Workplace Equality Risks and Pitfalls

In the post #MeToo world there are huge opportunities for women and men, but there are also risks and pitfalls. In the drive to address equality in their workplaces, or to be seen to be doing so, are the people who are leading organisations as conscious of those risks and pitfalls as they need to be? Do they have the skills to manage them so that the real transformation that is possible from this movement gets realised and we don’t end up with a counter-productive pendulum swing?

I was recently told by a client that two of her female corporate leaders strongly advised that a middle-aged man who had made an unconsciously biased comment be terminated and ‘made an example of’ immediately. That action did not happen because my client is aware enough to see that doing so was not only illegal according to workplace laws, but that it was unfair and motivated by a kind of political extremism that would have far-reaching repercussions in her area of the business. She talked of feeling like she was now ‘out of the girls club’ as a result of the decision she made, and an uneasiness in the direction her company may be going in if this was going to be the attitude of its female leaders.

In a team we are working with the two female executives experienced being left ‘outside of the boys club’ which they felt existed between the CEO and their male teammates. In the beginning neither of them was willing to broach the subject with the group, for fear of being further marginalised. With our support the concern was raised in the group and the men were initially insulted by the proposition – in their world they were not doing anything to exclude their female peers; another case of unconscious bias. The women are learning to have the courage and conviction to tackle clear instances of exclusion as they experience them, rather than avoiding being uncomfortable and finding solace in one another’s entrenched views of the men; the men are now awake to how their behaviours impact others and are authentically grappling with how to modify them.

An often-unseen dynamic in dealing with change for us as human beings is that we base our thoughts and our conversations about the need for that change on stressing what’s wrong with the way things are or have been. The argument goes along the line of ‘THAT is wrong, THIS is right’. Arguments founded on this kind of thinking create very rigid black and white lines of demarcation that can shut down the dialogue necessary to make the change well and in good time.

Just as ignoring the female perspective clearly doesn’t work, vilification of men is not the solution to the problem.

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