Why Workplace Equality Isn’t Just About Women

December 19, 2017


Have you noticed the changes happening in the workplace? The gap between men and women is closing. And it’s a hot topic among women in my industry. One that truly excites me. With decades of highs, lows and triumphs behind us, I believe that it’s time to take stock of the here and now. So, I commissioned this survey to discover just that – the current truth about women in the workplace. Sure, it’s a survey. But it’s the meaning that I’m passionate about. Because it’s now, with this clarity that we can all begin to shape a future that benefits everyone. In every industry. – Mhairi MacLeod, Astute Ability Finance Group.

Answer this.

Have we achieved equality between men and women in business?

It’s no secret that the numbers of women in executive roles are on the rise. But is the good old boys club, ruled by ego, strong voices and days on the golf course really a thing of the past?

Sure, huge leaps and bounds have been made in attitudes, behaviours and workplace flexibility. But what’s the current truth about gender diversity in business today? With all the progress that’s been made, are we there yet or is there still work to be done?

We decided to survey a group of 20 men and women to get a good honest gauge on the current state of affairs. And to ensure we didn’t take the easy route, we chose three male-dominated industries – the mortgage broking industry, professional sports and motor trade.

Then we had the results reviewed by a psychologist to get a professional point of view.

Let’s find out what they said.

The Hurdles Women Still Jump in the Workplace Today

For women, there was an overwhelming consensus that they had to fight through stereotypes and assumptions that they were suited to administrative roles. There’s a perception that many of our successes can be attributed to getting it easier, for example, softer sign-off processes. Several decades ago at the beginning of their careers, women felt they were under the microscope, and that competition was fierce. Fast forward to today, and the challenge is the misconception that motherhood means they are unable to commit to full-time positions. One of the participants stated “There’s still a lack of trust in our capabilities.”

Men Reveal Their Shifts in Thinking

In the past, boards and senior management positions were held only by men. However, there has been a notable shift in thinking, which has opened up positions at an executive level. Many businesses are now actively seeking female applicants for many senior roles. But many women lack the confidence to put themselves forward for roles that they are fully capable of succeeding in. There’s a notable lack of women seeking to enter the market either as a self-employed business owner or even a PAYG mortgage broker. It seems that many women entering these industries believe they need to act like a man or be overly aggressive, to fit in, but this is not the case. They need to speak up more as they have valuable ideas to offer and be supportive of each other’s successes.

Discover the Secrets Used to Overcome the Challenges

The winning formula in overcoming the challenges women faced was to prove themselves through action, demonstrate capability, achieve great results and work hard. In an often-crowded arena, with many loud voices, all have learned to that you have to speak up to ensure your opinion is heard. By standing their ground positively, they’ve overcome many hurdles and built industry respect. Employing the support and guidance of a mentor was a common strategy used by many women.

Why Not All Change Is Bad

There have been many positive changes. In fact, women are the fastest growing segment of the mortgage broking industry. Both men and women had very similar sentiments towards the changes they’ve witnessed.

They cited positive changes through more recognition based awards and an increase in numbers of women who are now becoming award finalists. More women now hold board positions, and there’s a greater acknowledgement of women’s capabilities in senior positions, evidenced by the increasing numbers of women in those roles. Women felt greater acceptance, trust and respect as they experienced equal treatment. And there’s more focus on working parents which benefits both sides. Men can now stay home with their children and women can hold full-time managerial roles when they have small children.

How Men and Women Have Learned to Work in Harmony

One of the standout responses was that many women model their behaviours on other successful women. Some said they’ve had to toughen up, grow a thicker skin and learn to be more assertive and confident. Others said no, they hadn’t modified their behaviour as their work speaks for itself. The increased use of wit, banter and humour were all cited as methods used to fit in better. But the biggest area of growth for all women in the survey was self-belief – they’ve learned to believe in themselves, live their values and to stand up for things they believe in.

The common chord amongst men was that they’ve improved their language and are more self-aware when it comes to appropriate behaviour in the working environment. They believe that behaviour modification has been more to do with the cultural background of the women, as religious and ethnical ideologies are an important consideration when encouraging a more diverse workplace.

Golf days have been replaced with more inclusive activities such as a day at the races, premiere movie events with partners and art gallery functions – all viewed as positive changes.

Does a Woman Have to Be Better to be Taken Seriously?

Women were divided on this question. While many women said they didn’t feel they had to be better, they admitted it was an inbuilt mechanism within many to automatically try harder to achieve in a male-dominated industry. Many felt that in that in the early stages of their careers, they had to work harder to prove they were as good as their male colleagues and to gain recognition from senior management. Industry events seem to be the places that women feel they need to perform over and above to be seen as equal, intelligent and to be taken seriously.

Men held quite a different view to women on this issue. “I believe in the best person for the job regardless of gender” was a standard response. They acknowledged that in the past this was certainly not the case, but now, performance and professionalism is what determines whether you’re taken seriously. “Perform, promote your merits and share with others is the best strategy today.” Said one of the men surveyed.

It could even be considered that women have an advantage now that employers are so actively talking about gender diversity targets.

The Pivotal Role That Men Have Played in Helping Women Succeed

Men are deserving of credit here as they’ve played a huge role in mentoring, supporting and guiding women as they’ve found their way in these male-dominated industries. Many women cited having visionary and dedicated mentors who have provided advice, inspiration and instilled the confidence to speak up, ask for what they want and to take on new responsibilities. They’ve been taught the ins and outs of these industries and the value of long-term relationships. But it hasn’t stopped there. Their male mentors have celebrated results with them and promoted them to other influential leaders.

Men feel they have been an active part of encouraging gender diversity as well. Many men undertake career coaching, development and post-graduate cadet programs that have seen an increase in the numbers of women – up to 40% in some cases. They play active roles as mentors to women with a focus on encouraging new ways of thinking and doing things differently. Finance industry panel appointment processes have also been reviewed to ensure they’re representative of industry demographics as well.

How the Workplace Has Adapted to Embrace Change

Women had many positive experiences to report when asked how their workplace had adapted favourably. One business reported having a target of 50% female brokers by 2020. Another said they have a women’s support group that operates in the business that is run by women and men. Many take part in the Women in Banking and Finance (WIBF) program every year and show full support of female high achievers. Good male leadership at CEO level has changed the more traditional gender inequality of the old days, and we now see greater respect and acceptance that women can hold senior roles.

Interestingly, men mentioned the adoption of flexible working arrangements and having more awareness of the imbalance and challenges faced by women in the workplace. “I now feel more comfortable coming to work late because of family commitments.” Women have changed these industries positively, and the changes benefit men and women alike.

They acknowledged that greater acceptance and understanding has led to the more balanced ranks in senior management. It’s become clear that both men and women can deliver the same level of output (and often more) when they can work within their family’s lifestyles.

Are the Changes Acceptable and Sustainable?

For the women surveyed, the feeling was yes, the level of change is sustainable. But is it acceptable, well that’s another story. It’s a bit of an undefined target, yet the resounding feeling is that we’re not there yet. Positive change is ongoing, and the economic benefits gained by continuing to harness the talents, resources and expertise that women bring to business can no longer be ignored. We need to attract more women to boost numbers and continue to diminish the typecasting of women into particular roles that are still prevalent.

From the men’s perspective, yes, the shift has happened. Cultural attitudes have changed. But it’s an continuous process as there’s still more to do. We need to maintain our focus and promote the benefits of complete diversity. More needs to be done to turn simple politically correct brand messages into real, merit-based opportunities so women can prove they are the right choice for a role. In finance, we need more female brokers as some applicants prefer to work with females.

Tips For Women Working in Male-Dominated Industries

Here’s a list of the recommendations for women who are considering a career or are already working in male-dominated industries.

  • Find a mentor you admire, trust and respect who can support, guide and help you to achieve your goals and be a sponge.
  • Do your due diligence and audit the industry and workplace environment you are entering, to ensure it’s the right culture and fit for you.
  • Be confident, believe in your abilities and back yourself. Speak up about things you believe in and make your opinion heard.
  • Be yourself. Believe in yourself. Know when to play your strengths and know when to listen.
  • Understand that your natural empathy as a woman is a good match with the finance industry as often you’re an integral part of your customers’ lives during a major purchase and beyond.
  • Choose a registered organisation which uses mortgage brokers as their trainers and take courses.
  • Know your customers and keep their needs at the centre of everything you do.
  • Network and maintain relationships with colleagues to support you and your career.
  • Attend seminars about the industry to discover the benefits of being a mortgage broker. Speak to successful female brokers to gain a realistic view of the industry.
  • Know your manager's goal and be an invaluable part of their success.
  • Analyse your last successful sale and create a timeline to keep that client for life.
  • Identify 12 key players for guidance and mutual support – and make sure 25% are men!
  • Share, brag and celebrate your wins.
  • Focus on the task at hand and don’t be intimidated by anyone.

Recommendations to Boost Diversity

Several golden recommendations of a more general nature emerged for businesses to consider as they continue to focus on gender diversity.

There’s a need to create more positive information, messaging and communication about careers for women. Then, it’s crucial to ensure the right culture, policy and procedures are in place to promote this messaging.

By advertising the flexible career options, particularly in finance, and the many different career paths that can be taken, we’ll attract more women into these industries. In the mortgage broking industry, it’s important to make new entrants aware that being female is an opportunity because most purchasing decisions for mortgages rest with women aged between 35-55 years. Their natural ability to build rapport is second to none. Also, the ability to run your own business that fits with family commitments is a huge bonus. Perhaps developing case studies that showcase the full spectrum of career options that are available to women will increase the visibility of opportunities.

We’ve Come a Long Way, But There’s Still Room For Progress

There’s no doubt that over the last few decades, many strong and determined women have become a driving force within many male-dominated industries. They’ve forged a path and paved the way for those who follow, and there are gains to be reaped by all.

The most notable messages from men and women alike are not to do it alone – support, mentoring, coaching and networking are essential ingredients to success.

Be confident, but be yourself. And from the mouths of our male participants, have your own personality and live your values with integrity and you’ll go a long way.

Put your best foot forward and act with professionalism as you contribute your valuable ideas that make these industries better for all.

The flexible working arrangements that were pushed for by women are now being celebrated by the men in these industries too. Finding harmony and balance between your work life and personal life enables better results and greater success for all.

What This Means From a Psychological Perspective

To get a professional take on the research, we asked Paul Flanagan, an organisational psychologist with more than 20 years of global business experience, to review the research and raw responses. He agreed that the benefits of workplace flexibility are now benefiting everyone. Here’s what he had to say;

“Workplace flexibility, while driven initially by women to make their work-life balance more manageable, is now valued just as much by men. Men are now able to benefit from the improved flexibility to manage family and parenting responsibilities too. Commitments such as parent’s days, picking up children or arranging care for ageing relatives are challenges faced by men and women alike. The positive changes in gender-based roles make it better for everyone.

In my experience, SME employers are quicker to break the gender stereotype in roles. It seems that this is due to owners being more hands-on with decision making. They’re able to see the benefits that workplace flexibility brings and respond by making changes to how their business operates. In some large organisations, people practices are very entrenched in an older culture and only shift when there is a strong culture jolt.

Gender and diversity targets are good, but they’re the easy part. It’s critical that leaders are committed to, and involved in, the change. Businesses must also have people programs in place that enable the change. Great examples are leadership development or mentoring and coaching programs that are designed specifically to support the necessary workplace shifts at the employee level.

So, the final takeaway is that while it’s easier for SMEs to implement change, it’s not impossible to steer a larger organisation in the right direction. Start at the top by aligning the vision of your leaders then put the right support mechanisms in place. You’ll soon be taking the first positive steps towards a stronger, more balanced and successful organisation. One in which men and women work together for the greater good. And it’s clear now that the benefits apply to everyone, regardless of business size.

The survey and this article were commissioned by Mhairi MacLeod, Astute Ability Finance Group.

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