By Nida Sahar
#BreakTheBias is the theme for International Women’s Day 2022. The rallying cry of the hashtag is accompanied by a clear message, and a pose for solidarity that would light social media feeds on fire.
Knowing that bias exists is a great start to deal with the issue. I’m glad to see conscious efforts taken to improve the situation. Here are some of the challenges we face, and the progress we’ve made.
Implicit bias – unconscious, multi-faceted, and multi-cultural
Implicit bias occurs unconsciously and helps people navigate their world. But it also proves to be one of the biggest hurdles. It is an amalgamation of the associations and generalisations influenced by the cultures we are exposed to, and our environment. As a Muslim lady with mixed ethnic roots from India, the Middle East, and South East Asia, I can attest that we will see greater diversity in the world marching hand-in-hand with globalisation. This puts into perspective the complexity of the challenges we must overcome.
I have seen the subtle and often unintentional decisions resulting from implicit bias that affect career options, and trajectories in the workplace, as well as ill-fitting expectations at home and in communities for women.
No one can be expected to be impartial. Being self-aware, taking a step back, and questioning what we would normally assume could open up impactful conversations.
COVID-19, the gender pay gap, and transparency
One of the obvious pain points that need to be addressed is the gender pay gap. A Pew Research Center report states that the pay gap between genders has maintained itself over the last 15 years. As the world finds its footing in a COVID-19 world, the pandemic has exacerbated the pay gap. A report stated the pre-pandemic rate of an average female US employee was 81 cents for every dollar the average male employee made. The pandemic has widened the gap to 76 cents for every dollar, and economists predict it could take more than 10 years to get back to pre-pandemic numbers.
Both organisations, and women need to take responsibility to address this issue.
Organisations need to adopt pay transparency. A survey cited that 58% of employees would consider switching to a company with pay transparency, and companies that adopt such a practice could close the gap and level the playing field.
Women can bridge the pay gap with the ask gap. In general, women ask for 6% less for their salaries, and their ideal starting salary averaged 92% from their male counterparts. With the ask gap, women tended not to ask for promotions till they feel adequate. A Hewlett Packard internal report found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet 60% of the qualifications, compared to women who tended to attempt only when they met 100% of them. This plateaus their experience and contributions. Inter-organisation mentoring and coaching can help with these issues. For my fellow ladies, do your homework, research the company and role you are seeking, and work on your negotiation skills.
Breadwinners and bread makers in the modern world
There has been a silver lining through the pandemic in how it accelerated certain movements. Hybrid working models were a catalyst that challenged the antiquated notion of men as breadwinners and women as bread makers. Gender Equity Starts in the Home was an article aptly named and published by HBR, and explores how working from home helped even the workload for household chores and taking care of the children between men and women.
This development improved the job satisfaction and productivity of women, and as it becomes a norm, it would eliminate stigmas of work-life balance and gender roles in taking care of a family.
Progressive steps need to come from organisations and their people
The hiring push for chief diversity and inclusion officers has jumped from 84% in 2020, to 111% in 2021. This shows the commitment that organisations have to make positive change a priority.
For some organisations that are on board with this change, some adjustments can be taken too far. I’ve personally seen a discrepancy in the tasks assigned to female members of a team compared to their male colleagues with a similar role. Teams that do this deny their women a chance to grow, and if left unchecked, squanders their human capital, and would inadvertently perpetuate the cycle of inequality in the workplace.
Businesses serious about making positive change should work together with organisations that have the tools and expertise to ensure the integration for diversity and inclusion in the workplace is smooth. Groups like AnitaB.org have been doing a fantastic job. Lean In has programs, initiatives, and support groups, while global movements such as HeForShe have gained massive traction and support for their work.
In an early stage startup context, managing bias is both an easy and difficult piece. It comes from the value of the founders. While pay gaps and implicit bias is something that can be taken care of easily. Creating a diverse environment and creating policies is not something one would focus on. However, as founders, its in best interest to create a value system in an organisation that can fuel the growth.
Role models, and the way forward
We have seen women as titans of industry who have helped pave the way and open our eyes to the possibilities. Women such as Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo have spoken about the deep talent pool that women represent if organisations nurture and invest in them. Or Falguni Nayar, who founded Nykaa just before turning 50. The e-commerce company became the first Indian unicorn startup headed by a woman in 2020.
There is still much work to be done, breaking the bias in Investments in one such topic. Women led founders received just 2.3% of VC funding. There is a push today to have more Women as VCs. Breaking the bias is the theme for International Women’s Day 2022, and a spark borne through awareness and sensitivity. By HeForShe’s estimates, we are taking the first steps on a 257-year journey towards gender equality in the workplace, and it will take continued action and vigilance to truly get there.