LRMG
In looking at gender equality, it’s important to recognise that it’s a cultural, global issue that will take time to readdress. For instance, the Golden Globe Awards were recently aired in South Africa – a Western, creative industry celebration – yet these awards still distinguish between ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Actress’. We acknowledge that men and women are different and have unique strengths that must be played into, however, their performance output and overall value should be equal.

 

To attempt a level of gender neutrality, businesses should look at the organisational culture, leadership and policies. Points to consider:

Culture

  • We treat women’s issues as ‘women’s problems’. Highlighting women is not the best way to gain equality at work. Drop the word ‘women’ altogether. Gender neutrality is a business issue, not a women’s issue or a diversity problem. We should seek to create an environment that enables both women and men to perform. We should bring women’s challenges to the forefront of business challenges and deal with them as organisational issues.
  • Promote a ‘work-life blend’ culture where both women and men are encouraged to be flexible around their work, social and family lives. This environment focuses on continuous improvement, results and delivery, rather than on time spent in the office.
  • Be careful of perpetuating stereotypes around job roles. There are many gender perceptions that simply aren’t true – for instance that men are better scientists and engineers, and that women are better caregivers and teachers. These stereotypes are cultural constructs that constrain you from hiring the most highly competent person for the job. They also make women in traditional ‘male jobs’ feel uncomfortable and incompetent, and vice versa.

 Leadership

  • Place competent women in influential leadership positions. Global statistics show that boards with more women outperform male-dominated boards in every area measured. Yet, there’s still a tendency to pull more women onto the board with the intent to fill gender quotas rather than to improve business performance. Gender balanced boards just make sense.

Policies

  • In South Africa and abroad, women still earn less than men do, although their output is the same, if not greater. Remuneration packages should be based on job profiles and deliverables and should not be based on gender.
  • Promotions also still favour men. This is mostly because businesses still see women as maternal beings that may leave to raise children. The truth is that women are just as loyal as men and that if they’ve chosen to build a career, they’re generally in it for the long run.
  • When hiring, change the way jobs are structured and described. Look at roles and behaviours and make them gender neutral. Jobs should de-emphasise masculine and feminine stereotypical attributes.

Neutrality accountability in the workplace also lies with the female worker. Women tend to have their own restrictive perceptions. Bidwell and Barbulescu analysed data on 1 255 men and women entering the job market after graduating from a large, elite, one-year international Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme. Their research indicated that women do not recognise their own potential and shy away from certain professions that they actually do succeed in, such as investment banking.

Ultimately, creating a gender-neutral environment is really about aligning your business to enable people rather than ‘women’ or ‘men’. At the same time, the onus is on women to educate themselves and to recognise that their lower expectations around job capability, salary and hiring appeal are hindering their own success and gender neutrality endeavours in their place of work.


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