By Julie T. Katzman*
A little experiment carried out by two coworkers in Philadelphia went viral and made headlines across the world. For two weeks, Martin R. Schneider, an American writer, switched emails with his female colleague, Nicole Pieri. Having his emails signed by a woman’s name introduced him to a very different reality. His every suggestion began to be questioned. Clients were dismissive, rude and patronizing. One even asked him if he was single. Nicole, on the other hand, ended up having “the most productive week” of her career. His conclusion? “This f**** sucks”. Her answer? “Welcome to the club.” A place where women must strive to be treated equally.
This story is just one example of gender bias in the workplace, a reality that women across the world face at many levels, daily. When it comes to women occupying leadership positions, the stakes are even higher, and Latin America and the Caribbean maybe is no exception. According to a report from the International Labour Organization, out of 14,412 companies in the region, only 21.4% have a woman in high ranking positions. In the public sector, although over 50% of government employees are women, only 20% hold leadership positions.
Evidence increasingly shows the benefits of diversity, particularly gender diversity, in corporate performance. It doesn’t matter what measure you use —stock price, profitability, return on equity, decreased risk of bankruptcy— if a board or senior management has 30% or more women, the company’s performance is better. In the public sector, when more women are decision makers it affects the assignment of resources and legislative priorities towards those that are more family focused and concern women’s priorities. I could continue to cite numerous statistics, gaps, and programs to prove how important it is to have women in leadership. Instead, let me share some ideas on how to manage some of the pitfalls that affect women on their way up.
1. “She’s Too Bossy” and the other words that begin with “B”
There is no question that stereotypes and behavioral norms affect a woman’s journey in the workplace. Being successful requires that you to know this, own it, and find ways to make it work for you. Take warmth and strength —two traits that authors John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut say need to be in equilibrium to be admired. But the going in assumption of most colleagues or managers is that a woman will be warm. When she comes across as strong, here comes the “B” word again. So, what to do? Double up on warm so you can project strong and competent but don’t shock people. And there are many ways to do that. Use humor, compliment people (sincerely), use first names, share stories and experiences. Nothing you wouldn’t do normally but done a bit more consciously.
2. Networking matters
An article a few years ago shared that the most successful Fortune 500 CEOs spend 57% of their time building their networks. Women typically under-invest in networking – including me. Sure, we stay late to get the work done but all too often, we pass on the cocktails or coffee with clients, customers or co-workers. Wrong! Networks are critical. A recent poll showed that performance is only 10% of why someone gets promoted. Image is 30% and exposure is 60%. So, promotion is about who knows you (exposure), what they know about you, and what they say about you (image and performance). So, get out there and get networking — with a diverse group of people who are as motivated as you are.
3. “You’re going to miss dinner again?”
Let’s assume you’re ambitious. Then that means you’re going to need a partner who respects that, who believes in that, and who will co-invest in your success. Whether that means putting your career first some of the time or shouldering his/her portion of child-rearing and household responsibilities. And you might want to look for a partner whose mother worked. First of all, based on large studies in the U.S. and worldwide, the children of working moms have better outcomes – higher salaries, more likely to be employed and more likely to be supervisors. But also more likely to support their working spouses.
It is without a doubt that we need better policies to help advance the careers of women –childcare, eldercare, flexible work arrangements, gender-sensitive promotion and equal pay reviews, and others. Because advancing the careers of women is a win-win proposition for society. We know that economies grow faster, companies perform better, and innovation flourishes when there is more diversity, when more women are involved. And that is what Latin America and the Caribbean needs: a diversity of women and men working as equals in governments, companies, and civil society organizations to ignite growth, increase equity and improve lives. Until then, I hope these suggestions might make your path easier and successful.
If your purpose is to improve lives and you are looking for a new challenge, we invite you to visit the following link.
Julie T. Katzman, a U.S. citizen, is the Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of the Inter-American Development Bank. Ms. Katzman is responsible for managing the overall operations of the IDB.