No matter your gender identity, no matter how enlightened you think you are, none of us is immune to the unconscious gender bias ingrained in our society. With issues of gender parity receiving more airtime, we hope that unconscious bias is reducing, but there’s still a lot to overcome.
Women currently hold only 5.4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. In many developed countries, the percentage of women in senior management positions across the business world hovers at around 30%. Why aren’t more women making it to the top of the professional ladder?
Reasons that have a tendency to be floated in explanation include: women aren’t as driven as men; there aren’t as many women wanting to be in senior management. These attitudes are very much a part of our unconscious bias. We make assumptions about women to explain the parity deficit rather than shifting the balance.
What can businesses do to shift the unconscious bias?
Show us it’s possible
One of the best ways to shift bias against ideas of women in managerial positions is to give women more of those positions. Admittedly, saying the route to solving a problem is simply to solve it is hardly helpful. But part of the problem is that women don’t always know it is possible to reach the positions they otherwise see almost solely occupied by men.
Businesses need to make the path to leadership visible to women. It isn’t enough for women to understand that it is possible to become a CEO, they need to know how.
To succeed in business, women need support from both men and women.
It feels obvious to say that gender segregation hinders the cause, but many of the initiatives focused on promoting gender parity focus solely on women. It’s great to see training programmes with content tailored to the female experience of leadership, but such courses don’t necessarily address a key issue holding women back: networking and exposure.
If women are segregated into single-gender programmes, they are missing out on mingling with that elusive boys’ club. Ensuring that women are provided with networking opportunities with both men and women is crucial to their professional advancement.
Leverage your networks
Those who attend business schools not only benefit from MBAs and other CV-boosting credentials, but they gain access to incredible business networks in the form of alumni. The Oxford Business Alumni (OBA) Network has more than 14,500 members spread across 129 countries. (Find out more about the OBA and how it can benefit your career here.) These networks put you in great stead when moving up the ranks.
Being recognised for your great work is harder than you might think. If you are already on people’s radar, they are likely to notice your work more. If your networks can get you those crucial introductions and personal references, you will quickly be on your way to the top.
Don’t be afraid to ask your connections to help you come to the attention of the right people.
Shifting the unconscious gender bias is not something that will happen overnight. But it can and will happen. If your business works actively to promote women to an even playing field, that’s a step in the right direction.
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