Back in the 1970s, progressive companies addressed the challenge of women's advancement issues with many tools including multi-day workshops that directly surfaced and addressed gender-based stereotypes. Does that surprise you? It probably does because since then, companies avoid this topic like the plague. This in spite of the fact that studies continue to point to barriers created by gender-based expectations and assumptions.
For example, McKinsey the global consulting firm has reported that:
“Of all the forces that hold women back, however, none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs. While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women still face the pernicious force of mindsets that limit opportunity…In anticipation of the day when companies once again are ready to take action on the fact that mindsets drive talent development decisions and actions, we've been tracking over 15 gender-based mindsets, how they influence the actions of people managers and actions managers can take to counter their "pernicious force". A small number of our clients in the U.S. have created opportunities to explore these dynamics.
Managers — male and female — continue to take viable female candidates out of the running, often on the assumption that the woman can’t handle certain jobs and also discharge family obligations.”
When the issue of quotas for board positions was all over the European press, we predicted that the appetite for tackling this dynamic would grow in Europe. Many countries have framed the issue of women's advancement more broadly as an issue of gender equality. What excites me about this is that we've always held that the absence of women at the top is a result of 3 factors:
- Women's skills, knowledge and attitudes about themselves and men.
- Men's skills, knowledge and attitudes about themselves and women.
- Formal and informal policies and practices of organizations.