On the heels of International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of Better the Balance, Better the World, I took the opportunity to reflect on my own journey and challenges as a woman in the workplace.
As a youth, I attended an all-girls school, where I was in leadership positions since the age of 10. In that environment, I didn’t just believe that girls could do anything – I saw us doing it each and every day. It was the norm. Sadly, I would soon find out that it was not the standard beyond the walls of that institution.
The school setting was a stark contrast to the blatant sexism I experienced in my first paying job with a global company. I quickly learned that equal pay for equal work was not the order of the day. When speaking with my male colleague who had started on the same day in the same role, I learned that he was paid substantially more than I. The unapologetic reason presented for the disparity? He had a family to support and I did not.
The situation inspired the poem Dear Sister, where I wrote that “I outwardly accepted this fate”, but inwardly committed to work tirelessly to end it. “I spent my time developing my craft to end this crime.”
While companies now know enough to not speak so bluntly about why they pay a woman less than a man, have we made significant progress since that first eye-opening experience?
While there has been improvement on many fronts, the ability for most women to be equally valued for their contributions is not the norm across the board. We should all find fault – and frankly, disgust – at that fact.
Let’s fast forward to today, where the incredible disparity between male and female television presenters in the UK quickly consumed headlines. It remains enough of a challenge globally that last year, Iceland became the first country to make it illegal to pay men more than women.
Think about your own experience and your organisation’s HR practices. Is valuing all employees equally at the core of its mission?
The argument for Better the Balance, Better the World embraces the inherent importance of diversity. Different lived experiences, leadership styles, and ways of thinking pave the way for innovative approaches to global challenges. The presence of women in senior leadership roles remains imbalanced in virtually every industry. What has been the standard approach for how women seek to overcome that barrier? To become more male.
Characteristics of hierarchical leadership – competitiveness, ego, command and control define organisations the world over. We’ve been taught to downplay our hearts in professional situations, to disconnect our leadership from our empathy to gain results at all costs.
How has this worked out for us? Research by Gallup shows that 87% of the global workforce is disengaged at their jobs. That is a stunning statistic – so much so that the organization deems the results of its report as a “crisis.” At the core of engagement is the radical notion of treating employees like people. Imagine that! Traditional notions of power and leadership do not resonate with the people doing the work, which begs for a transition to a new form of power. A power that has love, respect and transparency at its core.
So I say a resounding yes to Better the Balance, Better the World. One that brings the balancing qualities of heart and gut to sit equal to our head. We need every single one of us to access the collective intelligence needed to address the sizable challenges ahead to create a sustainable and just global community.
How can you work to better the balance for a better world?