ALL OVER the world, more women are graduating from universities. A more educated female population translates into more gender diverse work environments. The economic reality for many families is that women, whether they choose to have children or not, need to work. There is no evidence that women have less aspirations than men to become senior business leaders, or that these aspirations are waning. Professional women are here to stay, and as they enter every type of workplace, it is imperative we become blind to gender.
Unlike the end of World War II, there is no longer the expectation that women will hand over their jobs for men. Women are becoming better educated and continuing to fulfil their career potential. The commitment of organisations and government to keeping women in the workforce is based on economic realities, including skill shortages in various industries. The economic importance of women participating in the workforce has been reiterated by UK’s Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who has publicly urged businesses to employ more women.
The participation of women in all aspects of society is on the rise. While still not representative of the population split, in the UK, women are becoming more visible in professional life, making up 22% of MPs; 22% of judges and 31% of local councillors. Whether you believe in them or not, quotas seem to be a popular approach to demonstrate a commitment to gender divers workplaces. By 2015, the UK wants its FTSE 100 companies to have women represent 25 per cent of their boards. The EU has proposed rules that will force larger listed companies to have women represent 40 per cent of their non-executive directors, with harsh penalties for breach. In Australia, the ASX introduced new guidelines requiring companies to establish and report progress against gender diversity policies and targets, in 2011.
Many roles are no longer gender specific. As we move towards a more knowledge-based economy, the only differences that remain prevalent and cause tension are perceptions and stereotypes about gender. If we take gender out of the equation and start looking at each other as people, we can concentrate on how we can develop synergies and greater returns.
So what can you do?
Learn — get to know yourself and your team based on identified strengths and challenges, rather than focussing on gender.
Listen — to the development needs and feedback your team is providing about how they define success, preferred work styles and what motivates them.
Leverage — use your learning to the advantage of your organisation by harnessing the talents and strengths identified. Work collaboratively to develop synergies based on how your individual team members work best.
Women and men work will continue to share offices, factories and shop floors. As our understanding and appreciation of the importance of gender diversity increases, we will continue to see more diverse workplaces. It is up to all of us to become blind to gender in the workplace. Business leaders must continue to support and act on their commitment to gender diversity at work. The bottom line is that both women and men need to work together for the greater good of us all, focussing on our strengths and synergies, rather than our gender.