Gender asymmetry in business

Gender asymmetry in business

5 reasons why women don’t hold senior positions in Ukraine.

Chief Governance Officer of TECHIIA holding Lyudmila Tkach-Klyuchnik

Chief Governance Officer of TECHIIA holding Lyudmila Tkach-Klyuchnik

About the imbalance of women and men in the Ukrainian C-Suite, what prevents Ukrainian women from holding leadership positions in the man’s world, and how to see their “blind spots” in a column for WoMo.

Gender asymmetry, sexism, gender inequality are of the same importance for the top managers of European companies as anti-crisis solutions. Ukrainian business also faces similar issues. According to Article 420 of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, we need to ensure gender equality and equal opportunities for women and men in jobs and education.

For Ukraine, such regulation is a good kick towards overcoming the civilizational gap. Western countries went forward in evolution and are giving the world a new shape of society, where men and women have equal opportunities, where women should feel safe both in everyday life and in the business area. But it’s going to be a hard way. As a member of the board of directors of an international holding and as a woman, I understand that Ukrainians will have to get rid of many stereotypes. Regardless of gender.

Let's take a look at the reasons and what each of us can do to overcome the asymmetry.

The numbers talk

The gender problem would not have been so acute if it had not been for the directive entitled “Proposal for a directive on improving the gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges and related measures” signed in 2012 by The European Commission. The document obliged EU public companies to increase the number of women on boards of directors to 40% by 2020.

The situation is changing, but not that smoothly. In 2016 in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and the UK, there were around 20% of women on boards of directors, while in other countries, this number was even lower.

We can often hear something like: “Gender asymmetry is not that relevant in our country,” in the Ukrainian business environment. The analysts of the World Economic Forum, who annually compile the Global Gender Gap Index, have a completely different opinion. The index assesses countries for an equal sharing of resources between men and women. In 2021, Ukraine took 74th place in the list of 156 countries (15 points down compared to the last year’s results).

Local statistics also speak of inequality. There are only 30% of women among C-level managers in Ukraine. This number is slightly higher than in European companies, where the number of women in C-level is 26%. Quite a gender gap, don’t you think?

So what prevents Ukrainian women from holding top-level positions?

Reason # 1: double the workload

Perhaps the main factor in gender disproportion among top management is a woman's ability to give birth. In most cases, women simply have to take care of their children after childbirth 24/7.

This situation is called double workload or double working day. For example, I came back to work when my child was six months old. And because of a 4-hour-a-day sleep and chronic fatigue, I sometimes was out of touch with reality.

Such an unhealthy schedule is not good for anyone. And a woman who does not have time to fully take care of her child will feel guilt. Therefore, most women prefer to work with no overtime and under a lot of stress in order to combine it with parenting and housework.

Male leaders sometimes do not take into account the double burden factor, and this can be called unconscious discrimination.

One time we had a discussion at the board of directors. One of my colleagues suggested optimizing support during pregnancy: if a woman gave birth before 9 months working in the company, the company should not make a support payment. The idea behind that was that if women do not tell or even deceive about their pregnancy, the company should not encourage such behavior.

But we looked at it more broadly. Initially, in the early stages, a woman may not even know about her pregnancy. Next, there is no place for children at all in this decision. Moreover, pregnancy cannot be included in a business plan, and more money is required during this period.

At the macro level, the decision to cut pregnancy support payments will negatively affect the company and even the country. After all, taking care of a child will become too expensive for most parents. And we, in the board of directors, are all parents. The male colleagues started thinking of their wives if they would have found themselves in such conditions. In the end, the company kept the pregnancy support payments.

Reason # 2: poor networking

Have you ever tried building a team from scratch with a low level of networking? This is unlikely to be a good project because it is a rare case when a top manager can be found on a job search site. Such specialists are primarily sought through a network of contacts.

The business has long been an exclusively male thing. For centuries, men have built connections that allow them to quickly solve various problems: from finding the right candidate to lobbying for business interests.

Men have excelled at networking. Women, on the other hand, have just recently started doing business, and their contact lists are still filling up.

Reason # 3: It's hard to play the men's game

The transformation of ideas about the role of women in society is an evolutionary process and it is not finished yet. Women entered the world formed by men with already settled habits and stereotypes.

The trap is that in order to change their attitude towards themselves, women are first forced to play by someone else's rules and comply with settled business etiquette. And it is quite hard sometimes.

About 20 years ago, one of my acquaintances, who held a top position, said: “Women can be either terribly stupid or adorably stupid. If you want a good career, choose one of these roles". It was scary and outrageous to hear such words. It takes a lot of effort for a woman to deal with such attacks. And, despite the playful tone, these are real attacks.

Once I was given a hint that in order to gain anything in the men’s world, you need to dress like them. For a period of time, I had to dress up in suits with shirts. And while working in the industry, I had to rethink my approach to cussing, because often the only way to get myself heard was only through cursing. And there are millions of such unspoken, but inevitable rules. A woman can be a great professional, but in business, functionality is not the most important factor. Even conventional negotiation skills do not always help.

The problem lies deeper - in traditions that do not change with a magic touch. And an active fight against them only widens the gap. Have men been going to cigar- or golf clubs for centuries? We will make our own women's club or we will force men to comply with a quota of 40% of women in their communities! Want to play soccer at team-building events? We will also play with them - we are equal!

We do not need to break through the wall of masculine order or demonstratively build our own. We need to look for links, those activities in which everyone will be interested, that will unite us and allow us to get to know each other better. This is a shared space, not polarization or an attempt to mimic.

Reason # 4: modesty

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for,” Oprah Winfrey once said. And she’s got the point.

For some reason, most women are sure that they will definitely get what they deserve. But in the real world, everything works a bit differently. Your salary will not be increased or raised if you do not declare it and prove that you are ready for growth.

Partially, women's modesty and unwillingness to talk about their merits are due to the pressure of social roles. In different countries, there is one similar tradition: a man chooses a woman, conquers her, and not vice versa. Therefore, he should like her. When it is necessary to show healthy aggression, to express desire and interest, women, out of the “this is what men should do” habit, start to hesitate and often give up.

Reason # 5: Combining different roles is tough

In 2013, Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote the book Lean In. "Success has a positive effect on the attractiveness of men and a negative effect on the attractiveness of women," writes Sheryl.

Yes, a female top manager inherits masculine behavior: she sets the rules, regulations, makes decisions. To do this, you have to dull the sensitivity and become tougher. It is difficult for people to build equal relationships, it is easier for them to obey or dominate.

And once the person is completely absorbed by this role, that is when difficulties come. A woman starts using the same approach in the family, starts to control her children, her husband, living with dull sensitivity. It is good if the husband happily takes a complementary role. But more often this generates conflicts and role competition.

The other case is when a caring mother comes to work and keeps being a caring mother, but for her colleagues not for children, while she should be tougher with her colleagues.

For me, this story is about a lack of flexibility. Switching between roles is extremely difficult. But for a woman, especially a leader, this is an essential skill that will allow her to develop comprehensively, and not only follow stereotypes about a gentle wife or a tough boss.

How to eliminate the gender asymmetry in business

If you look closely at the reasons, their main problem is distorted communication. Women don't need to become men - and vice versa. As for me, success lies precisely in the dissimilarity of views, actions, ways of perceiving and processing information.

Just like in family relationships, in the business world, the main task of men and women is to strengthen each other and eliminate weak points. But since men stand firmly in this field, women will still need at least a small expansion.

It takes courage. To deduce unconscious discrimination from the background and analyze it in cases. To improve professionalism and business self-esteem. To isolate personal from work. And to forget about stereotypes on who is on maternity leave, who makes a career, who makes what contribution to the company and family. The world is much more multifaceted - and these facets are inside each of us.

And if you calmly but persistently explain to your male colleagues the long-term business consequences of gender (im)balance, there is no more confrontation.

For example, Deloitte, citing data from Catalyst (as far back as 2004), states that companies with greater gender diversity perform better. The return on equity for companies with more women on the board is 53% higher. Quite a good point to start with.

There is an opposite extreme

Over time, the gender balance will change, and there will be more women among top managers. Women in the C-Suite are a must.

In situations where men compete and cannot come to an understanding, the presence of a woman helps to negotiate. The modern world is way more free but less negotiable. Hierarchical systems require clear rules. But in the modern world, fragmented into small groups, each person has his own opinion and rights. When there is no decision-making center, it is more difficult to negotiate. But women know how to negotiate without starting a war.

On the other hand, the struggle for gender equality can lead to reverse discrimination - the infringement of the rights of men. Western countries already suffer from this. As soon as Ukraine will reach the same level in the struggle for equal rights, we are likely to face similar problems.

In 2019, the Rada approved changes to the electoral code: from 2023, it is planned to introduce 40% of gender quotas in parliamentary elections. This means that quotas for Ukrainian corporations will also soon be introduced.

I support such measures to stimulate gender symmetry. But I am afraid that it will not do without excesses. The situation is somewhat similar to the employment of people with disabilities. There are some of them who say: “I don’t want to work, but I want to get paid. Take me. After all, if you do not comply with the quotas, you will be fined. "

You can protect yourself from this only with common sense. And sometimes going through a turbulent period. After all, it is difficult to find a balance until you know the opposite extreme.

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