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The authority on gender empowerment in business for nearly 20 years.

Invisible barriers for women in the workplace

Written by Staff Writer

April 16, 2024

By Chris Ogden, CEO of RubiBlue


Lead by example, lead through actions

The term ‘ally’ has shifted in meaning over the years but has never been more important for the business than it is today. Companies still have dire diversity and inclusion statistics and women are still rarely in the CEO seat, rarely given roles within which they could shine. Being an ally for women in business requires more than just a commitment to promoting equality and creating a supportive environment, it means men need to shift how they respond to inequality and expectations within the workplace.

The first step down the road is education. The dialogue most common to business is that women have every opportunity to achieve the same career goals as men. The truth is, that this is only the reality in a few, rare companies. Most women hit unexpected bias and glass ceiling limitations on a daily basis. These invisible barriers were unpacked in a report by the LSE Business Review which looked at how second-generation bias remains a challenge. This comes from cultural assumptions about women that put them at a disadvantage, like offering a man a job overseas instead of a woman because he doesn’t have children. This type of bias often isn’t recognised by both men and women and is a subtle, difficult to manage, challenge that isn’t as overt as the first-generation biases that everyone knows all too well.

The second is to introduce more role models for women. To have more women in senior positions that other women can identify with and seek to emulate. Women are not in as many leadership positions as men even though they are just as qualified and just as passionate about career growth and progression. To shift this dynamic, companies have to actively place women in positions of power that aren’t won by being like men, but by their skills and unique capabilities.

Two women in the workplace overcoming barriers

It’s important for men to understand that a woman’s ability to be more empathetic to others is vital in the workplace, especially now. There’s a lot of research into how women leaders and workplaces with diversity are more successful and connected with improved collaboration and well-being. As workers move into the second year semi-post-pandemic, stress and anxiety levels are at record highs, made worse by economic complexity and ongoing uncertainty.

From divorce to single parenting to severe anxiety, to pregnancy and loss and financial difficulty – people are struggling and leadership is key to ensuring they can cope. And what women bring to this table is the ability to listen and care – they also have world-class organisational skills that benefit every part of the business.

How men can change? Instead of the usual comments about emotional or empathic, look rather to how these softer skills are powerful allies in helping the business come together and ensuring that talent is nurtured and retained. To stop stereotyping women – this may be something everyone is guilty of to a degree, but there is a very real need to stop seeing the value of a woman in her looks. 

Leadership should be seen as taking the time to listen and learn from people across all ages, genders, and cultures within the business and to use the insights gleaned to improve the business as a whole.

Moving ahead, it’s also important to teach leadership to everyone. To create tools and workshops that teach every person in the business how to be a better leader and to deal with conflict in the workplace. Regardless of gender, people don’t know how to handle many of these situations so, leadership through training is key. And this means everyone – not just the select few who may be able to move overseas or down the coast to do a job. Let the women decide, don’t decide for them.

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