- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Wo.Men, Work, World: the unfinished revolution

The massive influx of women in the workforce has been the main driver of economic growth in the past 50 years, more so than the spread of new technology or the development of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The most important variable for the competitiveness of a country is the use of its human capital. If women participated in the paid economy to the same extent as men, the GDP (gross domestic product) of the European Union would increase by 14%!

– 4 out of the 6 million jobs created in Europe in the last decade have been filled by women.

– 60% of university graduates are women and the gap between women and men continues to grow.

– 80% of purchasing decisions for consumer goods is taken by women.

On 3 March 2016, JUMP has organised its tenth Forum in Brussels. 10 years on, where are we in terms of gender equality in the workplace?
There is certainly a growing realisation that business performance depends on the good management of talents and hence the attention to diversity, especially the mix of men and women. Knowing it is already good, but doing it is even better.

In the majority of businesses, gender equality policy is perhaps considered to be “gender washing”. The task is left to one or more women (very few men), who take on this responsibility in addition to their main role, often without additional compensation, accompanying budget or action plan that is supported by top management, and therefore no measured objectives nor KPIs (key performance indicators).

In order to guarantee more meritocracy in companies, a more sophisticated and ambitious plan of action should be adopted. McKinsey outlines 41 minimum measures to take, which fall into 3 categories: the commitment of management; a development programme for women that raises awareness among men as to gender equality; and indicators for diversity. The study “Women matter” carried out in Belgium in 2012 revealed that only 22% of those companies questioned had put in place more than 20 initiatives (of the 41 recommended) while the average for Europe was 47%. Even worse, only 13% of companies had adopted half of the measures identified, compared with an EU average of 40%.

Missing or weak results

It comes as no surprise that the results are not as expected. But instead of questioning their gender diversity policy, many companies switch to new diversity targets – the most “fashionable” ones being age and cultural diversity. These aspects of diversity are very important and each merit specific actions, but the issues are completely different. Women represent nearly 50% of the total number of all wage earners and form the majority of people with a university degree. So it’s not just a question of enabling them to gain access into companies but about guaranteeing equal opportunities so that they can gain access to positions of responsibility. This issue is about power sharing! That’s where things get a little tricky …
At each level of a company’s hierarchy, we find fewer women than at the previous level. It’s what we call the “leaky pipeline”. The result of this course of elimination is a reduced number of women in the highest positions.

The unfinished revolution

To attract and retain the most talented, radical change is needed. The digital revolution has opened up a “New Way of Working” which has led to important changes in the way we work and evaluate performance. This new way of working should also lead a company to reorganise its system of hierarchy and change the decision-making processes enabling them to be more collaborative. If these changes are made consciously and implemented consistently, they are essential assets to retain women and young people in a company. But they are not enough to guarantee greater meritocracy, especially for women…

Since women started to enter the workforce, they have struggled to be considered equal to men. But for the first time, we assume that we discriminate women if we treat them in the same way as men. Why?

– Women don’t have the same life as men as they carry out nearly 80% of the unpaid work.

– Women are not men because they bear an ancient tradition in which they were primarily intended for motherhood and caring for other family members.

That’s why the feelings of guilt are so deeply rooted in women and is much stronger than in men. That’s also why women suffer consciously or unconsciously from “imposter syndrome” at work. Women have fully integrated the need to prove that they are worthy, and that we don’t regret having trusted them. When they dare to have a career, they transform themselves into “superwomen”, multitasking, unstoppable workhorses, who never allow themselves a moment of weakness nor forgive themselves when that moment does arise.

Furthermore, women are subject to workplace stereotypes portraying them as inferior beings. Studies show that men are rewarded for their potential while women are rewarded for their proven performance. The same career strategies do not work the same for men as for women. A prime example is salary increase. A woman is twice as likely not to get a pay rise when she asks for it but she is likely to gain a bad reputation for asking for one. For although it is considered normal for a man to constantly strive for financial recognition, it is not acceptable for a woman. Those women are called “career-minded” and “arrogant” while the men are “demanding” and “ambitious”.

Only when we are aware of these differences, can we adjust the tools and methods for career management in order to avoid discrimination. Two examples among many others are:

– When a promotion is in sight, we identify women who could do the job and convince them to give it a try and apply;

– We should actively promote parenthood among men so that they still feel valued even when they take parental leave or decide to work part-time.

Dare to change the company

Dare to analyse the culture of your company if you really want to manage ALL talents well. In reality, most companies discriminate against women without being conscious of doing it.

We should dare to question the company culture by analysing its history, the style of leadership of its top management, which social groups they belong to, their awareness of the differences between women and men, the communication campaigns of the company, the sponsored activities and the feelings of all the employees with regard to the possibility to be respected and valued in their differences. Dare to question your company’s culture otherwise measures promoting gender equality will have no real impact. It’s the difference between diversity and inclusion: “Diversity is counting people. Inclusion is making people count”.

Do men really want equality?

The latest JUMP survey, concerning equality with women in the workplace is based on the opinions of 2 000 men. Even though 75% of respondents stated that they saw personal advantage of more equality (personal image, more harmonious relationships, better relationship with the children, leadership diversity in the office, …), only 22% supported women and more than 30% resisted either passively or overtly more equality in the workplace. Men feel more threatened in their careers by the progression of women, mainly those between the ages of 30 and 40 years who are at middle management level. Those men who were the most convinced, but not as active, were top managers over the age of 50. In other words, the more we have to lose as individuals by the advancement of women, the more resistant we are to workplace equality and therefore meritocracy. Men are not the only ones to oppose passively to the radical changes necessary for all the talents to be better used. Some women prefer to remain alone in power or the majority in the traditional roles of “caregivers”.

Change is difficult

Resistance to change is strong. In launching JUMP 10 years ago, I would never have imagined that I would have to face as much hostility from men just as much as from women. More workplace equality, means more freedom to face the stereotypes that imprison both sexes; it’s about a better division of household tasks within a couple; it’s about challenging masculine and feminine identities; it’s about changing company cultures and opening them up to other forms of leadership; and, finally, it’s about changing the world so that domination by a few gives way to collaboration with everyone. For the first time in the history of humanity this evolution is taking place. It is an unfinished revolution that requires our full awareness and willingness to create a happier and more harmonious world for our daughters and sons.