Do women need ‘fixing’?

The system is holding women back. What system you may be asking yourselves? The system that I am referring to is institutional bias, in other words, the ways in which particular institutions operate which result in certain social groups being advantaged and others being devalued or disadvantaged; in this case, we are talking about women being devalued or disadvantaged. Some of this bias has been since the middle of the last century when social norms, economic realities and women’s roles were vastly different to what they are today. Most women didn’t do paid work and instead were home makers and had responsibility for the care of the home and family. There are now so many women in the workplace that the systems that cause the bias must be revisited and redefined.

Despite what some people think and say, women do not experience lower levels of confidence due to their gender; they lack confidence to speak up and be heard because of the prevailing systems and processes that have existed for the last 100 years if not longer. This problem has been around for decades and it has stopped women from advancing to higher levels. The issue has been further magnified through the recent #MeToo campaign and the gender pay gap reporting requirements.

So, what is going on within these organisations that makes women fear speaking up? Despite the diversity and inclusion rhetoric, subtle stereotyping and unconscious bias still exists such as ‘women are the prime care givers’, or ‘women do not have the balls to speak up’. Bosses who are insensitive to work and family obligations (e.g. flexible working) cause endless issues as well as preconceived ideas of what women can and can’t achieve or deliver while at work.

Recent research by ‘RADA in Business’ found that women struggled the most in board meetings, meetings with senior management and in one-to-one meetings with their bosses. Why are these circumstances such an issue? It’s because the women are surrounded by men and some people in said organisations, feel that if the woman is ‘fixed’ i.e. becomes more masculine in her behaviour by just going for it, then it will get sorted. It won’t!  The women are doing fine as they are and what they need is some encouragement and support from the organisation to help them to develop and enhance self-assurance, gravitas and poise. Levels of confidence can also be developed through training, coaching and support systems such as networking. Most importantly, the systems need transforming so that women can function and operate in a way that allows them to have the confidence to challenge the norm and not feel intimidated by institutionally biased organisations.

Sophie Edmond