By: Imme Hüttmann, PhD, Associate Consultant
We at Canopy Strategic Partners have long been committed to gender equality, knowing that it plays an important role in the development of healthy organizations and societies. We celebrate International Women’s Day to honor the women in our field while reflecting on the path we have followed and on the journey ahead.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively affect our lives, but it did spark some progress for gender equality. Lockdowns encouraged the use of digital tools and social media, which in turn helped feminist movements become stronger. Women are now re-entering the workforce knowing what conditions and benefits they expect from their employers. Notably, women in positions of leadership demonstrated that they can be excellent crisis managers.
Although previous research pointed to this reality, the pandemic provided an opportunity to delve deeper and make some exciting discoveries:
- Traits that are stereotypically associated with female leaders, such as open and frequent communication, deferring to the advice of scientific experts, and guiding policies through empathy and humility, have proven to be very effective during a crisis.
- Women were found to contribute more to companies’ sustainable choices and to exhibit an unwavering resiliency at work and at home.
- Policy analysts confirmed that having more women in leadership roles encourages the adoption of more measures to address gender inequalities brought on by the pandemic.
- Researchers found that females lead teams that are more engaged and drive higher levels of job performance, even when there is no crisis.
While these findings are encouraging, we can’t overlook the setbacks in gender equality that the pandemic caused. Women around the world faced increased violence, were disproportionally affected by job insecurity, and shouldered the responsibilities of providing unpaid care work. COVID also had an impact on the education of adolescent girls and women’s health.
In the workplace, systemic pressures and pitfalls pushed women to leave their positions of leadership in what has been dubbed ‘the Great Breakup’. The main reasons? Female leaders are burned out and under-recognized, find themselves in unwelcoming work environments, and continue to face barriers to their career advancement. Unsurprisingly, the risk of losing women in leadership positions grows when we examine additional layers of race and ethnicity.
The Great Breakup is still ongoing, so on this International Women’s Day we encourage you to take a moment and think about measures that support female leaders in your organization:
To mitigate burnout and lack of recognition:
- Encourage and respect time off work, including breaks, vacations, and after-hours.
- Ensure a fair work distribution and support a culture where help-seeking is not frowned upon.
- Introduce mental health days and/or counseling opportunities.
- Implement flexible work arrangements.
To create a positive work culture:
- Conduct training sessions to identify unconscious bias, microaggressions, and stereotype threats, even in workplaces with a majority of women.
- Establish women affinity groups that are empowered to create change.
- Secure a variety of channels for reporting harassment and discrimination.
To prevent barriers in women’s career paths:
- Create transparent promotion criteria based on desired qualities rather than on gendered traits.
- Develop and support mentorship programs.
- Implement strict policies to prevent and address discrimination and sexual harassment.
Measures for gender equality should be interconnected and address different areas in order to be effective. Pathways between measures help raise awareness on internal gender policies. We can track the progress of our gender equality strategies by evaluating them periodically and making adjustments along the way.
At Canopy Strategic Partners, we are committed to gender equality, and we are excited to share that we are in the final stages of a research study on the barriers that women in leadership roles face in the organizations we collaborate with. Stay tuned for more updates on this topic.
The journey continues, and we are delighted to celebrate the strong, wise, and creative women that we collaborate with moving forward.
As a Costa Rican-German, Imme has become very interested in multicultural/multiracial aspects. She believes it’s the future that people are slowly heading towards, and that’s a good thing!