Gender equality in the workplace is no rocket science

Kjersti Løken Stavrum
Kjersti Løken Stavrum

There are seven ways forward for any organisation interested in improving gender equality in the workplace and a company’s competitive edge.

The competitive edge will improve simply through the fact that when clever people are allowed to develop without being restricted by for instance outdated tribalism (see point 4 for further explanation) ideas willl prosper and innovation can bring companies forward.

Chief Editor Kjersti Løken Stavrum of A-Magasinet, a major Norwegian weekly, suggests seven ways forward for any organisation interested in challenging career paths held by women and men. Her seven headlines was the baseline for her speech on a seminar about strategies for diversity in companies arranged by the consultancy Great Place to Work Norway in November 2007 in Oslo. I’ve stolen her headlines with pride and elaborated on the explanations. Comments are welcome.

1. Don’t expect a female executive to demonstrate a specifically female leadership style

It is old fashioned to expect a female leader to enter the corporate scene with her a whole specific kind of leadership style. Women are individuals just as men are. Linking a leader’s gender to his or her leadership style is reducing a person’s actions to their sex. That’s pretty close to sexism. You don’t want to be a part of that. You’d like to attract any best talent independently of their sex. Which leads us to the second point:

2. Women are first and foremost individuals – not women

We tend to attach the ‘gender’ or ‘specific’ label to women and the ‘norm’ label to men. Even though a lot of people view men as the standard for all comparison, the individual differences within the sex tend to span a greater variety than the difference between men and women. Thus, you’d like to spot each individal’s unique contribution as clever individuals and don’t get caught up in their gender. Nevertheless, there are specific gender differences playing a part in corporate life:

3. Women tend to have a different experiential background than men

Boys and girls are mostly brought up differently by their parent. Social activitites, spare time preferences and society’s expectations tend to differ towards boys and girls. One example may help illustrate this point: The gender divide in vocational training as well as within academic training are very much divided by gender. Raise a hand everyone who knows more female carpenters than male ones. There are globally more female nurses than male ones, as well as civil engineers (mostly men). So you’d like to bring in different people in your company who can trigger some lush innovative capabilities. Suddenly you may also find yourself having more intriguing meetings and lunches.

4. Modern organisations abolish outdated ‘tribalism’

Every company brings forward a corporate culture. Managing a modern organisation of, say knowledge workers, you’d like to make sure that the smart and productive people stick around. You’ll have to make sure that there is no destructive corporate culture alienating clever people with different ideas than the established ones.

5. Diversity is about developing your listening skills and training your vision

Learning to listen properly to what another person has on her mind can truly be challenging. However, that’s what diversity skills are much about. Listen, listen, open your ears. At the same time you have to be aware that your eyes often tricks you into linking previously established patterns of understanding, thus serving as obstacles for paving way for new interpretations. Therefore, be sure to pay more attention to your ears and less to your eyes.

6. Diversity paves the way for career paths visible to everyone

Transparency about what makes people climb the career ladder is normally hard to practice. It requires a lot of courage to be frank about why one person is promoted instead of others. Nonetheless it should be the only way forward in order to make visible to the talented crowd of people working for you what kind of behaviour is rewarded.

7. Practicing the diversity ethos brings forward reason

When an organisation starts to actually incorporate diversity practices as something natural and logical change will enter. Even more than change, people will find it sensible to reason why change is necessary, why difference make sense at that we all grow through being challenged on our assumptions.

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Gender equality in the workplace is no rocket science

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