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Recently, I have read a few posts criticizing female-only networks. In the current age of diversity and inclusion, are these a step back in terms of equality?
According to a 2018 survey, over 70 percent of women aged 16–64 are employed, this percentage has increased from slightly over half (53 percent) in 1971. Women represent just under half (46.5 percent in 2017) of the total labor force in the UK. The majority of mothers work. In 2014, almost as many women with children (74.1 percent) participated in the labor force as women with no children (75 percent). In terms of leadership, women’s board representation in FTSE100 companies increased from 11 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2017. Not exactly half, is it? And, when we look at the percentage of women in senior leadership roles, this has remained even lower at 22 percent in 2018. A report by Catalyst says that women in the Fortune 500 now make up 14.6 percent of executive officers, only 8.1 percent of the highest paid and under five percent of CEOs.
Lack of women leadership means that women can often face more bullying in the workplace, the workforces is less diverse at the top, and that the mental well-being of female employees can suffer too as they feel discriminated against and do not have the same opportunities to progress. The lack of women leaders also creates a paucity of role models that can inspire other women to enter and stay in the workforce.
Studies have shown that unconscious bias is rife in the workplace. Gender stereotypes, in particular, are everywhere.
No matter what we say about equality, we are not quite there.
Why do we need women-only networks?
Language studies have shown that men interrupt more than women. A study from George Washington University found that men interrupted 33 percent more often when they spoke with women than when they spoke with other men. According to the researchers, over the course of a three-minute conversation, men interrupted women 2.1 times. In contrast, during conversations of the same duration, men interrupted other men only 1.8 times—and women on average interrupted men only once. An analysis of 43 studies by two researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz from 1998 found that men were more likely to interrupt women with the intent to assert dominance in the conversation, meaning men were interrupting to take over the conversation floor.
Julia Baird in New York Times says “The prevalence of the manologue is deeply rooted in the fact that men take, and are allocated, more time to talk in almost every professional setting. Women self-censor, edit, apologize for speaking. Men expound.”
A study by researchers at Bingham State and Princeton University showed that when women are outnumbered, they speak for up to a quarter of time less than men. Women deliberate; they do not often speak until they are 100% confident. Research has also shown that more men have a propensity to “mansplain” and as they become more powerful, they become more voluble. Women, on the other hand, become more concerned of backlash as they reach leadership positions, so female leaders are likely to speak less often than men in spaces even with equal representation of men and women. There is also research showing that women take longer to process thoughts before they feel comfortable to say them out loud than men do.
In another New York Times article, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant mentioned studies showing that women are often ignored in workplaces when they speak up, or they are termed very aggressive. This double bind bias affects women in mixed-network situations too. Often when a man expresses the same opinion, he is more likely to be taken seriously.
This effect has also been shown in studies carried out in the classroom, where men are seen to be more outspoken than women. In a Harvard study, Women and Men in the Classroom: Inequality and Its Remedies, Catherine G. Krupnick researched gender’s influence on participation within various classroom settings at Harvard College. Across different settings, male students spoke more often than female students. But this effect was minimized when there was a female instructor. Women felt more confident and were shown to be more outspoken when there was a woman leading the group. The gender balance matters.
Before anyone shoots me down for stereotyping and generalizing, two things that I am completely opposed to, I would like to reiterate that much of this is backed by evidence and scientific experiments. Yes, exceptions occur everywhere. There are men who do not interrupt and are respectful of others’ opinions, no matter what their gender, and there are women who are as outspoken as men, if not more, no matter what the context or situation might be. What these studies and data show is that diversity does not necessarily equate to equality.
Bringing everyone to the table, and giving women a seat at the table, does not necessarily imply that they will be heard.
Men still hold the balance of power in the real world. And, yes, women-only spaces and networks do not reflect the real world. However, it is not about keeping men out. Rather, what women-only networks do is to give a safe space for women to voice their opinions without being interrupted. They create support mechanisms for women to share ideas, experiences, and stories and mutually benefit from it. They provide support mechanisms for women to be themselves without fear of being judged. And, they create opportunities for younger women to learn from the experience of others, of how to navigate the workplace s a woman, how to speak out confidently and how to manage and tackle gender biases.
However, it is also crucial that women step outside their comfort zones. And, so women should be encouraged to be part of mixed networks and actively engage with them. How these mixed spaces can become more gender equitable, where men and women have an equal opportunity to speak and be heard, and where women do not have to conform to a particular way of behaving, is something that needs much more discussion and consideration.
January 9, 2019 at 06:37PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs