By Alice Cripps
Who runs the world? In today’s corporate world, having women on board is essential for success. Women make a huge difference to the workplace, especially in senior leadership roles. However, they often find themselves marginalised or ignored, and can end up feeling doubtful of their position or achievements. Read on to find out more about the gender biases that women are confronted with in the workplace, and how employers can avoid a toxic work environment.
Sadly, even today, the ‘default’ leadership style is stereotypically male. Qualified and experienced female employees often find themselves jumping through hurdles to achieve the same targets as their male counterparts. In addition, they are already restrained by a widening gender wage gap, a lack of flexibility in working patterns, and insufficient childcare or caregiving support.
Unconscious Bias In The Workplace
Biases are deeply entrenched within everyone. Unfortunately, women in the workplace are disproportionately affected by harmful gender biases, preventing them from thriving in their careers. One common stereotype is that women are naturally inclined to roles as caregivers and homemakers, while men are better suited to positions as entrepreneurs and leaders. Ambitious women are labelled as ‘arrogant’ and ‘cold’, whilst successful men are ‘confident’ and ‘powerful’. Furthermore, the lack of female role models in business proves to be a barrier for young girls wanting to enter into the corporate world, while men have access to an abundance of powerful role models.
Biases Towards Women of Colour
Challenges in the workplace are amplified astronomically for women of colour, who face an intersection of gender and race biases. They are much less likely to be promoted than white women and endure a host of microaggressions in the workplace. Accomplished women of colour who have a lot to offer to businesses now constitute 89% of founders of new women-owned businesses in the US, despite only representing 39% of the female population.
Despite difficulties in accessing capital for these startups, many WoC would rather run this risk than stay in a toxic work environment. This is surely an indicator that employers must step up to make all women feel empowered and valued in the office.
What Can Employers Do?
1. Offer real leadership opportunities to women.
Today, women are still underrepresented globally in leadership roles. Employing women as directors and team leaders not only empowers women in the workplace, but it comes with a host of advantages for your business as well.
Research shows that women perform better when they feel represented by their superiors in the workplace. Having a diverse leadership team results in a wider range of outlooks and perspectives, increasing the efficacy and profitability of your company.
Make sure to steer clear of the ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon, however, whereby women are selected for leadership roles when the company is facing trouble, therefore increasing the risk of criticism and failure for the female leaders. This is yet another way that women can feel discouraged at work. To counter this problem, employers should ensure that women promoted to leadership positions have the support that they need to succeed.
2. Have honest conversations with women in your workplace.
When employers don’t open their organisations to honest conversations, women suffer. By acknowledging the feelings of women in your workplace and making their voices heard, you instil trust in your personnel. It is important that you don’t shy away from talking about distressing or polarising topics at work, so that you create a space where everyone is free to express themselves.
Whatever you do, avoid gaslighting at all costs. If a woman in your workplace feels constrained, the chances are that there are real barriers in her way which need to be recognised and dealt with.
3. Invest in mentors and support networks for women.
A major shortage in steadfast support networks for women is preventing a lot of businesswomen from accessing advice and encouragement from female professionals that they need to thrive in the workplace. Providing mentoring opportunities also helps women develop their leadership skills, and finally provides us with the role models we have been seeking since childhood.
Investing in mentors is also a sure-fire way to ease the effects of imposter syndrome for professional women, who may be doubtful of their own abilities and could benefit from speaking to someone who has shared similar experiences.
Women have been historically excluded from positions of responsibility in business, but their influence is now here to stay. If you want talented and determined women to stay in your company, it’s time to provide a positive and encouraging environment for them.
Alice Cripps is a graduate in French and English Literature from the University of Birmingham. She is currently working as a university-level English teacher in Toulouse, but has plans to enter into the publishing industry.
In her spare time, she loves reading, travelling and trying out new brunch spots.