As a mother and daughter – I was always being told (and tell my daughter) that we are capable of anything. We are not confined by gender to be successful – only by ourselves. The 2014 #LikeAGirl campaign strikes a chord in me (as I’m sure it will with you). It is a short YouTube video that shows how children perceive the role of male and female. It also shows the pinnacle at which we are divided into gender.
As children (in this case a 4-year-old girl), we don’t consider ourselves one gender or the other, we consider ourselves human – able to run, throw, jump and hit – just like a human, just like, well “me” – not my gender. It is during adolescence we start to recognise our own gender; it is at this point that it informs how we perform in society. I encourage you to watch this video. It is inspiring and eye opening for anyone (with or without children).
Although to explore gender relations in an organisational framework, it is necessary to first understand how gender is constructed. Hart (1996), best described this creation of gender as a ‘social construction created and maintained between men and women and not fixed on quantity that one is born with’ (p.43). This means that gender is transient depending on social situations and not assigned specifically to one type of gender or the other. For example, women can have both masculine and feminine traits as can men. However, society has divided us into what is considered the role of the ‘male’ and the role of the ‘female’ and assigned specific tasks to each sex. It is not uncommon in today’s society for these roles to be slightly skewed but generally (and I am generalising) it seems we are programmed by society’s interpretation of gender.
In organisational life; we see this phenomenon start to impact our mid-level management (where the ratios of men:women really start to shift). What part of our biological programming assigned the more senior roles to men and the more junior roles to women? Is this something that is inherent or can we change it? And, more importantly, how do we show our next generation that they should not be confined by gender? If gender is a societal construct; this means that society holds the power to change it. Corporations are part of society too.
So … What are you doing to change society’s perception of gender relations? How do we create a society and a workplace culture that keeps the ‘4-year-old girl’ dream alive – they don’t see themselves as any different to boys – but at some point… for girls…it changes. And this continues into adulthood. This is why we see such a skew in the workforce at mid and senior level management. Let’s change this skew and imagine the possibilities. The possibilities for organisations to have a varied way of thinking; a diverse way of thinking; a new way of thinking!
We know the stats – a 2012 Deloitte research paper, ‘Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup?’, found that organisations with higher diversity enjoy an 80% improvement in business performance. And yet, 2013 research by the New York-based Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that ‘ideas from women, people of colour, LGBTs, and Generation Ys are less likely to win the endorsement they need to go forward, because 56% of leaders don’t value ideas they don’t personally see a need for’. And this is all happening in a world where we use terms such as ‘innovation’ and disruption??
And so the answer is … in you, in our leaders and in our Boardrooms. What are you doing to be courageous? To listen to someone with whom you don’t normally agree? To be the change you want to see, in our society? Let’s see our 4 year-old kids in the Boardroom – boys and girls who don’t differentiate on gender, but on the what and how of performance.
Unleash the inner kid in you! Our next generations will thank you for it.