What does it mean being a woman today in business? Based on my experience, I see many different pictures: some of them correspond to the stereotype, some others luckily not.
The data tell us about a big waste of intelligence, skills and resources for our country. We see them at school, and we all know the most brilliant results of graduate women. Then, at some point, they seem to disappear. Swallowed by the work-life balance challenges, by the more or less explicit discriminations, and by some segregation mechanisms that push them to some specific jobs, or that keep them from upper levels. The well known “glass ceiling”: you do not see it, but when you start to grow up professionally you suddenly hit it. And you realize that you are not allowed to go up.
Some women have managed to beat stereotypes. They have been successful in male environments, they have reached the upper levels of their organizations, they have influenced the contexts where they live, they have lived the life they chose.
How to do it
Not do it on your own.
The social scientist Rosabeth Moss Kanter described in the 1970s the so-called “Tokenism” mechanism. The only woman in a male board, in order to survive and not to be excluded, is often pushed to adequate herself to the male dominant culture. Here you can find the roots of the popular myth of “the horrible female boss, more masculine than men”. In order to change organizational culture, it is important being many: we should create a network, experiment new practices, underline the change’s advantages to all, men and women.
Raise your awareness.
Stereotypes are powerful because they are unconscious, invisible. When they are unveiled, they can be analysed, discussed and doubted. We all have stereotypes, no matter how enlightened we perceive ourselves to be. What are yours? And what about people that surround you? How those stereotypes are born? How they hinder your professional growth and your life?
Work on your private life.
Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, often says that her husband was her most important professional partner. It could be very hard to focus on your professional life if you are at the same time the only one who takes care of your family… and a lot of men would be very happy to take care of their family without suffering prejudices.
Carefully observe how the “Double Standard” mechanism works in your life.
Research show how the same behaviour (i.e. say something firmly) is evaluated differently if it is exhibited by a man (“he is a natural boss”; “that is a guy with balls!”) or by a woman (“she is bossy”; “what a pain in the ass!”). How do you see yourself and your female colleagues?
Remember that gender is just one of the possible differences.
There are many others, that intersect with it, that we have to listen to. A really inclusive organizational culture includes every difference. It is a place where everyone feels at home.
In order to contribute to building that place, The Learning Factory has decided to launch the “TLF Women Project”. We hope to support, with the skills and experience we owe, women and men who want to design more inclusive organizational environments and more authentic lives.
“I am rooted, but I flow” (Virginia Woolf)