Companies have done A LOT to make it a level playing field for women and minorities in the workplace. There are policies to punish harassment, and remove biases during hiring/appraisals. There are committees set up to promote inclusion – not just for women, but also for other minority communities. There are guidelines on what can/cannot be said at the workplace. There are even KPIs set to get more minorities to management roles in companies.
Overall, a lot of progress compared to our parents’ era. Apparently it is the “feminist” edge, a great time to be a woman. It’s the men that are falling behind now.
Is that the case?
We did some soul searching – we spoke with our colleagues, friends, partners and came up with this answer: yes and no.
Policies are just the beginning
On one hand, policies help to set the scene for inclusion. But on their own, they can’t be effective. We’ve seen companies with great inclusion policies, but if the management isn’t fully onboard, it will defeat the purpose of the policies. For example, a company may want 30% women on the senior management team. It’s a great initiative for representation. The true test is how does the company achieve this – do they take this as a tickbox exercise or do they really find people who fit the criteria and can do the job effectively?
The same can be said for minority roles and government policies looking for a local head. Is this person a puppet or someone who can make decisions and bring change to the aforementioned organisations? Token changes mean nothing if they come at the cost of merit.
…But there is still a lot of inequality
Most of the women I’ve met are smart, hardworking, and sharp. For those that want to progress quickly up the ranks, there are a few secret codes of conduct for ladies (or any minority) who wish to succeed at work:
#1 – Feelings harm your career. Be “emotionless” and keep those angry emotions in check.
#2 –Just do your job well, prove yourself and the rest will follow.
#3 – Take care of yourself. Better to be safe than sorry.
#4- Calling someone out on inequality/ harassment/ unfair treatment doesn’t help your career. (Really – look at what is happening in the US today. )
And depending on where you go – #5 – It is a man’s world out there (especially for startups).
Similarly, the same can be applied to anyone from the minority group. It’s really not fair, and then again, life. Is. Not. Fair.
…It’s Information asymmetry, and … partly the women’s fault
Most had experienced unfairness in one way or the other.
When I asked them, why do you allow them to call you names? Why didn’t you speak up when someone else got the credit for your work? The answers were always the same: “I don’t want to stir up any trouble/ It’s Ok- I’ll just do it/ I’m just taking it in my stride”.
To be honest, this was what I had done a few years back as I was climbing the corporate ladder. Why? Simple – Information asymmetry.
I didn’t know who to talk to, what my team or managers would think if I told them, or the implication of speaking out. I wasn’t going to jeopardise my career just to get fairness for a small issue. There would be other ways to get fairness. We didn’t even know how to tell the men that they shouldn’t treat us this way.
On the other hand, because we didn’t speak up, most men assumed that we weren’t working as hard as them, weren’t bothered by “mansplaining”, nor were they aware that their unconscious bias were at work.
And so, the information asymmetry gap gets wider and wider. Until one day – an incident causes us to blow up, and men will ask “Why did she get so upset over so small a thing? Women are hysterical! ”
Again – replace “women” with minorities – and the reactions are similar.
What can we do?
In my experience, I managed to overcome the unfairness not through protest – but with the support of good mentors and colleagues – women, as well as men.
These men are the ones that would fail most of the PC policies that companies set, but proved that they were reliable and fair at the most unlikely of times.
And us women who have benefited from these mentors have an obligation to reduce the ambiguity. As a manager, let the team know that there is such an issue – let the women speak their mind, and let the team know what is insensitive and unfair. It may be a small gesture, but it is a start to change the underlying thinking of both men and women.
We stand on the shoulders of women who came before us
In her book “Lean In” Sheryl Sandberg said “We stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us, women who had to fight for the rights that we now take for granted”.
Momentum Works is committed to empower all our employees. As we enjoy the freedom that our mothers and grandmothers fought for us, we are committed to help the next generation of ladies and men to climb further up our shoulders! 🙂