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Five Steps to Equalize Success Opportunities for Women and Men in a Work Organisation

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Muna Jawhary, PhD
CHILD SAD © Sigrid Olsson via Getty Images CHILD SAD

In the series The New Yorker, performing artist Marina Abramović says the reason there are so many more men artists than women artists throughout history is that a male artists can be working at 4:00 am in the morning and his girlfriend would bring him soup, but for women 'it's a complete disaster, no hot soup.'
Abramović put her finger on the single most important factor that holds women back from achieving the heights of success that men can achieve:
1.Our dogged belief that women are more suited for care than men
This biased assumption, held equally by women and men, is a game changer for women when it comes to showing up in public life.

The other side of this sexist coin is that:
2.We unconsciously believe that men are more suited for work and leadership than women
As women care not only for children but, as Abramović pointed out, for men too they lose an advantage in the workplace and at the same time they leverage men's position, by allowing them work unencumbered.
Because we still unconsciously hold these biased beliefs, we have not yet examined the workplace with enough scrutiny for sex equality. And for this reason:
3.The workplace is still designed for those who are 'care free'
This rigidity in work organisation is pivotal to not only keeping women from success but also men from taking a more active role in caring.
If this is the why of women's absence from leadership, the how would simply be to eliminate the structures that allow these biases to go undetected.
I have grouped these in five steps:
1.Uncover the hidden gender conversation
Smithson and Stokoe conducted in depth interviews of accountancy and banking sector employees ('Gender, Work and Organization', 2005, no 12, pp147-168). They found that without exception work-life balance is seen as an issue relevant to women only.
Similarly, Pini and McDonal surveyed employees working flexibly at a local authority in Australia ('Gender in Management', 2008, no 23, pp598-612). The interviews revealed the prevalence of gendered assumptions:
"flexible work is for women with children"
"men worry about perceptions if they took it"
male flexi workers would have to deal with people who "think there's something wrong with them".
"it's not the blokey thing to work part time."
2.Audit business practices for sexist behavior
When Deloitte's Women Initiative (WIN) audited their practices in 1991, they found that the family care assumption underlie many misguided expectations of women's preferences and abilities. A firm-wide practice was to give men and women different work assignments, with serious repercussions for their promotion. More damaging was evaluating men based on their 'potential', and women based on their 'actual performance', which resulted in men being promoted considerably faster.
3.Introduce flexibility as a matter of urgency
A workplace that supports women and men equally acknowledges that both sexes have responsibilities outside of work, and that attending to those responsibilities can increase their productivity, as their life-work balance stress is relieved.
Survey after survey shows flexible working to be the top benefit sought by professionals, both men and women. Research also shows that all generations, baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y place as much importance on flexible work as they do on financial rewards.

4.Equalize parental leave

The stigma of taking a family leave is not necessarily attached to women but to anyone who cares, and this is what business leaders need to be diligent about.
When Sweden introduced shared parental leave in 1974, where each parent is entitled to half the leave, men had the option of signing their days over to women, so most of them did! This prompted Norway, Sweden and Iceland to introduce the 'father quota', which reserves part of the shared parental leave for fathers on use-it-or-lose-it basis: if the father does not take leave, the family loses the leave period. Even with this stipulation, only 25% of fathers in these countries take up paternal leave.
It is critical that business leaders publicly declare the ethos of equal family leave for women and men, whether it's paid or unpaid, to remove any doubt from men's mind that it will be equated with lack of commitment.
5.Help your employees integrate home life with work life
This is a big ask of businesses and goes against the grain, because of the belief that time used for family is time not used for work, which reduces productivity. However, there is more to productivity than time put in. When people feel they have control over their lives, they become far more inspired and creative at work and their productivity rises significantly.
There is a small but growing number of businesses who organize work practices in a way that integrates business objectives with workers' roles outside the office. Critical to the success of this approach is defining business success in terms of outputs and specific results, rather than process or time put in. Managers make these outcomes clear and encourage employees to clarify where work falls in the spectrum of their overall life priorities. A road map that integrates both sets of objectives is drawn and continually tested and adjusted.
Quite apart from sex equality, these five steps of reorganizing work would help bring work organisations into the 21st century, as they become more nimble and more able to ride market upheavals.

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