I still hear stories about male colleagues requesting meetings in gentleman’s clubs, women being laughed out of the boardroom for using the color pink in presentations, and female employees feeling uncomfortable because of their choice of attire. Little things that remind us that we don’t belong entirely in the men’s club that is corporate America.
Catalyst, a U.S. non-profit focused on expanding opportunities for women in business, detailed in its 2011 research a 26% difference in return on invested capital (ROIC) between the top 25% of companies (with 19-44% women board representation) and bottom 25% of companies (with zero women directors).
Despite numerous studies like this that show companies with women employed at top leadership positions outperform their competitors, are more profitable, and enjoy a more thriving work environment; the endemic sexism, coupled with archaic mindsets about women’s abilities to perform at high levels, is stopping women from reaching their full potential at work and companies from increasing profitability. The fact is, women matter, yet this isn’t being reflected in the workplace.
“Your ovaries are shriveling.”
A few years ago during a prestigious dinner that my former employer was hosting, the CEO of our Fortune 500 Company started a conversation with the only other woman at the table, besides myself, about her relationship with her boyfriend. This woman was the Director of HR and was held in high regard. He asked about her desire to have children to which, in a guarded manner, she expressed she would like them. He then said to her, “Aren’t you 38 now? You better hurry up, your ovaries are shriveling.”
I was aghast. The CEO of this Fortune 500 Company callously said this in front of our customers, top managers, and board members, and I could tell that my female colleague was embarrassed, felt threatened, and knew she had no recourse. This snide remark is an example of sexism and an institutional mindset that erodes women’s confidence, stops them from speaking up in the workplace, and hinders them from performing at their fullest potential.
That day, I realized we still have a long way to go to ensure that our companies offer inclusive and supportive workplaces for women to remain engaged and to climb the corporate ladder as equal members of society, and for companies to demonstrate that we matter.
Women’s contributions in the workforce have increased since the 1970s, yet we still aren’t tackling the issue as to how to use women’s full potential to create more profitable companies, and therefore, a more robust economy. Inherent in this research from Catalyst we can conclude that the smartest decision is for all companies to create a corporate culture that supports women in the workforce.
How to Stop It
So, how do we stop the underlying sexism that still exists? And, more importantly, how do we shift the corporate and individual mindset so that we create cultures that are non-threatening, inclusive, and supportive?
Companies need to acknowledge where they are and support institutional change. Both men and women have much to learn in the current corporate landscape, but it must start with companies supporting the mindset shift, and encouraging women to use their strengths and emotional intelligence in the workplace.
Companies also must insist upon training, mentorship, and the removal of structural barriers for women. We need to eradicate the sexism and halt the double standards where women feel they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves. We must open up the conversation and start talking about what we are experiencing in the workforce, and what we need to remain engaged and seek higher level positions. Believe me, our economy depends on it.
Although corporate policies express that women still don’t matter – the economics tell us a different story. All of us who are engaged in business have a duty to raise awareness about the shift that needs to happen in corporate society. We can no longer loosely put it on the agenda; we must actively make it a priority.
It’s time for all of us to take a stand regarding the cultural shifts that needs to occur. I implore all women to use your voice and talk about what needs to happen in order for you to unlock your potential at work. Join this conversation, and help create the change. #IStandUpAtWork
About the Author
Amanda Laden is a coach, author, speaker and change-agent. She empowers women to live authentically and to tap into their inner potential in work & life. You can find her on her website, Refill Your Soul.