women or cheat on their wives, has chosen not to eat, travel or meet alone with any women who is not his wife.