Curiosity Is The Secret Weapon For Closing The Gender Gap

by | Dec 3, 2021 | Forbes Article

First published on

Whenever I bring up the topic of the gender gap in the workplace, I typically get two reactions. The first: “My industry is the worst!” They proceed to tell me stories about how few women there are in leadership, or how their organization just doesn’t support women. The second reaction that I get is “It’s not an issue in our organization.”

I wish this second reaction were true. Yes, there are absolutely organizations that do a great job of including women and have lots of women in leadership. But unfortunately, this is not the case in most organizations in the United States and Canada.

Catalyst just compiled their latest pyramid that shows the percentage of women at each level of leadership among S&P 500 companies. It shows that even at the first level of leadership, women are not rising at the same rate as men. The workforce is 44.7% women, and first- and mid-level managers are only 36.9% female. The glass ceiling is actually a myth; women face barriers from the very start of their careers. These are compounded, and today only 11% of top earners at these companies are women and 5.4% of CEOs are women.

Back in 2006, the World Economic Forum created the Global Gender Gap Report. In 12 years, in the category of economic participation and opportunity, we have only progressed by 2.3% in the United States — not 2.3% every year, over 12 years! And progress in this area is worse in Canada. If we keep going at this rate, we will not see equality in the workplace in our lifetime.

Over the past 12 years, we’ve seen a lot of companies investing in programs to support women, but we aren’t seeing tangible results.

These programs have focused on changing women’s behaviors, but they haven’t been accelerating women into leadership roles. The reason is that the gender gap is not a women’s issue — it’s a cultural issue.

One way this shows up is that women lack social capital. Lack of social capital, in layman’s terms, is really about women not being invited into the old boys’ club. It’s defined as having less access to informal networks and not understanding how to leverage relationships. The reality is, many important business decisions happen outside of the office, over drinks, at a hockey game or even during casual conversations.

It also shows up in the way that men and women are mentored. The research has told us that women are groomed for leadership differently than men. Women are mentored and given advice, and men are sponsored and given opportunities. Men naturally get invited into these social structures, and women are unintentionally left out.

If we want things to change, we really need all genders on board, and, more specifically, we need senior leaders to take action because organizational culture starts at the top.

If you’re ready to figure out what your role can be, the best thing you can do is get curious, seek information and ask questions. It sounds overly simple, but it really works.

Here are three things you can do right now:

1. Look at your numbers. Don’t ask someone from HR to do this — it’ll take way too long. Just do it in a notebook. Start with one department. What is the percentage of women at the entry level? What is the percentage at the first level of leadership? What is the percentage at the second level? — and keep going. Do this for your own purpose. Don’t feel bad about what you find out; just get curious.

2. Look for where the women are falling off. Compare this to the average. This can help you to figure out where to focus first.

3. Look at the culture in your organization. How are decisions made? How are people groomed for leadership?

Curiosity is a really powerful tool because what you find out will motivate and guide you to take action. The gender gap is a big, complicated topic. Many people find it overwhelming, so they do nothing. Leading with curiosity is one of the best ways to figure out how you can get started and figure out what your role can be. If we all do something, even if it’s small, we can create a workplace where everyone can thrive.

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