With public bombardment of articles, blogs, research, statistics and media reports – there is no doubt that the world is suffering a ‘female drought’ in senior leadership positions. Organizations are tacking this by putting in place policies, procedures and recruitment campaigns to ultimately get more women into senior roles. But I want to know more; how has this become an issue in the first place? Are you really considered a ‘progressive organization’ in an innovative world if you are considered ‘An Employer of Choice for Women’? I think the intention is well placed but worry about the long term consequences if we as a society continue to need to have these sorts of programs in the first place. I’m certainly not against these initiatives, in fact I think they are great; but I want to tackle the issue at a deeper level. How do we change society so that gender is not attributed to our ability to be empowered in the first place?
As a daughter – I was always being told that I was capable of anything. We are not confined by gender to be successful – only by ourselves. The recent #AWARE campaign strikes a chord in me (as I’m sure it will with you). It is a short YouTube video that shows how children perceive the role of male and female. It also shows the pinnacle at which we are divided into gender. As children (in this case a 4-year-old girl), we don’t consider ourselves one gender or the other, we consider ourselves human – able to run, throw, jump and hit – just like a human, just like, well “me” – not my gender. It is during adolescence we start to recognize our own gender it is at this point that it informs how we perform in society. I encourage you to watch this video. It is inspiring and eye opening for anyone (with or without children).
Although to explore gender relations in an organizational framework, it is necessary to first understand how gender is constructed. Hart (1996), best described this creation of gender as a ‘social construction created and maintained between men and women and not fixed on quantity that one is born with’. P43. This means that gender is transient depending on social situations and not assigned specifically to one type of gender or the other. For example, women can have both masculine and feminine traits as can men. However, society has divided us into what is considered the role of the ‘male’ and the role of the ‘female’ and assigned specific tasks to each sex. It is not uncommon in today’s society for these roles to be slightly skewed but generally (and I am generalizing) it seems we are programmed by gender. In organizational life; we see this phenomenon start to impact our mid-level management (where the ratios of men:women really start to shift). What part of our biological programming assigned the more senior roles to men and the more junior roles to women? Is this something that is inherent or can we change it? And, more importantly, how do we show our next generation that they should not be confined by gender? If gender is a societal construction; this means that society holds the power to change it. Corporations are part of society too.
So I ask of you…. As members of society…. What are you doing to change society’s perception of gender relations? How do we create a society and a workplace culture that keeps the ‘4-year-old girl’ dream alive – they don’t see themselves as any different to boys – but at some point… sadly…. for girls…it changes. And this continues into adulthood. This is why we see such a skew in the workforce at mid and senior level management. Let’s change this skew and imagine the possibilities. The possibilities for organizations to have a varied way of thinking; a diverse way of thinking; a new way of thinking! Maybe this new way of thinking might just help us grow as organizations. Maybe it might just get us closer to our consumers – imagine that!