The stats might be shifting, but we’re still a long way from achieving true workplace equality for women around the globe. For the final part of our International Women’s Day takeover, we’re delighted to hand over to ITG’s Chief People Officer, Lisa Elrod, who draws on her experience to share invaluable advice on how women can even the odds in a world that’s stacked against them.
It’s not news that women remain underrepresented in the corporate world. We all know the stats – the proportion of women in management roles is less than 30% and when it comes to the tech industry the numbers drop even lower to about 25%. Although our awareness of the situation is high, the reality is that women still don’t hold nearly as many senior positions as their male counterparts.
I am lucky enough to work in an environment where women are well represented, so I get to experience first-hand the very real benefit of the characters and brains of men and women working side by side. But over the years I’ve seen more than my fair share of bias, including both conscious and unconscious discrimination.
I do feel though that while the numbers aren’t there yet, the sharpest of leaders know that any business which isn’t aiming for a balanced workforce now is missing out. Warren Buffett famously said that one of the reasons for his great success was that he only had to compete with half the population – a great recognition of female talent that just wasn’t on the scene at the time. Hopefully those extremes are behind us, but there is still a long way to go.
Whilst we’re waiting for the world to catch up, here’s my view on some key ways in which women can help themselves too. None of which are rocket science, but they’ve always proven meaningful for me.
1. Ask for what you want
“Being clear about what you’d like – role, pay, life balance or whatever it is for you – can only increase the chances of you getting it”
Studies show that women are less likely to negotiate deals for themselves than men for a couple of main reasons. a) We’re less used to doing it and society over the years hasn’t prepared us for it, so therefore women can be less equipped and b) Women tend to believe they will be rewarded for a job well done and have to prove themselves repeatedly, rather than believing they can do it in the first place.
In our recent Hello Tomorrow event, Priya Lakhani (CEO of Century Tech) shared with us that she forced role and pay reviews across her whole business to ensure that there was equality, as in her experience her female colleagues were far less likely to be assertive about asking.
Being clear about what you’d like – role, pay, life balance or whatever it is for you – can only increase the chances of you getting it. It doesn’t mean it will happen, of course, but don’t feel the need to apologise for being clear on what you want.
2. Increase your network
“The wider your reach, the greater chance you have of making meaningful connections and contacts”
Having a vibrant mix of people in your circle is not only a fantastic way to get a stimulating input of opinions and support, but it can also be an essential way to negotiate your career path and choices.
A survey from LinkedIn shows that the gender network gap holds true across virtually every country, with between 14% and 38% of women globally less likely to have strong networking in both large and diverse organisations.
So – get better connected. Start conversations, ask people for intro meetings, attend seminars and conferences, listen to podcasts, consider talking at events… the wider your reach, the greater chance you have of making meaningful connections and contacts. And who knows when you will need them?
If you only really know the people in your own organisation, challenge yourself to change this.
3. Get a great role model
“Many female leaders have experienced the challenges that can face women at work, so don’t be reluctant to learn from them”
The simple concept of ‘seeing is believing’ is often quoted in articles and debates on this subject – and I think it’s really valid.
If you see a woman in a senior role nailing it, then it’s proof that it happens. LinkedIn research shows 57% of women believe that having a relatable role model is crucial to achieving career success, and 70% agree it’s easier to be like someone you can see
It can be a great idea to ask a senior woman you admire for some time or even to support you as a mentor. Many female leaders have experienced the challenges that can face women at work, so don’t be reluctant to learn from them.
Also, great role models don’t always have to be the most senior – there are successful, fulfilled women in a variety of positions in every organisations. Help each other.
4. Keep your self-doubt in check
“For many women their biggest enemy is themselves”
For many women their biggest enemy is themselves. Being unsure that you can, or you’re ready or that you’re liked or that you’re good enough… it goes on.
Very often this conditioned thinking is really limiting. From speaking up in a meeting right through to going for a promotion – even if it’s an unconscious behaviour women can hold ourselves back.
More women than men over-apologise – fact! It’s something that studies show start in early age and girls think they’re being polite. But in fact, saying “sorry, but…” or “I might be wrong, but…” often just needlessly undermines the point you’re about to make.
So, try shifting that mindset and imagining a situation when you can, you are ready, liked and good enough and wait for specific feedback or proof to the contrary.
5. Call it out
“Bias is never OK and it’s our collective responsibility, regardless of gender, to call it out when we see”
It’s not OK to either be a victim or an observer of bias. Sometimes it can happen without people realising they’re doing it, sometimes it’s so engrained in behaviour that you’re used to it – we’ve all heard the phrases “they don’t mean anything by it” or “they’re just like that”.
But it is never OK and it’s our collective responsibility, regardless of gender, to call it out when we see it and re-educate each other – both for our generation of women and the ones up next.
6. Don’t forget – it’s equality that matters
“When it comes to hiring people, it’s absolutely key to put all your energy into finding a diverse and representative pool of candidates”
For the record, my best boss was, and is a man (and you know who you are). Equality at work is exactly that – it’s about ensuring a society that benefits from the enormous talent there is regardless of gender.
I don’t believe in putting anyone into a job simply because of their sex, I believe they should be in there because they’re the right person.
When it comes to hiring people, it’s absolutely key to put all your energy into finding a diverse and representative pool of candidates. From there, allow the best person for the job to come out top, knowing that you gave everyone equal opportunity.
Knowing in advance that you want a woman to do the job is as wrong as knowing you want a man to do it – making up the numbers or being seen as diverse isn’t good enough. You need to have a completely open mind, but you can only do that if the pool of talent you’re choosing from has the right balance.
Of course, key to getting that balance is supporting women to get into the pool of candidates to start with – with more confidence, experience and support.
So – as we celebrate IWD 2023, I can say that I’m proud to be ITG’s Chief People Officer and to be a woman in that role. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and have the influence I do.
I’d encourage everyone, regardless of gender, to recognise that there are still a great many hurdles and engrained behaviours facing women, and that we all have a responsibility to play our part in changing this.
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