Why are organizations not more women-focused?
Posted on November 3, 2017
Executive Director, PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise
I cannot understand why organizations do not make special efforts to support, promote, empower women’s leadership. Why do they not use a gender lens so that they can better serve women clients? Instead, society expects women to change, to fit the norms proscribed by systems structured to fit the typical white thirty-five to forty-five-year-old male. These systems challenge immigrant and indigenous women, even more.
So what would happen if organizations changed? In a widely-cited Harvard Business Review blog post, consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman described a survey of 7,300 business leaders. Respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of male and female managers. They examined 16 different “competencies,” like taking initiative and driving for results, and found that women rated higher than men in 12 of the categories. When it came to leadership, “at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.” That is impressive. So why do we not make special efforts to help women become leaders?
Despite these findings, other research shows that for women, the subtle gender bias that persists in organizations and in society unsettles the learning cycle central to women becoming leaders. But, there are women-focused steps that companies can take to remedy the situation. It is not enough to identify and instill the “right” skills, as if women are living in a social vacuum. The business or work environment must support a woman’s incentive to lead, and also increase the likelihood that others will recognize and encourage her efforts—even when she doesn’t look or behave like the current cohort of leaders or executives who are primarily male.
In a study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), they recommended strategies to promote more women. They sited that ‘diversity will be the key to success for organizations in the future’. Why? They sited the points as quoted below:
- Access to the best available talent: The number of potential professionals to cover vacancies has increased, from lower-skilled levels to executive positions.
- Improvements in productivity and innovation: there is increasing evidence that the co-existence of men and women in the same environment accounts for more creative teams; diversity is key to the organizations of the future.
- Strengthening team dynamics: women frequently possess the skill to unite people and draw together opinions and proposals. This competition favors the creation of teams, furthers participation and optimizes the decision-making process.
- Reduced staff turnover and long term relations: in contrast to men, the majority of women can multi-task and multi-focus. Companies can thus decide to support their training, in lieu of hiring new staff for opening vacancies or positions.
- Better work environment: women can relate through empathy and appreciation for others since they are typically more focused on individuals and their needs. Their greater willingness to communicate and receive feedback contributes to solving disputes.
The lack of flexible, women-focused, and family-friendly policies, together with the impact of traditional gender roles that assign more household responsibilities to women, generally impede women’s leadership within business and in paid employment. These barriers also carry considerable weight, as to why women do not pursue more lucrative carriers in science, technology, engineering or math. These challenges added to practical difficulties such as the absence of affordable, flexible, quality childcare services further add to the challenges experienced by women.
Since some analysts predict that the next economic revolution may come as a result of the role that women play in the business world and in the markets because of highly enhanced business dynamics with increased involvement of women, it is time for businesses and organizations to look at their policies and practices through a gender lens. It is time to consider how they become more women-focussed?
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