Are there more women in visible, senior positions in today’s corporate environment? Yes, absolutely. Is gender equality in the workforce improving overall? Signs point to yes, thanks to major initiatives by companies like Accenture that have taken significant steps to create a diverse, inclusive and gender-equal workplace. However, there are still times when a woman and man will attend a meeting together, and some may assume that the man has more seniority. It doesn’t matter that they may look roughly the same age; unconscious bias has done its work—and that is, arguably, the biggest barrier to gender equality.
Ostensibly, women have come a long way. Women are more visible in business; they occupy senior roles; they are managers of teams. And while the glass ceiling hasn’t yet been shattered, the cracks are starting to show—more female members on boards of directors is a good example of progress. While there have been great leaps forward, a general business culture of sexism will continue unless deliberate efforts are in place to remove it.
Unconscious bias is insidious. When behaviors are ingrained, they become trickier to root out. Even the most seemingly trivial comments about stereotypical behavior can be damaging. Deep-rooted sentiments that unfairly label women, for example, as gossips or men as insensitive is not only wrong, it is degrading. Progress on removing stereotypical bias can only be achieved if people are ready, willing and able to address and modify their behaviors.
My advice for both women and men in the workforce would be to challenge every instance when stereotypical bias arises. Managers need to be vigilant and address the issue appropriately. Resolve the situation calmly and logically, so everyone understands why it’s an example of unconscious bias and why it is never acceptable. While great strides have been made in the workplace, there is still more to do to make a difference on the path to gender equality.
Women wanting to excel in their careers need to stake their claim, take small steps and make each of them count. The good news is that companies like Accenture are committed to achieving a gender-balanced workforce not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is good for business. The importance of supporting and growing female talent at Accenture is critical to success. The tide is turning; businesses are making gender equality a priority. It’s up to women in the workplace to speak up and make the most of the opportunities presented to them.
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