Your Values May Not Be Gender-Neutral. Here's Why.

Are Your Values Gender-Neutral?

The subject of gender-balance and disparities between men and women in corporate leadership roles, pay inequity and promotion opportunities (just to name a few) have been getting a lot of attention. While there are reasons for the numbers often appearing skewed in favor of men, there is no denying things are unbalanced, especially in the technology industry. 

Today, women are earning more college degrees than men, both bachelor’s and advanced degrees, but few women with MBAs are likely to enter tech-intensive industries; and 53 percent of those who do, switch industries (compared with 31 percent for men), according to a study by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization focused on expanding opportunities for women.

Then there is the gender pay gap.  While there is an abundance of research and statistics that illustrate the inequity, there is also some research that says not so fast.  Either way, perhaps it is most important to know women occupy 56% of the lowest paying 20% of all jobs.  They only occupy 29% of the 20 highest paying occupations. 

For all the negative news, studies continue to find major advantages for companies that have greater levels of gender-balance.  Here are few:

  • Catalyst found, in a multi-year study of 353 companies on the F500, that those with the highest representation of women had a 35% return on equity and a 34% higher total return to shareholders than those with fewer women.
  • Financial firm Credit Suisse found similar results in a multi-year study they conducted.
  • McKinsey and Co.’s numbers were more impressive finding companies with more women in top leadership positions having 55% higher earnings.

Cause and effect?  No one is saying that but if you believe where there’s smoke, there’s fire- the research indicates an abundance of smoke.

Despite consistently finding those major positive benefits, it is quite stunning companies don’t do more to hire more women to realize similar results and competitive advantages.  It is exactly that thought that caused former lawyer, writer and women’s advocate, Rachel Sklar to sum it up like this, "If you DON'T have diversity around your boardroom table, then what is wrong with you? What kind of ace business person identifies a major factor to improve the bottom line and then just ignores it?"

If all the research is to believed and companies with more women on their boards and throughout all levels of companies outperform those that don’t, then why aren’t more women hired and promoted at all levels, especially senior leadership? 

A big reason may be the values we hold and how all of us, especially men, view women in the workforce.

First, statistically, men must be a major part of this problem.  Men outnumber women in management roles which means men are primarily the ones making decisions about hiring, advancement and promotions.  If women aren’t being given the same opportunities as men for advancement and leadership, that also means less of the things all of us humans crave (recognition, feeling valued, being appreciated, a chance to grow and learn, etc.). The statistics around women leaving tech shouldn’t shock any of us either (41% of women leave tech after just 10 years of work compared to only 17% of men). 

The solution for more work equity might start with something as simple as our own personal values.  The suggestion that better gender-balance numbers could start with all of us examining our personal values as well as how we think about our female peers and how we value women in general in the business world almost seems too easy. 

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If science tells us that men and women are equally smart and equally capable (and it does), then it comes down to a simple decision, a decision about who is best for the role.  That decision starts with our values and beliefs- values that may be steeped in bias and stereotype.  Those values and beliefs may directly lead to much of the inequity between men and women in achieving leadership roles. 

Another issue is human nature.  We want to surround ourselves with people that are like us; who think like us and who we believe can relate to us- that is another element that can contribute significantly to the unequal numbers of men and women in these critical leadership roles.  So, some of this starts with human nature.  No wonder this is such a difficult problem to tackle.

While the problem may be difficult to solve, one starting point is relatively easy.  Everyone, men and women (because women have bias against women too), need to examine their values. 

Start with your own values- individually and organizationally

The understanding that men and women can achieve far more working together, literally and literally, shouldbe enough for an organization to want to do better in the area of gender-balance.  As individuals, being more aware of the personal values or beliefs that may not serve us or our organizations well is a good starting point.

Examine your staff and hiring practices.

If it looks like there is a problem, there probably is.  Start asking questions like- how many women did we get to interview, why didn’t a woman get promoted, did we even have a woman we could promote, etc.  If you don’t like your answers, then figure out solutions-are your recruiters asked to try to find qualified women, are your job posts written in a way that speaks to women, does your company promote itself and your inclusive culture to the right audience or in the right places, etc.  If you don’t have any women you feel you could promote then perhaps your talent bench isn’t deep enough or your training and talent develop programs need work.   

Finally, if you have women leaving your company, try find out why.  You need to ask:  why did you leave, what could we have done better, did you feel like you were treated fairly as a woman?  Did you feel you were valued as an employee?  You may not like the answers but you will have a starting point by which you can make changes and measure improvement.