27 September 2023

All in this together: Why the rise of women doesn’t mean the fall of men

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Nicole Smartt* says cultural conversations need to change about what makes an effective leader, power structures and policies that will protect and benefit women.

One of the most pervasive false dichotomies in the modern world is the idea that for women to have power — politically, personally or in the workplace — men must lose power.

This line of thinking pits women against men and vice versa, and tidily restricts any other way of seeing the issue.

But with the maturing of the #MeToo movement, cultural conversations are evolving to talk openly about power structures and policies that protect and benefit women, often in the workplace.

Decades of work have gone into the systemic and cultural changes we have already achieved, but there is still a wage gap, especially if you are a non-white woman.

Expectations are loosening for what a woman’s life trajectory looks like.

Young women still face the contradiction that if they stay home with their young children, they are “giving up” on their career aspirations, or they are either lauded or criticised for waiting in favour of cementing their careers.

There is a distinct lag between equal opportunity laws being passed and inherent biases changing: many of us still picture a male when we picture a leader even though we genuinely believe a woman is perfectly capable of performing the same job.

But the climate we find ourselves in now presents an immense opportunity: we can redefine what it means to be an effective leader, we can redefine what “vulnerability” means, and we can do an excellent job of growing businesses, too.

Here are some steps we can take to evolve business for the greater good.

Promote women

There are numbers to back this up: a 2016 global study conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics set out to determine whether there is a correlation between women in corporate leadership positions and profitability, and the answer is yes.

Whether this rise in profit is due more to adjustments in non-discrimination or diversity in skill representation and the inherent value of diverse views, the results are clear.

A good rule of thumb for selecting candidates is to do gender reversal exercises.

Take any answer to any question given by any candidate, and then picture that answer as if it had been delivered by the opposite gender.

You may discover your own inherent gender biases, but that’s good.

Once you can see it, you can change it and make better decisions based on real data, as opposed to accidental bias.

It’s not enough to raise your voice about how unfair our current system is.

If you’re in a position of power and you can promote women, get clear on why that’s the right thing to do from a practical business perspective, and then promote women.

It is your responsibility.

Inspect institutional bias

Systems that arbitrarily discriminate against one or more groups stay in place in part because the mechanisms that uphold those systems are largely invisible to us.

If you grew up next to a train station, you know that you often don’t register the sound of a passing train.

Your brain normalised train sounds based on your proximity and how much you needed to pay attention to it for your own safety or daily routine.

The same happened with the language that we traditionally use to define the kind of leaders we consider best.

We use words like “decisive” and “calculating” as masculine words and we want our leaders to embody these terms.

Likewise, we see the word “nurturing” and think feminine; we may or may not rank that term as less desirable in a leadership role, but we consider it a feminine trait automatically.

The less we understand the impact of gender-biased terminology, the less likely we are to go through our corporate job descriptions to see how our language stacks up.

If we move away from gendered thinking and instead imagine a role being inhabited by a capable, trustworthy, pleasant human person, we’re doing better service to our company and the world, simultaneously.

This isn’t either–or

The rise of women doesn’t mean the fall of men.

The rise of women means the boot marked “institutionalised sexism” is being lifted from women’s necks.

It does not imply putting that boot on to men’s necks.

It’s time to let that dynamic go and embrace a better future.

* Nicole Smartt is an author and co-owner of Star Staffing.

This article first appeared at www.forbes.com.

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