New Answers To The Gender Bias Challenge In The Workplace /legal recruiting, GLI, law firm dynamics
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Sandi Leyva provides cutting-edge leadership, innovation, and marketing training programs based on brain science and positivity research.
When we think about gender equality, we probably first think about workplace issues and equal pay. We think about statistics like “7.2% of women are pilots” or “only 24% of women in public accounting are partners or firm owners.”
That’s important, but I’d like to share a few other facts about gender bias in science and how it can bring us new answers to build a better, more inclusive work environment in business.
First Stop: Medical Research Labs
I was a graduate student in neuroscience when I first found out that scientists who needed to use lab animals in their research almost always used male animals. The belief was that female animals were more complex due to their estrous cycles and that this would exacerbate the variables in the experiment. Research as recent as 2009 showed single-sex studies of male animals outnumbering those of females 5.5 to 1. The result of that thinking is that women suffer far more than men when it comes to drug interactions.
In 1993, the National Institute of Health passed the NIH Revitalization Act to include women equally in government-funded research using human subjects. Only in 2014 did the NIH require scientists to consider using female animals in medical research. That means we are way behind when it comes to medical discoveries affecting women.
So far, none of this is new news, except for the fact that we haven’t thought about this enough in conjunction with workplace leadership. What does science have to do with workplace gender bias? Everything.
Next Stop: The 20th Century Masculine Workplace
Just like women suffer from drugs designed for men, women suffer in workplaces designed for men. Men thrive while women merely survive.
Luckily, there have been some studies and several books written that explore and communicate the differences in brain wiring and chemistry between men and women. Unfortunately, much of this has remained in research labs and has not been “translated” for use in business.
Progressive workplaces with funding for women’s initiatives have made positive strides while working with shallow, incomplete data. Initiatives like flexible work hours, more maternity leave, on-site daycare centers for women with children, and real-time feedback have made incremental progress in gender equality in the workplace.
Imagine what we could do with better scientific data.
Final Stop: New Answers
We need a three-pronged approach to make exponential progress rather than incremental progress in solving gender bias.
First, we need to identify multiple initiatives to create an inclusive workplace that celebrates diversity, not only by gender, but individually. Companies with patriarchal rules — such as accounting firms mandating a 55-hour workweek during tax season — have trouble attracting talent, and firm leaders believe it’s because there is a talent shortage. There’s no shortage of talent on the planet, but there is a shortage of inclusive workplaces designed to optimize individual performance excellence.
Celebrating individual excellence without bias means changing performance reviews and goals to align company goals with individual strengths rather than traditionally masculine ones. It also means changing organizational culture.
Second, both women and men need to do their part individually to embrace change. The first step is always awareness, followed by accurate education. Myths and false beliefs need to be crushed. Women and men need tools to understand, embrace, and have confidence in their differences and what they can bring to the workplace.
The topic of emotion in business needs to stop being taboo. Emotion is one of the largest differences in men’s and women’s brains. Millennial workers are driving us to connect with our purpose, which is very emotional, and is one of the many tools we need to help us break through old beliefs.
Third, the science that has been stuck in the research labs needs to be “translated” for its business implications and shared with business leaders who can design and fund initiatives to optimize the talent that women can bring to the workplace.
One of the most important differences is how women and men handle stress: men fight or flee, while women tend and befriend. When we can discover these differences through science, we can determine what makes our workplaces more stress-friendly for women.
Stress is just one of dozens, if not hundreds, of science topics that can be applied to workplace training to create a better environment for everyone. I’d love to see the day that every organization had a neuro-consultant on staff in the HR department.
Do you want to accelerate the advancement of women in the workplace? These new answers and this three-prong approach is your call to action.