By Anne Ochuko Ezeh
It’s 3pm, that time of day right after lunch, just before the afternoon work mode is activated. Four of my female colleagues are huddled together, chitchatting about work-life issues – kids, hospital visits, homework, social events, deadlines etc. Peter* the jovial expatriate consultant for the organization is with us, leaning casually on the door halfway into the room. He looks up at me from the doorway and says “Oh you Anne, you don’t have a problem. You are not working because you need to. This is just fun for you”. For several seconds, there is silence. Shock, amusement, and disbelief mar all our faces.
It turns out Peter is not alone. Many have an unconscious bias that women work to “support” their spouses or maintain a certain standard of living and not necessarily because they need the satisfaction, fulfillment and opportunities that a profession and subsequent financial prowess provides. Even more saddening is how these biases affect women in the workplace and are clearly reflected in the stark gender pay gaps, equal pay disparities and a dismal proportion of women in leadership within organizations. The recent #MeToo, #TimesUp movements as well as activist voices of women all over the world have attempted to raise awareness on these issues but has the needle moved at all?
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 says men and women will have pay equality in 257 years, 55 more years than the estimate in 2019 and arguably the equivalent of 5 African lifetimes. If this doesn’t shock you, there’s more. Currently, only 55% of adult women are in the labor market, compared to 78% of men. In another analysis with LinkedIn, the report shows that in today’s rapidly changing world of work, women are grossly under-represented in the most in-demand occupations. Only 12% of professionals in “cloud computing” are women, 15% in “engineering” and 26% in “data and artificial intelligence.”
As we celebrate the International Women day with the theme “Generation Equality”, here are some real actions that as a leader of teams or an individual, you can do to make a difference and contribute your quota to closing the gap.
– Be intentional: Today I sit on a leadership team that is 50% female. This didn’t happen by chance. It was a deliberate action by an authentic leader to ensure equal representation on his management team without compromising standards. As someone who has spent many years in many boardrooms, meetings and conferences as the only female participant, this gives me hope. Thank you @Elisee Sezanfor demonstrating the art of the possible.
– Details matter: Achieving equality in pay, leadership roles or career progression is a shared responsibility. As an employee, ensure you do extensive research about pay structure, leadership levels, allowances, increases, recruitment, promotion criteria etc of your organization and your market. Information is power and it effectively reduces negotiation angst. As an employer/manager, overcome your bias by looking at the numbers and not the gender. Consider the work experience, not the person. Above all, do not ignore or disregard your responsibility to fairness and equity in the structure of your team. Own the discussion along with your HR partner. Thank you @Bethel Nwaneri, @Osamudiame Onwuka and the GE SSA HR team for leading and living these standards everyday.
– Lead with conviction: As we raise awareness on equality today, be progressive about lending your voice and action to call out unfair or inequitable practices when you identify them whether they are in your team, your family or your larger circle of influence in society. I once had a manager who seemed to ignore the fact that I was paid significantly less than others until it was called out. A close friend of the family did not see any reason why they should pay a premium education for their daughter just as they would for their sons. The list goes on. To such managers and people, I have only one word…LEAD! Women have endured and continue to endure generational exclusion, unconscious bias and unequal standards in the workplace and in society. We don’t need any more passive bystanders.
Needless to say, Peter* received an education that hot afternoon, one he won’t forget in a hurry. What did he think, that waking up at 5am every day, making a 60-90-minute commute, and giving 120% of oneself to set objectives was just for fun?? Incredible….but maybe not so.
* Ezeh is Communication Director at GE’s Gas Power Business in Sub-Saharan Africa