For better or worse, gender stereotypes are prevalent throughout our culture today, extending all the way from homelife to the workplace, and everywhere in between. While some stereotypes may have positive connotations, many others tend to be more negative and limit a person’s full potential. The good news is that there’s one common theme occurring in today’s society, especially at work, when it comes to gender stereotyping, and that is this: Women in the workplace are changing the dialogue and positively altering historically limiting gender stereotypes in a way that brings gender equality to a more even-level playing field.
Before we dive into how women are becoming catalysts for change in the workplace, let’s take a look at some typical gender stereotypes. Below are a few examples of stereotypes and preconceived roles that are arbitrarily assigned, determined and limited by gender, which many of us are all too familiar with:
- In general, men are viewed as (or expected to be) assertive, independent, confident, competitive, forceful, dominant and tough
- Men are traditionally seen as the decision makers at home and the “head of the household”
- Men hold administrative positions and have more heavy duty jobs such as plumbers, electricians and construction workers
- Men tend to not have jobs such as social workers or elementary school teachers (where caretaking is involved)
- In general, women are viewed as (or expected to be) compassionate, sensitive, expressive, supportive, affectionate, kind and emotional
- Women are usually behind the scenes and are the ones that hold everything together
- Women have always been viewed in the traditional viewpoint of what role she should play (housewife, caretaker)
- Women have positions that support the administrator (secretaries, assistants)
- Women usually go into the fields that require doing social good (social worker, teachers, nurses)
Stereotypes like the ones listed, can have a very real impact on women in the workplace and the progress towards equality across genders. One significant hindrance is what we refer to as a “pipeline problem” and the role of (or lack there of) women in leadership positions. In fact, it’s estimated that “women make up 46% of the entry-level group—but only a handful (if any) make it to the C-Suite” (Wall Street Journal).
The interesting thing about this statistic (and many others like it) is that studies show that when women do lead, they AND their companies thrive. For example, the New York Times reported that “when more women lead, performance improves. Startups led by women are more likely to succeed; innovative firms with more women in top management are more profitable; and companies with more gender diversity have more revenue, customers, market share and profits.”
Thankfully, statistics like this are now being met with a renewed and supercharged energy within women who are catalyzing change, and #MeToo is turning fractured glass ceilings into shattered debris on the boardroom floor. To further demonstrate, below are a few examples of ways women are truly changing their role in the workplace.
How Women in the Workplace are Becoming Catalysts for Change
- Owning Their Value and Asking for More: Here’s an important tip to remember for all employees—both men and women—no one is going to offer you more without being asked. Traditionally, and based on historic stereotyping, women have been less assertive when seeking raises and promotions. But, that’s slowly changing. Women are increasingly closing the pay gap and thinking bigger. And employers are taking notice, and stepping up in the process, with companies like Starbucks, Intel and Boston Scientific analyzing and publicly releasing their gender pay information (Glassdoor).
- Embracing Ambition and Pursuing Power: Women are working hard to find ways to continue climbing the corporate ladder, while maintaining balance. From supportive employers who offer family-friendly work schedules (yes, we know “family-friendly” is stereotypically a female focused term , but this bias still exists, so it’s important to acknowledge) to a changing corporate workplace environment (thanks to social awareness campaigns like Lean In and #MeToo), women are more than ever seeking and embracing leadership positions—a trend that we hope and predict continues.
- Lifting as They Climb: While the traditional workplace has been a place where women were prone to bully each other, especially when they saw another woman as a threat (think Mean Girls meets the real world), this status quo is changing. Today, with encouragement from initiatives like the launch of “Together We Can” via Lean In, women are making the conscious effort to better support and encourage one another.
- Accepts the Risk of Failing: From the fear that failure is permanent to the pressure that women feel that they need to “have it all together” at all times, women are sometimes their own worst enemy. However, this is another dynamic that is shifting as women are realizing more and more that the “most important factor in determining whether you will succeed isn’t your gender, it’s you” and that having the courage to try is more important than failing or succeeding (Huffington Post).
While women are working to be the change-makers, it’s important that employers continue to help break the traditional gender barriers. To do this, and in order “to motivate women at work, we need to be explicit about our disapproval of the leadership imbalance as well as our support for female leaders” (New York Times).
How Men in the Workplace are Becoming Catalysts for Change
Like anything that involves change, in order to be successful, all parties need to be engaged and empowered. That’s why, beyond the women and employers who are continuously breaking gender barriers, it’s important to recognize how men can be (and many already are) active participants in this shift in the workplace. If you’re looking for ideas on how men can better empower women in the workplace, check out some suggestions below:
- Support: From mentoring relationships to encouraging positive collaboration, teams that are represented by both genders, who work well together, have the potential to perform better and drive positive results for an organization. In fact, according to the Harvard Kennedy School, “Business teams with an equal number of women and men perform better in terms of sales and profits, than do male-dominated teams.”
- Speak Up: Do you notice that a woman is being discriminated against? Is she being subjected to a certain bias behind closed doors? If yes, avoid falling into a bystander role. Instead, speak up and say something. While this may seem like the most straightforward approach, it can arguably be the most difficult, yet most impactful action.
- Rethink Assignments: Have you ever noticed that a woman on your team is most likely to be deemed the “notetaker” in a meeting or is the first (and sometimes only) person to organize office birthday celebrations? Chances are, you’re nodding your heading “yes.” If that’s the case, simply make an effort during the next meeting to take notes, or offer to pick up the cake and card before the next party.