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Thinking Outloud

Thoughts on succession, leadership coaching, building synergistic teams and change management systems for family businesses and organizations.

Forge a Climate of Empowerment

Forge a Climate of Empowerment

Gender inequality is defined by Oxford Reference as the social process by which people are treated differently and disadvantageously, under similar circumstances, on the basis of gender. Both men and women are susceptible to discrimination and inequality, however, I am choosing to speak from my experience as a professional woman. Gender inequality in the workplace is a form of Institutional discrimination that primarily women face on a regular basis, in male-oriented industries or as a result of male-dominated leadership in an organization. The female gender bias often manifests through limiting promotional opportunities, restricting maternity leave, less pay in comparison to male counterparts, tolerance for inappropriate jokes, and retaliation to reported harassment. These behaviors and attitudes have significant negative impacts on self-perception, attitude, self-esteem, and over all mental health of women experiencing the discrimination. Stamarski & Hing discovered "workplace discrimination contributes to women's lower socio-economic status. Importantly, such discrimination against women largely can be attributed to HR policies and HR-related decision-making. Furthermore, when employees interact with organizational decision makers during HR practices, or when they are told the outcomes of HR-related decisions, they may experience personal discrimination in the form of sexist comments" (2015).

Over the course of my 10-year career, I have been publicly humiliated about my appearance in front of clients, talked to like a child, treated like a secretary instead of asking the actual secretary or receptionist to perform the task, and regarded as an object open for commentary. Older men in work environments have always talked to me like I'm stupid, incompetent, delicate and incapable of keeping up. Male counterparts have even correlated my work performance/output to how they think I am in the bedroom and made sexual comments about my clothes, hairstyle, and make up.

It's difficult focus on work when your appearance and disposition is under constant scrutiny and commentary, and I initially blamed myself. This reaction is not uncommon, women assuming the fault and emotional burden of gender biased men. Not knowing how to confront the sexist issues head-on, I decided to dress masculine, abolish lipstick and eyeliner, and put my hip-length hair in a plain bun. While working in male-dominated industries I wear stiff button up shirts, suspenders, slacks, and men's boots; in meetings I lower my voice an octave to be taken seriously and/or heard; I change my body language to be less feminine and more masculine (posture, hand placement, facial expressions). Sadly, through this process of "de-feminzation," I have discovered this is not a personal issue, and many women also face the same barriers and discriminatory attitudes every day.

In the context of under-representation of women in the workplace, many think, "that's just the way it is," when it can no longer be a normalized organizational standard. A report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 1 in 3 chief executives and a little over 1 in 6 women are software developers (2015). According to the United States Department of Labor, roughly 57% of women participate in the labor force and 70% of those women have children under 18 (2015). Within this labor force there is a current 21.7% wage gap between men and women, with the pressure still on women to take care of the house and children, or other care-giving responsibilities.

After experiencing enough degrading behavior, I was certain it was time for me to forge a path as a female leader, owner, and fierce defender of equality. As Victorio Consulting started to grow and gain more attention, it became an issue of personal importance for us to become a certified Female Owned Business. Together we have built a strong network of professional and chief executive women, and joined specific social networks to support ourselves and each other. We will change the face of business and eradicate sexism, and I am fortunate to have the resources and grit to create the opportunity to break away from patriarchal and historical norms regarding business, ownership, and the female gender.

It is up to organizations to design their culture to be intolerant to sexism and discrimination, and promote the positive climate of acceptance and gender equality. Stamarski & Hing address this in their article, Gender inequalities in the workplace: the effects of organizational structures, processes, practices, and decision makers' sexism, remarking that it all starts with leadership, strategy, HR policies and key positions in the organization (2015). They explore and define positive climates for diversity and acceptance, and negative ones that perpetuate gender inequalities and mistreatment. The authors explain the different types of sexism, benevolent (positive views of women, as long as they occupy traditionally feminine roles; beliefs characterize women as weak and needing protection, support, and adoration) and hostile (antipathy and negative stereotypes about women, such as beliefs that women are incompetent, overly emotional, and sexually manipulative; involves beliefs that men should be more powerful than women and fears that women will try to take power from men). Suggestions to reduce gender discrimination and bias according to their research include developing HR policies to standardize the process of employee evaluations and company wide diversity training.

Their observations of the link between sexual harassment and HR policies was personally disheartening, "a climate for sexual harassment depends on organizational members' perceptions of how strict the workplace's sexual harassment policy is, and how likely offenders are to be punished." A positive climate is supportive and empowering of all its members, and should include the notion of safety and trust that members will not intentionally do each other harm (mentally or physically).

References

Stamarski, C. S., & Son Hing, L. S. (2015). Gender inequalities in the workplace: the effects of organizational structures, processes, practices, and decision makers' sexism. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1400. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01400

United States Department of Labor Women's Bureau; https://www.dol.gov/wb/media/gender_wage_gap.pdf

United States Department of Labor; https://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/stats_data.htm

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