Hira Ali* says that to get more women to the top, organisations need to transform the workplace systems and policies that were designed by men for men.
One of the biggest challenges women face on their way to the top is that we work and live in a world, culture, and system that is designed for men.
Without the proper infrastructure, women are unable to achieve unfettered career success.
This is prevalent all over the world.
In the absence of a work environment that prioritises protecting women from harassment, bullying, and sexism; where laws, rules, and systems are more favourable for men than they are for women, there is little surprise as to why a majority of women find it so challenging to make it to the top.
The tenor of most work environments underscores a dichotomy of opportunities and ensuing success between men and women.
There is dire need to build on-ramps to the highway of economic opportunity for women.
Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a virtuous cycle that encourages women to participate in our economy will in turn present them as leaders in their families, communities and neighbourhoods.
Though women today are more empowered, confident, and bolder than ever, this didn’t happen overnight.
It’s a long list of advocates for women’s rights responsible for where we are today.
These champions have fought long and hard for equality, and they continue the fight today.
We are capable of achieving so much more when we fight for what we believe in.
Women have enormous power.
We are voters.
We are consumers.
Did you know that women make a large percentage of every country’s consumer decisions?
With this power, we can exert real pressure to push for a change in course for issues we care about.
The culture and system keep the role of a career professional and mother mutually exclusive when, in reality, it’s not.
Yes, personal choices are often influenced by social binds, peer pressure, and familial expectations.
But most career women who cite powerful reasons to opt out could be retained if the infrastructure was more favourable.
A woman’s role as the primary caregiver for her children is not just a cultural expectation, but, as Caroline Perez points out: “It’s also built into our laws.”
“The US Census Bureau considers the mother to be the designated parent, even if both parents are present in the home.”
“UK public policy also reinforces that the mother is a child’s primary carer.”
However, there are steps that you can take to address the infrastructure gap.
Champion pro-women policies in your organisation
Getting women to the top will require effort from all sides.
Once we have mastered our internal challenges, organisations need to deploy systems and policies to facilitate in navigating a system designed for men.
And for that, we will need to raise our concerns and ensure they are being addressed.
You can play an important role in this by joining staff networks and affinity groups that push for such changes.
Sometimes all it takes is creating awareness.
We cannot change what we are not aware of.
Talking about challenges can transform minds, and this can be achieved through active campaigning.
Organisational policies need to reflect gender parity, too.
From recruitment to talent management, appraisal to compensation, management needs to revisit all policies and systems for their organisation to check for overt and covert bias.
Staff members need training on conscious and unconscious bias, and every decision needs to be informed by a structured due diligence process.
Leaders need to hold their managers accountable for diversity decisions, while discouraging stereotypes that influence those decisions.
HR professionals should identify rising female talent throughout the organisation and track their career paths and accomplishments.
What’s more, employers should implement steps to develop this female talent.
They need access to informal networks, influential mentors, and stretch assignments.
Soliciting feedback is a critical part of this development process so that management can identify and address any subtle filters.
Your affinity group can work with an organisation’s HR department to effect these changes quickly and wherever possible.
Women should be offered flexi-time, job-sharing opportunities, and work-from-home options as much as possible.
Men should also have access to similar choices.
An employee physically working within an office doesn’t necessarily guarantee improved results or productivity.
Organisations can evaluate the aforementioned options to ensure they retain talented mothers during their childrearing years.
Organisations should additionally try to incorporate onsite childcare facilities wherever possible.
This might not be easy to implement, but many employers have successfully done so already.
Moreover, studies indicate that employee performance is higher and absenteeism lower among employees using onsite versus offsite childcare.
Onsite crèche facilities offer convenience and peace of mind.
Employees feel valued and work harder to exceed expectations.
Onsite childcare helps reduce tardiness and stress, while alleviating separation anxiety.
Plus, children in the workplace can add much-needed energy and help employees be more mindful of aggressive, disruptive conflicts.
In many cultures, there is not much concept of parental leave for fathers.
Even in developed countries, statistics evidence that men do not fully take advantage of this leave.
And organisations don’t push, either.
By encouraging fathers to take full advantage of parental leave, some of the responsibilities that have been single-handedly undertaken by women for so long can be divided.
Even if you are not part of decision-making or policymaking in your organisation, you can still play a significant role in outlining an agenda which champions the aforementioned policy recommendations.
* Hira Ali is a leadership trainer, writer and executive career coach and the founder of Advancing Your Potential.
This article first appeared at www.ellevatenetwork.com