Re­cent com­ments by a top SA ex­ec­u­tive have high­lighted that women work­ers are still seen as some­how dif­fer­ent to their male coun­ter­parts in the work­place. Here’s how to chal­lenge gen­der bias.

Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By fin­week team

among the many tools at their dis­posal, women re­cently dis­cov­ered, cour­tesy of Cell C’s CEO, that they also come equipped with a “bitch switch” (which they can flick on to be­come su­per ag­gres­sive). José dos San­tos, who also had a thing or two to say about the im­pact of at­trac­tive women on work­place morale, has since apol­o­gised for his com­ments.

How­ever, his ob­ser­va­tions un­der­scored the fact that women of­ten are still seen as “the other” in the work­place, some­how dif­fer­ent from men. And un­for­tu­nately, “dif­fer­ent” al­most never means equal. Women have been mak­ing huge progress, but men have been shap­ing the terms of work­place en­gage­ment for cen­turies – and of­ten they ul­ti­mately still con­trol the game (97% of SA’s CEOs are men). Many women still con­front con­sid­er­able prej­u­dice and stereo­typ­ing in the work­place, and of­ten face dif­fer­ent rules.

Take for ex­am­ple the fact that suc­cess­ful women are not viewed in the same light as men. In a well-known study at Columbia Busi­ness School, stu­dents were pre­sented with a case study de­tail­ing the ca­reer of ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Heidi Roizen. For one group of stu­dents, all de­tails of her ca­reer were kept ex­actly the same, but her name was changed to “Howard”. Those stu­dents rated “Howard” as like­able, while an­other group re­viewed ex­actly the same case study but with her real gen­der, and de­scribed Heidi as “self­ish” and not “the type of per­son you would want to hire or work for”.

Suc­cess and like­abil­ity are pos­i­tively cor­re­lated for men and neg­a­tively for women, wrote Sh­eryl Sand­berg, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Face­book, in her best­selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. “When a man is suc­cess­ful, his peers of­ten like him more; when a woman is suc­cess­ful, both men and women of­ten like her less.”

Women are also heav­ily pe­nalised for go­ing against type – in par­tic­u­lar for vi­o­lat­ing the fe­male stereo­type of be­ing nur­tur­ing and car­ing. Force­ful women are of­ten crit­i­cised, called “pushy” or “bossy” (words never used for men), or sad­dled with a per­ceived “bitch switch”. Says Sand­berg: “Men are con­tin­u­ally ap­plauded for be­ing am­bi­tious and pow­er­ful and suc­cess­ful, but women who dis­play these same traits of­ten pay a so­cial penalty. Fe­male ac­com­plish­ments come at a cost.”

So how do you nav­i­gate your way through the gen­der bias?

Con­quer your in­ner in­se­cu­rity. Women who lack con­fi­dence and are un­com­fort­able in them­selves have the most dif­fi­culty when en­coun­ter­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place, says Ne­rina Visser, di­rec­tor of et­fSA and a well-known fig­ure in in­vest­ment cir­cles. “When you are the only woman in the room, in­se­cu­rity makes you ex­tra sen­si­tive to any snubs, and breeds de­fen­sive­ness and a feel­ing of fail­ure. If you are nat­u­rally com­fort­able with your­self, these slights won’t make a dent.” Greater con­fi­dence starts with chang­ing your in­ner di­a­logue; be less crit­i­cal of your­self and stop dwelling on your mis­takes (which ac­cord­ing to re­search is some­thing women tend to do more). Fo­cus in­stead on your strengths, es­tab­lish a sup­port net­work, and start tak­ing in­formed risks. Man­age your man­ager. When you feel your su­pe­ri­ors are not tak­ing you se­ri­ously, or have some prej­u­dices, the only way to ad­dress these ob­sta­cles are through open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, says Asanda Gcoyi, who coaches high­po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees and is CEO of hu­man cap­i­tal de­vel­op­ment firm CB Tal­ent. “Take your man­ager to one side and chal­lenge his ac­tions or com­ments, be­fore his mis­judge­ments and your re­sent­ment spi­ral out of con­trol,” says Gcoyi. Also, de­mand feed­back. Of­ten, male man­agers don’t feel com­fort­able with giv­ing a fe­male em­ployee crit­i­cal feed­back to her face. In the long run, this can be a se­ri­ous ob­sta­cle to your pro­fes­sional growth. Ask prob­ing ques­tions and de­mand hon­est feed­back from your boss and other col­leagues. Don’t shy away from ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Stud­ies show that women are much more un­com­fort­able with ne­go­ti­at­ing, par­tic­u­larly on be­half of them­selves (and es­pe­cially on their own pay pack­ages). When they do ne­go­ti­ate, women are proven to be skil­ful – al­though

Women have been mak­ing huge progress, but men have been shap­ing the terms of work­place en­gage­ment for cen­turies – and of­ten they ul­ti­mately still con­trol the game (97% of SA’s CEOs are men).

when they suc­ceed in driv­ing a hard bar­gain, re­search shows they give back the gains right at the end, per­haps be­cause of some mis­placed feel­ing of com­mu­nal­ity or guilt. Make sure that you avoid this trap by hav­ing a clear goal when you start any ne­go­ti­a­tion. Don’t put your­self down to be funny.

A re­cent UK study showed a big dif­fer­ence in the way that men and women use hu­mour in meet­ings, and also how co-work­ers re­act to these quips. Male man­agers tend to use wit­ti­cisms or funny ban­ter to lighten the mood, and the vast ma­jor­ity of these (90%, ac­cord­ing to the study) evoke a pos­i­tive re­sponse, in­clud­ing laugh­ter. In con­trast, women usu­ally re­vert to self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mour – which fell flat in the ma­jor­ity of cases (80%). While women may be­lieve mak­ing fun of them­selves is a safe op­tion, the feed­back from the par­tic­i­pants were that self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mour can be con­trived and de­fen­sive. Don’t leave be­fore you leave.

This refers to the fact that many women di­min­ish their ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions in prepa­ra­tion for be­ing a mother and want­ing greater work-life bal­ance – even long be­fore they want or have kids, or a part­ner. “Keep your foot on the gas pedal un­til the very day you need to leave,” Sand­berg says. Don’t do “of­fice house­work”.

Of­ten women are tasked with sup­port jobs like be­ing a scribe in meet­ings, or­gan­is­ing food or client gifts. These tasks are of­ten thank­less, and will di­vert your at­ten­tion from mak­ing more strate­gic con­tri­bu­tions. Don’t try to be a do­mes­tic god­dess.

While women have made great progress at work, they still also do the bulk of house­work and child­care at home. Choose your part­ner well, and make sure that re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are shared equally. This will mean you will some­times have to let go of your ideals of how cer­tain do­mes­tic tasks are done; aban­don your per­fec­tion­ist ap­proach to fold­ing T-shirts, and al­low your part­ner to do it their way. Stand your ground.

Stud­ies show that women are much more fre­quently in­ter­rupted in meet­ings – push back when you feel some­one is try­ing to talk over you. Quit if you feel un­com­fort­able.

“I didn’t stick around when I didn’t feel wanted,” says Visser about her own ca­reer. Re­mem­ber also, the law is on your side if you feel dis­crim­i­nated against. Visser be­lieves SA is in some ways far ahead of western coun­tries when it comes to gen­der di­ver­sity, in part due to BEE, which has high­lighted the im­por­tance of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “SA has a num­ber of very strong fe­male busi­ness fig­ures. Black women in par­tic­u­lar have had to over­come hard times, which is serv­ing them very well in board­rooms and for the chal­lenges of busi­ness.”

Black women in par­tic­u­lar have had to over­come hard times, which is serv­ing them very well in board­rooms and for the chal­lenges of busi­ness.

Sh­eryl Sand­berg Chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Face­book

Asanda Gcoyi CEO of the CB Tal­ent

Heidi Roizen Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist

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