‘Pledge for Parity’ is the theme for International Women’s Day on 8 March. It is celebrated in the context of the stark prediction of the World Economic Forum that the gender gap will close in 2133 – yes a waiting period of 117 years! Further, the report maintains that in all leadership positions women comprise a mere 28%.
The push to parity has begun in earnest. From Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau forming his Cabinet with an equal gender split, to the British call for transparency where big companies publish gender pay gap figures, to international firms offering mentorships encouraging girls into STEM. In fact, worldwide men and women are working to usher the end to gender disparity.
There has been a raft of posts written by high profile men who tell us that they get the gender issue fully when they became dads to daughters. And therein lies the rub. The workforce comprises mums, dads, and grandparents.
The key starting point for the Pledge to Parity should begin from the moment of birth. Currently babies, on the whole, are socialised into a culture of how girls should behave and how this is different from boys. The truth is that the gender bias and stereotyping starts from the womb. We want to know the sex of the baby so that we socialise a baby into not just a gender identity but a culture of how it should speak, think, behave and dress.
This early socialisation spills into the nursery where it is accepted, for example, that boys’ language skills may lag behind and they may take longer to toilet train. Similarly, a girl is expected to play nicely and understand the other person’s point of view in a spat with playmates. How often have we as parents, carers, teachers and mentors said words to the effect: ‘He has low empathy, but he is a bloke after all.’ Or a teacher has come to expect and accept low-level disruption from disengaged boys. Schools are doing their bit for years too, for example, pushing boys’ literacy through dedicated programmes, choosing books especially for boys, encouraging girls into the sciences. Well and good. However, it is done in the context of a culture that is imbibed at birth and that perpetuates and accepts the differences that boys and girls exhibit. This culture of bias is imported to the workplace with disastrous consequences for men, women, the economy and quality of life. Consider the following extract from the World Economic Forum summary:
While there has been a marked shift away from deliberate exclusion of women from the workplace, there continue to be cultural beliefs that lead to unconscious biases. This includes perceptions that successful, competent women are less “nice”; that strong performance by women is due to hard work rather than skills; and assumptions that women are less committed to their careers. In addition, especially in well-established, older organisations, workplace structures that were designed for a past era still, often unwittingly, favour men.
The skillset that makes up EQ, which we all know by now, differentiates mediocre leaders from great leaders. And this skillset is certainly not gleaned in the boardroom. It is acquired through lifelong learning – from birth.
We need to rethink the way we promote gender equality at every level. In the next 117 years, the phrase like glass ceiling will be an obsolete term. We will be talking about doing a great piece of work and being paid according to our deliverables. We will evolve to the stage where a girl who enters the field of technology and rises to a c suite position, is the norm, rather than the exception. And when boardrooms are filled with parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents that are already actively promoting equality in the socialisation of their babies at home and not just at the workplace.
To Mum, Happy Mother’s Day, and thanks to you and Dad for Imbuing me with the belief that I can do anything I set my mind to.
The photo of my niece and baby was taken in the South East of England in 2013.
Sudhana Singh is a former Headteacher and lecturer. She is the Founder at Imbue Coaching. Her coaching niche is Imbuing Your First 100 Days as an executive. Follow her on Twitter @SudhanaSingh.