“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” – Shirley Chisholm
We’ve all heard the catch phrases “glass ceiling,” or “it’s a man’s world.” It’s no secret that men still make more than women on average, even for the same roles, and that female executives and business owners are still in short supply as compared to their male counterparts. Only around 8% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women.
On the other hand, women in the country and across the globe are making huge strides and achieving more than they ever have. In Canada, women have equal rights, access to education, and hold 36% of leadership roles, which is above the global average of 31%, according to Grant Thornton.
The struggle to find an equilibrium is certainly not a battle that has already been won. But does it need to be a battle at all? What can women do to keep moving things in the right direction? Will we ever live in a world where gender really isn’t a factor at all when it comes to professional success?
This is an opinion piece, and the key thing to remember is that regardless of gender, everyone’s experience is unique. There’s no simple answer or explanation and there are many valid approaches and philosophies when it comes to finding balance and harmony. But bear with us, as we share some musings from our COO, Alison Hernández, on some efforts that women can make to change the dialogue…
No More Us vs. Them
Consider the words we use when envisioning the perfect working world: balance, equity, harmony, equal opportunity. These words bring to mind a sense of collaboration and fairness. The first step is to do away with an “us vs. them” rhetoric when it comes to women vs. men in the workplace. As competent, confident women, we cannot think of our male professional counterparts as an adversary! A man does not have to fail in order for a woman to succeed. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Studies have shown that organizations with a diversity of experiences and worldviews on their team perform better, achieve more, and have more staying power. “Diverse firms’ productivity is 1.32 times higher than firms lacking diversity”(Network for Business Sustainability) It is not an overnight process, but women will need to have the courage of conviction that merit alone is enough.
Asking for a seat at the table because women are underrepresented is a start, but better yet, let’s ask for a seat at the table because we are the most qualified person to fill that seat. Or even better, let’s strive for professional excellence and demonstrate results so impressive that we are asked to fill that seat!
That sounds great. But what about the systemic sexism and underlying attitudes that prevent those in power from seeing women as leaders, movers and shakers? There are a host of stumbling blocks; sometimes men in the workplace feel their job is threatened when women come to the table. Or perhaps there isn’t a lot of precedent for women succeeding in your traditional male-dominated industry, such as software development, construction or finance. Or perhaps you just can’t compete in the old boys’ club because women aren’t invited to the rounds of golf or the happy hour sessions where nepotism prevails.
Do it for Yourself
Luckily, women have a secret weapon and it is already working all over the world, and it is the female entrepreneur. We are blessed to live in a country where women are free to start their own business. Imagine if all of the women who were qualified for but denied that seat at the table made their own table? Men and women alike want to work for a company where they will be valued, be able to make a meaningful contribution, and earn a living to support their families. What if women were the ones offering those opportunities instead of competing for them?
Of course, entrepreneurship is hard. It isn’t for everyone. But there are bold and brilliant women all around us who’ve embraced the challenge. As women, if we make an effort to create the type of workplace we want to see in this world, we are doing the absolute best thing we can for women’s efforts toward equity in the workplace.
If you are a woman entrepreneur, or even a woman with an awesome business idea, run with it! Hire based on merit. Invite both men and women to join your team, and promote based on contribution and results instead of favoritism or stereotypes. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, a few of the common stereotypes were explored, such as; “Women negotiate poorly, lack confidence, are too risk-averse, apologize too much or don’t put in the requisite hours at work because they value family more than their careers.” Show the world what it means to run an equal opportunity workplace by throwing gender assumptions out the window.
If you are a woman and entrepreneurship isn’t for you, consider the ways you can support women-owned businesses. Looking for a new place to shine? Apply to women-owned businesses. Work in supply chain? Consider women-owned businesses when procuring new suppliers. Work in sales? Ensure you are prospecting women-owned businesses as your next clients. As a certified woman-owned company, Staff Shop invites you to reach out to us. As a diverse supplier, we strive to support other diverse businesses and people to create a more equitable workplace.
When women are in a position to offer men a seat at their table, and that seat allows them to grow, succeed and build the life they want, the stigma disappears. Sure, it’s the high road. No, it isn’t easy. But nothing worth having ever is. Let’s stop asking for a seat at the table and build our own table.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.” – Gloria Steinem