When it comes to women in the workplace, there’s no shortage of generalisations or simplified ideas about why not enough make it to senior positions.
But at everywoman, we believe that moving beyond the headlines and truly understanding the complex, nuanced and individual experience of each woman – and man – is key to helping everyone succeed in their career.
Kate Farrow, director of training at everywoman, looks at some of the most common clichés out there today and – drawing on her decade of D&I knowledge – explains what she has observed.
MYTH 1: Women lack confidence
REALITY: There are a lot of reports and articles out there discussing the idea that women lack confidence, and why that’s a problem in the workplace of for their career progression.
It is dangerous to take a broad-brush approach to all women, or all men for that matter. Not all women are unconfident in all situations, and to balance, not all men are confident in all situations and in fact, it may be that it is percieved as socially unacceptable for women to behave in a stereotypically male, forward manner in any given situation which has allowed this myth to be perpetuated as fact for so long.
I have had many a client come to us to ask for a solution to help their women overcome a lack of confidence in stepping into senior positions in the business, on conducting analysis of the organisational climate, we find that there are a multitude of reasons why women may not be moving into more senior positions within the business and a lack of confidence is often just a symptom of a wider issue, such as lack of female role models for example.
MYTH 2: Women don’t ask for pay rises
REALITY: I’ve heard this cited as one of the reasons for the gender pay gap, which is not true. One thing that is true is that women are exceptional negotiators when it comes to lobbying for promotions and pay rises for others, someone in their team for instance. Anecdotally it appears that when there is an element of transparency around pay rates in the workplace women are more likely to ask for their own pay rise. I think an increase in transparency around pay rates is a good thing for retention of female talent in the workplace by creating a sense of fairness and clarity about what everyone needs to do to progress in their career, both at a skill level and financial.
MYTH 3: Women don’t reach the top due to lifestyle choices
REALITY: Research has shown that the progression of female employees is often slower than their male counterparts, regardless of whether they had children, so it’s not only ‘lifestyle choices’ that impact women in the workplace.
Nonetheless, there is more that organisations can do to help returning people transition back into the workplace, and we can also help women have the kind of conversations they need to before a career break.
Discussing with their partner, for instance, how both will share the childcare. I hear a lot of women say, ‘There’s no point in me going back to work as I’ll be earning £x amount but £x amount will be going on childcare’. But, if you’re in a couple, surely the childcare costs are deducted from the joint income of that household? Sometimes there needs to be a mindset shift.
MYTH 4: Women don’t want international assignments
REALITY: This is something we’re hearing more of now, as an increasing number of industries have international assignments on offer. The assumption is that if a woman has children, or plans to, she won’t want a team in Belgium or Singapore. But why not? If she’s ambitious in her career, a mother might jump at the chance, and all it would require is a little additional support wrapped around her, the business and culture benefits to having more women in leadership positions far outweighs the additional support required to make international assignments a reality for more women.
MYTH 5: Women don’t help other women
REALITY: This is my biggest bugbear. Being unhelpful isn’t a gender issue – there are plenty of men out there who aren’t ‘helping’ women – or men – progress. But women are judged more harshly on this front, I believe because we’re expected to be the ‘caretakers’, both at home and work. It is the responsibility of all senior leaders to take on the campaigning role for women in the workplace. Often it is a simple discussion with senior women and men about the practical steps they can take to support women in reaching their ambitions. For some it will be being a senior sponsor of the gender networks within your organisations, for others it will be taking on a mentoring role.