The conversation about equality in the workplace continues, but are we a long way away from truly achieving it? Women are learning to ‘lean in’1, while men are encouraged to question what it means to be ‘manly’. As the world of work grows more aware of the issues, what can we do to help make progress on gender equality issues?
At a recent event held at Pearson HQ in London, a panel of the company’s directors came together to discuss the issues surrounding gender equality and share their perspective on the issue. I was asked to join the panel, which also included my peers from around the company.
The panel kicked off the conversation by sharing our experiences of gender equality with the room. It was interesting to hear my colleagues talking about how they perceive situations which I found myself experiencing first hand.
My colleagues offered a rather interesting set of comments… and here are some things they said:
- There is a need to achieve gender balance in a workplace, but it isn’t always easy to achieve.
- Although we operate within a global workplace, perspectives are not always global. Impacted by cultural baggage, how people deal with gender inequality can differ significantly from country to country.
- A daughter with growing interest in Dr Who, now the lead character is a woman for the first time.
- Another daughter referring to God as she in the first conversation about spiritualism with her father.
The discussion was broad and engaging - covering issues such as access and perceptions of men who take parental leave; recruitment practices; positive discrimination and the gender pay gap.
Being a woman, with a professional background in photography and image making, I have always been interested in stereotypes and how they influence people’s behaviours. Reflecting on my own career, I recognise some of those stereotypes and how they have related to me; for example being tall - people have often assumed my seniority.
But I have also felt less positive, inferred discrimination. In the earlier days of my career, I was very aware that hiring managers may prefer a male candidate as they may perceive that I would become pregnant and take maternity leave.
I believe one of the first steps we all need to take is having an open and honest dialogue. And reflecting and recognising our own bias - subconscious or otherwise.
An example I shared with our group as part of the debate was the use of the generic term ‘guys’ I had experienced in the workplace - even when some of the people being addressed were clearly not guys!
Reading about a tweet from radio presenter Jane Garvey who tweeted “New rule – ‘Hi guys!!’ NEVER say this. Unless you are the daringly informal guest speaker at the annual meeting of The Society Of People Named Guy.” had got me thinking - does such an address act to reinforce the male as default position?
I’m still thinking about this; I certainly use the term generically - but I am more aware of it now and I do reflect on how my language can act to stereotype and reinforce gender issues. And let’s all be clear - gender stereotyping and indeed gender equality is not only about women - but about all of us.
My colleague, Kevin Lyons, Senior HR Manager at Pearson published a piece recently in Equality and Diversity I.Q about his love of Pomeranian dogs. ‘“Because let’s be honest, it is not normal for a guy to own a Pomeranian dog and to say openly he adores them, as they are cute, small, fluffy dogs, and Gender Stereotyping tells us a man needs to have a dog that suits a man, for example one which is larger and not small and cute and fluffy, and is therefore “manly”
A way forward? I believe that having robust and well adopted policies and processes in place can go a long way. Using data to analyse the current situation and coming up with a plan to bring more equality into the workplace can help us move forward.
Here as an example is one perspective and possible solution a colleague offered:
"Bias can sometimes show in the way we write job adverts and job descriptions, resulting in more applications from one of the genders. Recruitment professionals now have an option to use language processing programmes that help eradicate this issue by removing unconscious bias from the copy."
So, let’s keep the conversation open; let’s keep challenging - ourselves and others.