March is designated as Women’s History Month. In honor of this contribution, I wanted to take a moment to look at some challenges that have been perpetuated throughout history. Once you’re done reading this article, you’ll see how you can change the story.
Let’s look specifically at:
- Ongoing biases and procedures that exacerbate the lack of advancement opportunities
- Issues of advancement in leadership
- Misconceptions that one should feel guilty juggling work and life
In the March-April 2020 Harvard Business Review edition, there is a thought-provoking article titled, “What’s Really Holding Women Back?” Many points are made throughout the article with which you may agree, some you may not. However, there are some important topics that I see constantly in my work as a leadership coach and an organizational consultant that deserve to be addressed.
One of the most critical themes according to the authors’ interviews is, “Women were held back because, unlike men, they were encouraged to take accommodations, such as going part-time… which derailed their careers.”
The article addresses the “long-hour cultures” that impact both women and men, but here is the harsh truth: “Employees who took advantage of them (accommodations) – virtually all of them women – were stigmatized and saw their careers derailed.”
- This issue falls categorically under the matter of ongoing biases and procedures. Even within the best organizations, there is scrutiny. These organizations can have detailed policies that are supposed to support new parents as they on and off-ramp, yet the bias that women should be at home with children and men at work shows up again and again in attitudes and decision making. As long as the procedures support the belief (conscious or unconscious), women will be stigmatized and impacted.Here is what you can do: Examine beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Is there an automatic pattern that impacts opportunities? The belief that a new parent should be able to come back gently may be well-meaning, but all too often it is exclusionary and opportunities are withheld. Don’t make presumptive decisions on someone else’s behalf. Ask the new parent’s intention.
- When the biases and procedures perpetuate non-inclusion, the obvious effect is either a lack of opportunity for advancement or at the very least a slow-down, which in turn impacts advancement. It is a vicious cycle if leaders are not aware that it is happening.
Here is what you can do.
Treat every situation individually. Everyone is unique. Be sure that your relationship as a leader (or one who has influence over someone’s advancement) is solid. Yes, this means that efforts to build professional relationships, recognize talents, and have ongoing communication, career planning, critical feedback, and non-biased reviews should start at day one.
Those solid relationships lead to support which also leads to helping alleviate misconceptions that someone needs to feel guilt while juggling work and life. Self-imposed guilt about focusing on careers and focusing on family is a useless emotion that drains energy out of anything you do. Unfortunately, feeling guilty is intensified when the biases discussed above are stereotyped onto women. Interestingly, as more men are given longer paternal leave – judgment can happen if they consider taking the full amount of time given off. This is evidence of falling back into the stereotypes of women and men in their roles at home and at work.
Time to Change the Story.
First and foremost, no one needs to be driven by feeling guilty for having a commitment to their career along with a commitment to family. Check your beliefs and behaviors that could increase someone’s struggle if they are feeling guilty. Have empathy. Trust that the person on your team is fully committed. Having trust in your team circles back to having a solid relationship that is supportive of the growth and development of the unique individual. Everyone’s handling of work and life balance is different and there is not a one-size-fits-all.
It is time to rewrite the story of how women rise in the workplace. It is time to recognize and address the limiting beliefs, policies and procedures that become obstacles in growth, development, advancement, and professional relationships. It is way past time… let’s change the story.