Transforming the Workplace
Sometimes it is difficult to narrow the subjects to discuss as we are bombarded daily with disruptive information. Today, my focus is on workplace gender inequality, and how it actually started to improve in 2006 as measured in the Global Gender Gap Report of 144 countries prepared by the World Economic Forum. The United States in 2006 was ranked 23rd. Since that time, we have regressed all the wat to 49th, in the same report from 2017 (Forbes, 2017). This decline is shocking and unacceptable, and can be attributable to numerous issues. Some of the key issues that hold women back in the workplace are attributable to culture. Major examples include women not supporting other women in the workplace, and a tolerance for sexual harassment as commonly accepted behavior. How is it possible that a culture of intolerance in the workplace is acceptable in our country?
Women not supporting each other, in my opinion is all in the details. It is the dismissive or insulting looks, and the gossip that undermines. These are among the ways that women get stereotyped as catty and backstabbing. Personally, as a woman in a leadership role, I make it clear during the interviewing process that the culture of our department is “no divas, no gossip, no throwing each other under the proverbial bus.” The follow through is in everyday practice, such that when these behaviors occur, they are not tolerated. By creating a work place culture that is supportive, learning, and that fosters understanding and compassion, then people are happier, and feel accepted.
When people feel that their voices and concerns are heard, they develop loyalty. They respond in positive ways to those days that are more difficult than other days, and give their best efforts to overcome work challenges as they arise. When leaders support positive people that speak up about negative behaviors, all workers feel safe and respected. Honestly, if a company is not willing to change for the better for its employees to thrive equally, then I would recommend looking for another job. I cannot overemphasize the importance of positive leadership, and its critical role in creating the culture that improves all levels of behaviors. With this culture firmly in place, the workplace is transformed into a caring environment in which the worker empower each other.
In contrast, a workplace in which harassment is tolerated is a clear sign of a lack of appropriate leadership and mentoring. In such settings, there are serious unintended consequences, including a forced tendency for good people to avoid taking the change of being in certain situations with women. This excess of caution, while understandable, creates a no-win situation for women, and has a wide range of unfortunate effects including missed opportunities for learning.
Women are what I call pre-victimized—with intolerance and gender stereotyping as a given in typical workplace situations. But in context, how do women move out of middle management roles if labels are placed on them as a risk? Transformation of this mindset, and its consequences, must involve changing the culture. Sexual harassment or workplace bullying cannot be normalized, but neither can avoidance of women in managerial roles, due to perceived risks of equal treatment as bias or harassment. To resolve these difficult issues, women and men must come together to support each other in fighting for integrity. This is the real deal, and the implications cannot be avoided. To do otherwise can destroy lives and careers. It is critical to stabilize these working relationships in gender-equal and gender-neutral ways within the microcosms of offices and industries as well as our society in general.
As a case in point, we must become stronger in standing against sexual harassment and power struggles —understanding that all too ofter, these actions degrade women into submission, in order to keep a career going. Influence is powerful in any work scenario. When a man in a position of power subverts a woman subordinate, then all women pay a heavy price. Putting a woman in a position of weakness destabilizes her ability to achieve any form of gender equality, or acknowledgement and reward for strong work performance. Companies must understand that these undermining forces lead directly to loss of talented professionals. Avoiding such losses should be paramount to decision that enhance the workplace culture to a place of integrity, instead of accepting gutter talk as normal.
Speaking up takes courage. Men and women need to support each other in their efforts to stop undermining and other inappropriate behaviors. To do otherwise is to risk toppling a work place from its proper focus on growth and productivity.
Indeed, it is critical to reinforce this focus by coming up with solutions for preserving women’s talent in various workplace environments. The goal must be to assist with women being able to work and not lose rank and position.
Why do we not stand united to fight these tides of thought that hold women back? Leadership counts more than ever. Leadership is about actions that support a nurturing, caring, safe environment. Such environments promotes people as people, and creates the expectation that work is a safe place – not a place to be victimized, male or female. We need to focus on producing a climate that galvanizes and empowers the silent majority to speak, and serves notice to the noise makers, to stop criticizing and judging people. Then and only then will talented people step up, to rise and reach upwards to be their best. I believe that as we come together to create transformative change, the issues of inequality, disparities in pay differences, and power struggles will be resolved as we work in civil harmony and acceptance, and stop normalizing vile behaviors from anyone.
While writing this article, I realized that we, female and male, are a we, a common species with common heritage, aspirations, and goals. By treating issues in ways that separate us, we risk letting the issues keep us divided. In the larger context of this division, we need to support each other, and avoid the mentalities of “us versus them”, “men versus women”, and “age versus youth”, or any type of difference that keeps people apart. In our diversity we have strength, not detachment. We live in a time of powerful attempts to partition us all, making it all the more important to recognize that our coming together is powerful. Only when we unite will women and all groups be accepted and treated equally.
Zalis, S. (2017). We’re Going Backwards on Gender Equality—Here is How to Drive Change. Forbes. Retrieved online at Forbes.com November 15, 2017.