There has been considerable progress on gender equality over the past year. From the growing impetus of #MeToo and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) calling out harmful gender-role stereotyping in adverts to an increase in the uptake of shared parental leave (SPL).
However, progress remains slow in the world of business and media. In order to improve gender equality, it needs to be measured, monitored and reviewed frequently. In this #MeToo era, we need to become more aware that gender equality issues are intersectional with other discriminatory issues, such as institutional racism.
Shockingly, less than 1% of university professors in the UK are black – with few being female. Intersectionality as a framework helps us to better understand the lived experiences of those with multiple disadvantaged demographic characteristics.
My own research has shown that organisations continue to pay lip service to both gender and cultural diversity issues. This has also been recently documented in large Irish companies, whose boards tend to be, on average, white and male, with low disability and LGBT+ representation.
In my study of small- and medium-sized law firms in England and Wales, both male and female employees referred to ‘societal expectations’ as a reason why women take time off work to have children; practically overlooking the actual choice of women themselves. The subsequent absence from work of women on maternity leave resulted in significant career progression obstacles in the law firms. This reinforces the challenge women face in pursuing a professional career while confronting the perceptions of others and social norms regarding age and motherhood.
Gender equality in leadership is important to the make-up of an organisation, but also to wider society. As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we asked our alumna Jessica Cho, who is a senior manager at Deloitte, to reflect on her journey as a young professional:
“As a manager, dealing with and managing people at work is a skill I have developed over time. We know that dealing with people is not something you can decide on your own. Fortunately, over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to lead a team and develop this skill through real practice.
“So, how do you deal with the team members that have different behaviours and personalities during your daily work? I always think that the actions and performance of team members are a result of the actions or management style of the manager. We’ve all been in that position before, during the early stages of our career, so it is easier to make sense of our team’s rationale. Therefore, as managers we need to enable good psychological qualities in our team to help boost their performance.
“Embracing a work environment with diversity, inclusion and equality is a hot topic we have talked about in recent years. As a female professional, always remember to deal with your work and people around you with an open mind-set. Examine yourself regularly, whether you are qualified for the work or not. If not, proactively leverage the resources around you to help you become better.
“Recognising ourselves, exploring potential, speaking out, thinking simply, and then doing it; that’s how we can keep becoming better leaders and more inclusive at senior levels.”
It is wonderful news that International Women’s Day is recognised and celebrated but this is only the start. From both my professional and personal experience in research, teaching and everyday life, confidence is needed to push gender equality.
Confidence for female students to speak out in class, confidence for women to support each other in their work teams and not be resentful of each other’s achievements, confidence for women to challenge discriminatory behaviours and actions in the workplace and confidence for men to speak proudly and proactively act on their allyship; an allyship which is greatly appreciated and needed to achieve and sustain gender equality now and for the future.
Dr Juliet Kele is a research fellow in HRM. She is based in both the Department of Management (Organization, Work and Employment) and the Centre for Responsible Business at University of Birmingham. Juliet is researching equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace; with a key interest in intersectionality.