5 gender myths killing your D&I agenda

In collaboration with UN Women, P&G set out to debunk these misconceptions and push for greater gender equality

5 gender myths killing your D&I agenda

To achieve authentic inclusivity, P&G calls for a new playbook and urges employers to focus on gender-equal, instead of women-based workplace policies.

Last Friday (24 May), HRD attended P&G’s second Asia Pacific #WeSeeEqual summit, organised in collaboration with UN Women, where they discussed topics like persistent challenges around gender diversity and how to overcome them.

The day was highlighted by keynote speakers Julia Gillard, Australia’s former prime minister, and Mohammad Naciri, regional director for Asia and the Pacific at UN Women. Karl Preissner, leader, global diversity and inclusion at P&G and Balaka Niyazee, gender equality sponsor and VP, P&G Korea set the tone of the summit by debunking gender myths.

Myth #1: There is not enough women in the pipeline
Oft-heard across industries and organisations, this myth states that the C-suite is male-dominated because there simply aren’t enough women in the pipeline.

According to Niyazee, the reality is the pipeline is full of qualified women, evidenced by the equal number of quality hires attained at the entry level. However, the representation dramatically drops as women progress through their careers.

Using P&G as an example, she shared that the number of female employees joining at the entry level hovers around 50%. It plunges to 38% at the senior leadership level.

“When we talk about the pipeline myth, what we’re really challenging is it’s a justification for a lack of progress,” Preissner told HRD. “The key is to be intentional.”

The D&I head shared that employers need to be intentional about career planning and developing employees from the start of their career with the organisation. This shouldn’t just stop at lifting female employees; HiPo male employees should also be developed to become future inclusive leaders.

Also, Niyazee shared a pointed observation about the lack of leadership at the executive board.

“On APAC executive boards, we have 68% men and 32% women on them,” she said. “If we were to look at making progress, it would be a 20-point-jump – it sounds so daunting. But actually if we looked at the numbers, we need only five more women executives on the board for our senior leadership team to be gender equal.”

Myth #2: The leadership myth around the need to “fix the woman”
Preissner said most of us still have a “dated mental model” of what leadership looks like – one of a “prototype” that’s based on a male model of leadership.

For instance, when employers encounter leadership attributes such as curiosity, deliberation and partnership, they immediately skew the traits into indecisiveness, a lack of vision and a fear of failure.

“There is a narrative out there that says the issue that’s preventing our progress is one of lack,” Preissner said. “Women lack the confidence to succeed, or the ambition they need to move forward. Or women have a fear of failure.

“It is a persistent myth but it really has pretty dramatic consequences on the way we view the behaviour and leadership skills that women can bring to the table.”

The “fix” for this involves broadening our definition of leadership, he said. One way to do so is by considering how there is a wide range of leadership styles – not just one.

“The fix is not to fix the woman but to fix the perception and model we’re using to evaluate these behaviours,” he said.

Other myths debunked by the two leaders include:

Myth #3: STEM is a “guy thing” and women are not cut out for STEM
This myth takes root early on through fixed gender roles from childhood and gets ingrained at the university level as well as career options.

Myth #4: Sexual harassment is a woman’s issue
“Sexual harassment is a business and leadership issue,” Preissner said. “Whether it’s physical, verbal or emotional, it’s an issue that affects women and men as well.

“As leaders, we need to take an uncompromising position to challenge and eradicate workplace harassment in all forms. This starts at the top because leadership sets the culture.”

Myth #5: Household and family care is a “woman’s thing”
“This is very deep rooted in society and our culture,” Niyazee said. “The myth says that if there was a time a woman had to make a choice between amazing career growth and demanding household responsibility, she should choose the latter.”

She added that there is an equally strong assumption that men don’t want to participate in sharing household responsibility.

“There are more and more men I know who want to be seen and present where it matters for them; they want to be a part of their child’s upbringing and truly partner with their spouse to create a great family life,” she said. “They want dual careers.”

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