A woman’s place: designing a culture for gender equality
Kit Krugman, Head of Organisation & Culture Design, co:collective, discusses gender equality in the workplace.
Setting quotas and targets helps get women into your organization, but to keep them there you need to build a culture that will allow them to thrive.
The business case for gender equality in the workforce speaks for itself. Women-led companies perform three times better than the S&P 500. Meanwhile, $12trn dollars could be added to the global GDP by 2025 by advancing gender equality.
So, why does tangible progress still feel so far off? According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, North America is still 165 years away from achieving gender parity.
The majority of leading organizations have declared gender diversity a priority. But the challenge lies in turning beliefs into behavior. When most organizations talk about the imperative of gender parity, they are operating with the assumption that just having women present solves the problem. But until we create cultures that support women in big and small ways, we will continue to witness the glass cliffs and ceilings and lose the value of keeping women at the table.
So how do we turn representation into real participation and inclusion? At co:collective, we believe that culture is built by the actions you take every day. Most organizations claim they support women, but when it comes down organizational behaviors they fall short. To design a culture where women can thrive, we must first understand the barriers:
Women volunteer for unpromotable work
A recent study showed that women are 48% more likely to volunteer for unpromotable work, like office housework, than men. According to the research, the very presence of women meant men were less likely to volunteer. And it’s worse for women of color who are are the most likely to be asked to do office housework.
Stereotyping impacts performance
In one study, female Stanford students who were told before a math test that women did not perform as well as men on the same test consistently performed worse than women who were told gender made no difference. Simply evoking a stereotype impacted performance. Meanwhile, men are more likely to be promoted for potential than performance. Women are often deemed “not ready yet”.
Expectations of what women do outside of work hasn’t changed
According to the UN’s Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals 2019 report: “Women spend 3x as many hours as men each day in unpaid care and domestic work.” Or as Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play, puts it: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.” We add more, without removing anything. And when women try to draw a line in the sand over what they take on, they are seen as uncollaborative or worse, rude.
Representation of women in culture perpetuates perceptions
To succeed in careers previously dominated by men, women will be up against the deeply held, often subconscious, beliefs about what women can do. Culture reflects that reality back to us. Women in movies and TV are less likely to be depicted as professionals, and female characters with jobs are six times more likely to be secretaries than men are, according to research from the Geena Davis Institute. The result is damaging. A recent article by Melinda Gates pointed me to the insight that by the time children are six years old, they already tend to guess that a story about “a really, really smart person” is about a man, not a woman.
Our policies carry and perpetuate legacy gender bias
Policies, such as parental leave, aren’t designed to support equal opportunities in the workplace. Unequal leave for men means that women are more frequently de facto primary caregivers and therefore more likely to drop out of the workforce. Unequal leave for men means that women who choose to have families are more adversely impacted than men who choose to have families.
The key decision makers do not represent who they serve
The lack of women at the leadership level in organizations promotes decision making, culture setting and policy design that does not support women. There’s no shortage of women in the workforce - in the US, women make up 52% of management and professional level jobs but only 27% of managerial positions. As long as the primary designers of organizational infrastructures are not representing the diversity of their constituents, we will see stymied progress.
The most challenging piece of solving this puzzle is that, since it’s so socially ingrained, these patterns are repeated by women and men alike. Conventional wisdom says the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing you have a problem. Since we believe that culture is built by all of the actions you take on a daily basis, here’s a set of small but significant things you can do right now to move the needle:
Give “invisible” work like office housework tangible value and make sure it’s not done exclusively by women
How do you give it value? Easy: Pay for it. Or, have leaders do it. Give volunteers a stipend for that work if it’s not included in their job description. At co:collective, we rotate who pitches in on office housework so it never falls exclusively on one person, and that includes our most senior leaders.
Observe and disrupt the gendered metaphors of your organization
Is she the “office mom?” Do clients just “love” her? Are patterns emerging around women being seen as “less rational” or less “data-driven”?
Help the women in your life draw and maintain their boundaries
First, read Fair Play - it’s a must for both men and women in dual career families. Making the invisible work visible enables partners to discuss what a modern partnership should look like. Second, stop asking. Are you asking a woman to do something because she is more likely to say yes than her male colleague?
Notice and object to the stories that get told about women in culture
I walked through the famous library of Trinity College in Dublin recently and observed that not one of the busts was a woman. The one prominent statue I did see in Dublin was Molly Malone, colloquially known as “the tart with the cart” who has been sexually harassed so many times the bronze has worn off her bosom. It reminded me that New York is only just getting its first female statue in central park in August 2020. Our actions demonstrate what we will and will not tolerate.
Take your parental leave, Dad!
There’s progress to be made in making policies equal for both caregivers, but the biggest barrier turns out to be cultural norms. How does your organization treat men who take parental leave?
Invite women into the conversations that matter
Does your board or leadership team have men and women? The sooner you make a concerted effort to change the shape of decision making teams, the sooner you’ll see tangible cultural change take root.
165 years feels daunting. But progress can be made through the small and important actions both men and women take everyday to shift stereotypes, expectations and behaviors that shape culture.
For more information on business topics in the United States, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief USA.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.