We don’t live in a gender equal society.
Men are judged based on their potential; women are judged based on their past performance. Even in 2020, society and workplaces still use two different scales to evaluate men and women.
Research shows that women must prove that they can succeed in a role before they are promoted into it, whereas men may be promoted on their perceived potential. The consequence is men often move up into management positions faster than women. This means we all need to highlight women’s achievement’s, so that their past performance is recognised, while we address the systemic gender barrier at a broader level.
A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, featured two similarly structured experiments, both conducted online via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
One featured 199 participants, who were told that a fictitious technology company was looking for a director of financial affairs. They then looked at four resumes. Two of them (one for a man, and one for a woman) highlighted the applicant’s past successes, while the other two emphasized his or her potential. These were accompanied by short testimonials, which also focused on either impressive past performance or inherent capabilities.
Participants then noted, using a one-to-nine scale, whether they would hire each candidate, and whether they thought he or she “would be a good appointment.” They also predicted how well each would do in their careers.
The researchers discovered a consistent pattern. “When participants ranked male candidates, there was a preference for potential,” they continued, “whereas leadership potential was overlooked when they ranked female candidates.” The future capability of female leaders was therefore ignored.
“Male candidates that demonstrated higher potential were perceived to have a more impressive resume and were expected to perform better in the future than male candidates who demonstrated higher performance,” the researchers report. The opposite was true for female candidates.
The result is women are held to higher standards in the selection process than their male counterparts. This is unconscious bias in action. So, even when female candidates’ past performance matches that of their male competitors, “women would be held to higher standards in the selection process, because their leadership potential would be less likely to be recognised than men’s.”
By not fully recognising leadership potential in female candidates, organisations are inhibiting the prospects of half of their talent.
Of course, there are systemic changes required to move the needle to see more women represented in leadership, but this month, we are focussing on what we can all do, personally, as individuals to help create change amongst our industry.
One of the most powerful things you can do, is champion women’s success. A really simple way is to start by acknowledging what a good job you sincerely believe they’re doing. Be vocal about it; don’t just tell the person who has done a great job, let you colleagues and leaders know. Publicly acknowledge them in a team meeting or give them a shout out on LinkedIn.
An extension of this is providing a platform for everyone to be heard. Ensure all team members are given the opportunity to voice their views in team meeting. Make it a meeting rule that every team member contributes and if they don’t, ask for their thoughts and ideas, then give credit where credit is due.
A common source of dissatisfaction for women in the workplace is where they are not credited for their performance (and we have just read about the importance of past performance for women in getting promotions). An example we all would have witnessed is a woman sharing an idea in a meeting and no one reacts to it. Less than 30 seconds later, a man shares the exact same idea, and people start raving about it. If this happens in a meeting you are involved in, call it out in a non-confrontational manner to give credit where credit is due It can be something as simple as any of the below:
- “It seems that John, you agree with Mary’s idea, let me expand that by …”
- “When Mary suggested that, I thought it was a great concept, I am so glad you agree, what are the next steps?”
- “Thanks John for bringing that idea up again.
You can also Champion Women’s Success by giving them the opportunity to be successful via stretch assignments. This allows women to build their portfolio of experience, so if they are being measured on past performance (by those not reading this article or those not aware of their unconscious bias) they have more to be measured by.
Finally, another powerful way to highlight women’s’ success and achievements is to promote them as role models and share their journeys. Studies show that role models are an incredibly effective way to empower and encourage women and drive change of belief in leaders of considering female potential. The role model effect is based on the concept ‘seeing is believing’, and this works at multiple levels:
- Women get inspired
- Men see women can do it
- Peers and parents see different possibilities
As an industry, we need to unite, show our support and celebrate the achievements of women in our industry.
There is much work to be done to change the systemic barriers women in the workplace face, but as individuals, we can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.
How to be a Champion- Highlight Women’s Achievements by:
- Be vocal about women’s achievements
- Give everyone a voice
- Give credit to the right person
- Provide stretch assignments to women
- Promote role models