Why #BalanceforBetter isn't just a trendy hashtag
Sometimes, semantics matter. With all the buzz around International Women’s Day, phrases like ‘gender parity’, ‘gender equality’ and ‘gender balance’ have been making the rounds even more than usual.
The first two terms of parity and equality may come across as a little more rigid – for instance, things must be equal or the same. ‘Balance’ on the other hand implies more of a push and pull; a give and take. Considering the great gender gaps that currently exist, would focusing on #BalanceforBetter lead to greater impact?
Of course, there’s no denying that unequal opportunities are a definite barrier to achieving true inclusivity. In a recent study to understand how people perceive opportunities, LinkedIn found that fewer female respondents (12%) feel there are adequate opportunities available to them, compared to male respondents (19%).
The perception of a lack of available opportunities for women is also compounded by the fact that they are 32% less likely than men to ask for a referral, despite both genders feeling equally confident of accessing opportunities.
Those figures can be solved through internal HR policies across fair recruitment and promotions processes. But how can we tackle the tricky topic of D&I when culture is involved?
The caregiver ‘complex’
LinkedIn found that family commitment continues to impact women more than men, with 13% of female respondents citing it as a barrier to securing a rewarding job. Whereas, only seven percent of male respondents feel the same. This suggests that there is room for improvement in shifting gender roles within households.
“In most of the countries in the East Asia and Pacific region, women are still socially expected to own and/or perform the majority of domestic household responsibilities including child and/or elder care,” said Merle Chen, chief talent officer at The Lo & Behold Group.
“This could be a key obstacle that most women encounter in considering participating or re-entry into the workforce or taking on managerial or senior official roles.”
This issue is not an experience limited by geography either. A 2017 study at the University of Alberta in Canada found that women tend to do more household chores than their male partners, no matter how much they work or earn in a job outside the home.
The study’s findings emphasise how people’s behaviours are informed not only by their own biological development, but also by the work and family responsibilities they negotiate with their intimate partners.
And if we’re being nit-picky, the study calculated that women would earn US$343 a week if they were paid for doing the housework, whilst men would only rack up US$220.
A matter of choice
With all the personal responsibilities piling on some women’s shoulders, should we push them to be a master juggler and take up leadership roles at work as well, just to become a gender-equal organisation?
“I think one of the things we need to not lose sight of is that not every woman wants to be a manager,” said Alison Sibree, senior vice president HR, Asia Pacific & Japan at Oracle. “There are a lot of ladies who come into the workforce and are very happy being individual contributors.
“Perhaps they become mothers and may not necessarily want the stress of being a manager. They’d rather do their job than have additional pressures upon them. Or maybe [they believe] as an individual contributor they can have more flexible working hours.
“Some opt to be an individual contributor and we need to respect that. We don’t need to force people to a particular path – be it a managerial or an individual contributor path.”
To push or to pull?
Therein lies the paradox around diversity measures: women need to be pulled up and told they can take up all progression opportunities, but they can’t all be pushed to be super-careerwomen if that’s not what they want.
This can impact the figures around the gender gap – whether in terms of pay or representation. Which is why many leaders urge a shift away from playing the numbers game or obsessing over initiatives, because at the end of the day it’s still a bigger issue of culture.
So how can we tackle this? Don’t fret – there’s always Scandinavia and their pragmatic ways.
The World Economic Forum crowned Iceland as the fastest-improving country since 2006 – it has closed more than 85.8% of its overall gender gap by 2018. Other Scandinavian countries also consistently rank highly on such polls, so it’s clear they’re doing something right.
What they’ve successfully done is pushed for a family-friendly work environment that encourages men to do more at home. Iceland, by law, grants three months of non-transferable parental leave to both mothers and fathers. An additional three months of leave is also granted to the couple to share as they choose.
The law was a rousing success, with about 90% of Icelandic fathers taking leave. To add to that, in 2018 politicians campaigned to lengthen the total nine months’ parental leave to a solid 12.
Also, it was found that Scandinavian countries tended to have the smallest disparity between unpaid household work done by women compared to men. Instead of a push for quotas, they embody the idea of #BalanceforBetter – not just at work but at home as well.
Before such miraculous strides can be adapted across the globe, what stands is the need for women to build their sense of self. CHRO Merle Chen shared with us that she does it by turning to empowering resources.
“I love the late Maya Angelou’s works and in particular, ‘Phenomenal Woman’,” Chen said. “In essence, the poem speaks passionately about being confident in your own female skin no matter the societal pressures to conform and be who others want you to be.
“It celebrates being passionate and purposeful, driven by your beliefs and making these a reality whilst also embracing and acknowledging your imperfections.”