Gender Equality in Business
They came on planes from all over the world to the corporate meeting in London. The air reeked from excitement and fear (the typical perfume of M&A.) We were hundreds and hundreds of people and the different tongues united to a noise bouquet that reminded me of a busy beehive.
Is my job safe? Can I increase my influence in the new structure? Depending on their temperaments, people were worried or ready to grasp a new opportunity.
A Canadian company had purchased the sophisticated, high-end British company data-mining/EIS company I worked for. A clash of culture. You could see from the way people dressed who belonged to the old and the new part. Dignified British Management Consultants in their tidy black or blue business suits vs. casual shirts.
In a motivational speech that was everything I imagined from a seminar for multi-level-marketing success, the new boss introduced himself. Astounded, I looked around when the motivational speaker (ups… I mean the new boss) wanted the crowd to get up and chant something. I can’t recall the slogan. However, I can still see the disbelief, contempt, and amusement on the faces of my British colleagues.
All of them were male. I was the first female account manager the company had ever hired.
This was way back in the 90ties. In the middle of the speech that followed, one woman from the new, the Canadian part of the company, jumped out of her seat and screamed “salesmen and saleswomen!”
For the first time, the emotions of the old and the new part united and the managers and salespeople of the divided company shared the same thought: “OMG, how annoying is she.”
The new boss immediately applauded the woman for her objection and corrected himself. From then on, he used the male and female version. Sometimes there was a tiny break in his speech when he had to adjust to the new wording.
What did the brave woman with applaudable intentions achieve? Did she emphasize that we’re equal or did she point out the difference? Did she make women look more powerful and competent or add to the prejudice that women are harder to work with?
Discrimination as a 50/50 game
Gender equality, equality between men and women, entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviour, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities.
— ABC Of Women Worker’s Rights And Gender Equality, ILO, 2000. p. 48.
As I mentioned, I was the first female account manager in a company that only hired men for this role. Because I was also grossly underqualified, I faced big-time discrimination.
Even before they knew I was underqualified. When I arrived to take over my new office, there was a sign at the door that said “Crystal” and someone drew a lipstick on it.
My new boss tore the sign off. Everyone assumed I got the job because I was pretty.
This boss was the best boss I ever had and absolutely made no difference between women and men. He called me a sales guy, just like the other sales guys, and I loved it.
First, we are inflexible. After the German “Wertkauf” has been acquired by Walmart, I took years and years to switch to the name. Did I discriminate against Walmart?
Second, had the boss changed his wording, it would only have added to the reservations against me.
Words change the brain and it’s good we change discriminative wording. We should also be empathic about where someone is coming from when he uses the old term, as well as clever about the measures we take to create change.
If we have the choice between calmly showing our competence and demanding someone follows rules, we should choose the first option.
My “story” had a good ending. The first time my colleagues saw me was when I was the only salesperson not just hitting their goal but making 324% and entering the presidents club. (I will say that it was only half my doing, the opportunity was just great.)
Here, being underestimated was my saving grace. While the male account managers spend a lot of their energy fighting each other hard, they ignored me.
I guess what I am saying is that certain roles are highly competitive. When a 3M deal equals a 450K commission, everyone will fight you with whatever they think will get to you or beat you. That is the truth.
If we establish that women and men have different ways to achieve the same goals (which I am not saying,) leaders have to become more flexible in their leadership style and how they assess competence.
Yes, women should be seen and treated as equals. However, the topic is more complex than it seems at first look.
A change of mindset has to happen in both genders.
As a coach working with many men and women and I tell you: More women than men (including myself) do not aspire to become top managers. They chose happiness.
While not every top manager is unhappy, the mindset and readiness to fight it takes to thrive in a shark tank are not for everyone. It’s also not for every man who goes that route. Some stressed-out and pill-popping C-Levels can tell that tale.
Any 50/50 board member hiring rule might put men at a disadvantage because the number of men aspiring such a role is larger. Ideally, we’d be able to fight bias without rules that might imply women are a group in need of certain protection. However, that requires a change in society and mindset.
I have proven that I can hang with the tough guys. But I took the first chance I saw to get out of sales. Because competing costs you and I’m unwilling to pay the price. That doesn’t make me less able to compete. I’m just more aware of what I want in life.
If I look at my clients, the number of women with enough aggressiveness and greed (or hunger for power and winning) to thrive in a highly competitive environment is smaller than the number of men.
Not for the reason that fewer women can compete, but because more women decide they don’t want to.
We can’t say: “You must hire us because we’re equal but then you have to treat us differently because we’re women.”
Gender equality in business and pregnancy
A whole different world of challenges lies in the fact that women are the gender carrying babies. Two contrary goals have to be achieved at the same time:
- A woman must not face disadvantages because she might get pregnant. There must be a protection so that becoming a mother doesn’t equal losing your career
- A company must not have higher costs for hiring a woman. Demanding equal pay at higher risk might make women the less attractive candidate
There are more facets to this topic and a possible answer lies in the question of social responsibility of corporations.
The law can only do so much to protect women. If a company wants you out (yes, there are anti-bullying laws as well,) they will create an atmosphere that is unhealthy for you.
Shareholders don’t reward the kindest leader when kindness costs profit – unless buyers demand it.
Equal pay for men and women
In jobs that pay following a set tariff, women should earn the same as their male counterparts. No question even less discussion about that.
What about jobs where people negotiate their salary?
In my experience, women (not all of us) back off more easily. We often have a low feeling of self-worth and ask for less.
Once more, I feel the change has to come from two sides. Companies that define fixed amounts for a job have to pay the same to both genders. Some women should get better at negotiating and increase their feeling of self-worth.
We can’t ask managers to top whatever we ask for because we’re fearful negotiators. Every transformation takes time. Maybe the manager starts the negotiation with a female at a lower number. They used to get away with it and it’s understandable that you try to hire the best people at the lowest possible cost.
Whining about this unfairness doesn’t create change. Influencing someone to give you a great deal does.
In Business and in Life, we don’t get what we deserve; we get what we negotiate.
Women quota for gender equality in business
Many companies now have quotas that make sure they hire a certain number of disabled people, people of color, certain races, and women.
Really? I can only speak for myself. I don’t want a job because a company has to fill its quote or gets tax cuts for hiring me.
Did your parents ever make you play with the uncool kid nobody liked? Did that improve your relationship? Or maybe you were the uncool kid and cringed into spasms when your parents spoke with the parents of the kids who didn’t respect you to force them to play with you.
This is an opinion piece, not a learning piece (hence, published on my personal blog (;) For learning, go to my company site.
There’s no discussion in my mind we have to push towards equal chances.
The price question is: Do you buy more Scott because there’s a fine for calling them Kleenex? Are you more likely to buy Kleenex because it’s a common term for facial tissue?
Gender equality is a problem in 2019 nearly just as it was in the 90ties. We have implemented many rules and regulations and there’s an increased awareness for negative consequences of discriminating against women.
We often believe we, the 1st world nations have achieved much more to end violence against women, gender equality and so on. Did we really? What if they removed all laws for two weeks and every man could do as they please without fear of losing reputation or facing charges?
There will be no real change until the mindset changes.
Words change brains and changing terms is the right thing to do. By itself, if applied and not accompanied by measures to change people’s mindset, it will not achieve much.
As women, we could ask ourselves:
- Are there better ways to achieve our goal of being treated as equals than jumping off our seat and scream “and Ladies!”
- If we want more money, could we develop new skills to help us negotiate it?
- Are there opportunities we do not grab?
- In cases where we demand to be treated as equals, do we argue with the rule or our competence?
As men you could as yourself:
- Are there situations where I make it harder for women than for men?
- Am I guilty of discriminatory habits or language?
- Do I always hire the best candidate when presented with equally qualified males and females?
- What can I do to fight gender discrimination in my organization?
- Am I empathic about the fact that someone might take different measures than I would that lead to the same goal?
As human beings we all should thrive for equality and fairness. Empathy can save the world!
Aurorasa Coaching helps men and women to become more empathic and influential. Talk to me!