When Julie Provino, founder of HR consultancy VeryHR, was invited to be a part of a global workshop where she as the only woman in a male-dominated board, you’d expect her to be thrilled. But after the two-day event when she was called on stage by her peers to be applauded for the achievement, she felt anything but proud. “I couldn’t help but feel the shame and the weight of their sexual bias towards me,” she said talking to Elite Business. “None of them were receiving flowers or gifts for their efforts. Why should I be treated any differently?”
While this would seem like progress in gender parity to many, Provino saw it as sexism and her self-esteem took a hit. “I started to lose confidence and became passive-aggressive, which ultimately negatively contributed to my time at that particular company,” she added. “I felt that on account of my gender, I was seen as a lesser being than my peers.”
Provino isn’t alone in facing inequality. Women’s ability to move into leadership roles continues to be stymied. According to a report released by IBM, the IT company, which surveyed 2,300 executives, 79% organisations said advancing women into leadership roles isn’t a business priority.
To Michelle Peluso, senior vice president of digital sales and chief marketing officer at IBM, this isn’t good enough. “The past year has heightened the world’s focus on diversity and the business benefits of inclusive teams are now well-documented,” she said, commenting on the research. “The opportunity now is to move from inclusion being interesting to being imperative – just like we treat other top business priorities.”
Indeed, the need of the hour is entrepreneurs being more diverse and inclusive as it’s the only way to get ahead. Here are some basic steps you can take to reduce sexism in your startup.
(1) Empowering employees
Women in the workplace must be encouraged to openly address their issues without any fear. This includes female senior staff as well as workers. “This takes a lot of courage and requires and openness on behalf of both parties,” Provino added. It’s not uncommon for many female employees to brush sexist comments under the carpet – especially if said by the boss. And as an employer you must create an environment to ensure they’re given freedom to express themselves. “If you witness sexism or any other ism, then challenge it respectfully,” she urged. “Your freedom ends where the freedom of the other begins.”
(2) Equal opportunities
Creating opportunities based on your employees’ gender is a downward hill for any business. “Changing equal opportunities policies to align with the fact that male/female [aren’t] as binary as [they] seem to be [is essential],” Provino advised. It’s no secret that men and women working together can bring conflict. “However, achieving the right balance through awareness training, as well as additional coaching can really be a formula of success,” she said. “Understanding that we all can learn from and complement each other is an asset for any organisation.”
Every boss – male or female – must reflect and be aware of their own biases. “Self-awareness and open honesty are key attributes that can be brought in, taught and developed,” she added. “All you need is the willingness to make a positive change.”
While the battle to foster an environment which treats its staff based on their abilities rather than sex is ongoing, businesses must take action immediately to eliminate gender discrimination. “The cost and burden of sexism is significant and cannot be overlooked,” Provino concluded. As women are taking over the superhero world, the day isn’t far when they do so in the business world.