Equal­ity doesn’t com­pute

Women still lag­ging in pro­mo­tions, earn­ings

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

TO­DAY is In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, a day when we cel­e­brate women’s role in so­ci­ety and cel­e­brate the eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial achieve­ments women have gained over the past 100-plus years.

The ini­tial push for recog­ni­tion of women’s con­tri­bu­tion to the world of work started at the turn of the century when in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion cre­ated a boom­ing econ­omy. At this time, the role of women in the world of work was dis­counted and grossly un­der­val­ued. Men, on the other hand, ruled both govern­ment and busi­ness and there was nary a woman in sight. So, where do we stand to­day?

Ac­cord­ing to Cat­a­lyst Canada’s news re­lease in June, 2013, women make up 50.4 per cent of Canada’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion, 82 per cent of sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies and re­ceived ap­prox­i­mately 60 per cent of all univer­sity de­grees, diplo­mas or cer­tifi­cates. In ad­di­tion, 62.3 per cent of women age 15 and older were work­ing, while women also made up 67.3 per cent of the part-time work­force.

With re­spect to the man­age­ment ranks in or­ga­ni­za­tions, Cat­a­lyst re­ported that in 2013 women com­prised only 34.6 per cent of man­age­ment oc­cu­pa­tions while only 33.1 per cent of women worked at the se­nior man­age­ment level. Worse yet are the sta­tis­tics for cor­po­rate boards. For in­stance, it was re­ported in 2011 that women held only 14.5 per cent of cor­po­rate board seats. As can be sur­mised from these trends, it is not sur­pris­ing to learn that women con­tinue to earn an aver­age of 71.4 per cent of men’s earn­ings.

Over the years, there have been many stud­ies and pro­posed ra­tio­nale for the dis­crep­an­cies be­tween men and women in the workplace. Things such as child bear­ing, ma­ter­nity leave and child care have tra­di­tion­ally been per­ceived to pre­vent women from get­ting ahead. On the other hand, re­cent re­search con­firmed the the­ory that the is­sue of inequity is much more re­lated to the deeply in­grained, cog­ni­tive and cul­tural bi­ases in favour of men.

For in­stance, a 2007 study at Cor­nell Univer­sity in­volved the as­sess­ment of a set of re­sumés that were iden­ti­cal in skills and ex­pe­ri­ence but al­ter­na­tively used male/fe­male names. The study demon­strated that in spite of the fact there was eq­ui­table parental leave in their study or­ga­ni­za­tion, men who had chil­dren were per­ceived as more favourable can­di­dates that women with chil­dren. While the re­sumés were iden­ti­cal, the study sug­gests that bi­ased at­ti­tudes played a key role in the hir­ing de­ci­sion. This then rep­re­sents the type of sub­tle, cul­tural favouritism that cre­ates the sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion against women that continues to­day.

Per­son­ally, I don’t have a magic wand to re­duce this so­ci­etal bias on my own, but I also find I’m not as up­set about the sit­u­a­tion as when I was a young pro­fes­sional. That’s be­cause I do see some progress. There are in­deed so­ci­etal changes, I be­lieve, that will even­tu­ally lead us to equal­ity. For in­stance, up un­til re­cently, six Cana­dian prov­inces were led by women pre­miers. More and more women are en­ter­ing pol­i­tics and tak­ing on roles in gov­er­nance and lead­er­ship. More and more women are mov­ing into se­nior man­age­ment po­si­tions. Women are also gain­ing ground through ed­u­ca­tion, and as well, more and more are en­ter­ing the hard-core pro­fes­sions of sci­ence, en­gi­neer­ing, tech­nol­ogy, ac­count­ing and law.

At the same time, I see the male pop­u­la­tion tak­ing on more of a fam­ily ori­en­ta­tion. They no longer want to be so tied to work they ne­glect their spouse and fam­i­lies. They want more of a bal­anced life. Women are also re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion to ded­i­cate their life to the tough climb up a cor­po­rate lad­der. Or­ga­ni­za­tions, on the other hand, are re­spond­ing to this change in at­ti­tude by cre­at­ing life/work bal­ance poli­cies, flex­i­ble work sched­ules and fo­cus­ing more at­ten­tion on pro­mot­ing women within their or­ga­ni­za­tions. In ad­di­tion, or­ga­ni­za­tions are cre­at­ing devel­op­men­tal op­por­tu­ni­ties and men­tor­ing pro­grams for women.

Yet, there are still many miles to go to­ward the equal­ity of men and women in the workplace. How­ever, each woman can pos­i­tively con­trib­ute to this jour­ney to­ward equal­ity. Here are five strate­gies for you to con­sider:

Un­der­stand and work the sys­tem – ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion has a sys­tem in place that helps to get things done. Take time to un­der­stand these sys­tems and how they work. De­ter­mine the dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal nu­ances, iden­tify the var­i­ous in­flu­encers, and de­velop al­liances in or­der to push your ideas for­ward. Al­ways pro­pose new ideas with a full back­ground that demon­strates you have thought through all the is­sues and po­ten­tial so­lu­tions to the is­sue you are rais­ing.

En­sure a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude – change — es­pe­cially so­ci­etal change — takes time. You can­not do it alone. But keep a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, be con­sis­tent and stay fo­cused, while at the same time, avoid be­com­ing a “one-trick pony.” Chip away at your or­ga­ni­za­tional goals by propos­ing so­lu­tions in­stead of con­tin­u­ally point­ing out the prob­lems. Cre­at­ing in­ter­nal work­ing groups that spread the work around en­hances the num­ber of ideas and so­lu­tions be­ing dis­cussed and cre­ates al­liances for mov­ing your ideas for­ward.

Learn to let go – in spite of the fact you may have a strong cri­tique re­gard­ing an is­sue of equal­ity and are able to pro­pose a wor­thy so­lu­tion, the tim­ing to present your ideas may not be just right. Ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion has a num­ber of is­sues they are deal­ing with and you need to pick a time when people will pay at­ten­tion. In some cases, a cri­sis may have oc­curred that al­lows you a prime op­por­tu­nity to raise your is­sue. Fail­ing to pay at­ten­tion to time­li­ness may see your is­sue get buried and dis­counted.

Work be­hind the scenes – fight­ing for a spot at a se­nior lead­er­ship level may not be the an­swer to your eq­uity is­sues. In fact, you might gain more in­flu­ence while work­ing in other parts of the or­ga­ni­za­tion where you can mo­bi­lize oth­ers for change. De­velop a rep­u­ta­tion for fa­cil­i­tat­ing pos­i­tive change, take on lead­er­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties and vol­un­teer to tackle hard prob­lems. Build trust amongst oth­ers and they will then lis­ten to you.

Com­pro­mise and col­lab­o­rate – mov­ing to­ward equal­ity in the workplace is also all about give and take. It’s an ap­proach that shows an un­der­stand­ing that each party must ben­e­fit for change to take place. Work to­ward shared goals and build con­sen­sus for suc­cess.

I would be the first to ad­mit, there is still plenty of work to be done be­fore we can say there is full eq­uity be­tween men and women in so­ci­ety and in our work­places. How­ever, if we fo­cus on the many pos­i­tive changes that have now oc­curred and work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with oth­ers to ini­ti­ate more change, I am con­fi­dent we’ll see an in­crease of women in ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship, in­creased pay for women and more re­spect for fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

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