Things are looking bright for women's empowerment, at least on the surface. In the beginning of the year we went to the World Economic Forum in Davos and saw an impressive line-up of the world's leading companies strut their diversity & inclusion efforts. Women's empowerment has finally broken through the glass ceiling - equality has become a business critical goal for most big businesses.
This makes sense, PwC's 'Women In Work Index' shows that improving female participation in work could boost OECD GDP by US$6 trillion. Needless to say that companies are losing out on both talent and performance if they are not addressing the current imbalances.
Most companies have been quick to act on external factors affecting women's empowerment.
One of the common ways to tackle inequalities is to address what happens in the working environment, such as introducing flexible working hours, removing unconscious bias from the recruitment process and equal pay.
It makes sense to create a place to work that reflects different working preferences and lifestyles. Organisations are waking up to the benefits of flexible working for all employees. Flexible workers take less leave and are more productive, a survey reveals.
However, a recent study by Deloitte found that organisation's inclusion efforts may not be addressing one of the biggest challenges - everyday bias. Most professionals believe their organisation fosters an inclusive workplace and provides opportunities to connect with others from diverse backgrounds; yet, many feel they frequently experience and witness bias, often to the detriment of their productivity, engagement, well-being and overall happiness.
More than two-thirds of respondents say experiencing and/or witnessing bias has had a negative impact on how engaged they feel at work and on their productivity overall.
"Our survey clearly reveals that even well-intentioned organizations have much work to do to close the gap between overarching goals and the actual experiences of their workforce," said Joe Ucuzoglu, Deloitte US CEO.
Scratching the surface
We recently talked with a prominent HR director about the work her company is doing to empower women. She told us that the focus was in "presentation skills and image & personal style training".
It's of course necessary to improve women's ability to present themselves professionally and equip them with media training etc. But, is this going to change anything?
We've met thousands of women in the past few years and can see that there are much deeper forces at play here. The biggest challenge women face has nothing to do with presentation skills. We can present anything when we feel fired up and have found our drive!
Many women suffer from a deeply rooted lack of confidence stemming from hundreds of years of social conditioning where women's efforts, ideas and values have been systematically pushed down and ridiculed. We have been brought up in a culture where being your unapologetic, authentic self has not been promoted. A study on 'confidence gap' reveals that women who confidently talk about their abilities are still penalised.
Companies who want to bring out the full potential of women should be working on internal empowerment.
Companies who are genuinely interested in bringing out the true potential of women should be helping women build their confidence and find their 'inner drive'.
Changing your mindset and finding your drive takes time and the journey begins by leaving your comfort zone, traveling through vulnerability and building courage. You can't feed anyone confidence with a spoon! Confidence must be home grown and is built through trial and error.
It helps, of course, that the working environment is changing but women should not sit there in a victim position, waiting for the world to change for them. The real empowerment comes from within. When women become strong within themselves no bias can influence them. Women will stand up for harassment and will no longer accept the gender pay gap that show eight in 10 UK firms pay men more than women.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.“ - Eleanor Roosevelt
We women keep giving our consent to a daily struggle, in the office and at home, and as long as we let it continue - it will. A couple of presentation training days are not going to change that, so don't be fooled.
Facilitating inner change will be a real game changer - for companies and for women.
It is one thing to place more women in key positions within the company and give them equal opportunities, and don't get me wrong, it's a great start!
However, all mentoring programs and networking opportunities we have seen this year mostly involve the top women (who are making waves already anyway). Yes, it's great that we bring in more role models, but just because you see Serena Williams talking back at an umpire doesn't mean that an average woman with her daily worries is going to do anything about her own situation.
So, just imagine.... what would happen if all women were empowered?
What would the world look like if every woman would feel safe to express who she is, what she wants and what she's passionate about!
Just imagine the amount of productive energy that would get released when women no longer asked for permission to be who they are and would boldly present their ideas. Just imagine what would happen when women were truly empowered, engaged and excited about their work - in the office and at home.
How would the world look like then?
The feminine power will inevitably change things.
Clearly not all companies are ready for the real power of women. When we find our inner drive we will start building things differently. We will no longer accept the system as the norm, we will change things! This looming change seems strangely scary to some.
But let's be clear, women's empowerment is not a power struggle. This is not a battle of the sexes. Empowering women is about bringing out potential that has been lost for centuries, it's not about competing over who's ideas are best.
The organisations that want to 'look good' will keep scratching the surface, changing bits and pieces here and there. Research by PwC shows that 52% of board members agree that D&I agenda is driven by political correctness rather than need for increased productivity through unlocking the power of women.
Businesses who want to see the true power of women will unlock an unstoppable force for good and for profit.
When the current top down, outside-in approach meets inside-out empowerment, results will come faster and we will create lasting change. We must move from the masculine way of delivering more and more information to creating safe spaces where women freely can discover what lights them up and how they can bring their best selves to work.
DrivenWoman's mission is to make personal development accessible to all women across all backgrounds and organisational levels. We've been running Lifeworking groups where women come together to support one another and keep each other accountable for over 6-years now and have seen incredible results. The work is based on constantly practising the mindset 'muscle' and building confidence one bold step at a time. Each month members focus on five key learning points to put into action. This results in permanent change in behaviour rather than a dose of one-off inspiration.
In our online programme DrivenWoman Academy leading career and positive psychology coaches help women achieve their career ambitions and manage work and life. The DrivenWoman LifeWorking™ program is now offered to companies who are already taking steps in women's empowerment and are eager to see deeper, long lasting results and the benefits for everyone within their organisation.
To find out how we can help you to truly empower women within your organisation please contact info(at)driven-woman.com