Flickr / Drew Altizer
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has certainly earned her reputation for telling it like it is.
Whether the subject is the United States’ lack of mandated paid parental leave or the way out-of-office networking opportunities with senior execs consistently leave women behind, the “Lean In” author has become our de facto point person for calling out what’s really holding women back in the corporate world. And on Monday (October 9), in conjunction with the release of LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co.’s 2017 Women in the Workplace Report, Sandberg identified a lingering roadblock that’s holding back gender equality — namely, that we continue not to recognize the absence of it.
In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, Sandberg spoke to people’s alarming comfort with the status quo, something she saw reflected in the report’s findings. Analyzing the input of 222 companies employing more than 12 million people, the report found that more than 60% of men believe their company has already done or is doing what it takes to improve gender diversity. What’s more, half of men believe that hiring managers at their company are already considering a plenty diverse lineup of candidates, and men were also 60% more likely than their female peers to state that disrespectful behavior toward women employees was “addressed quickly all or most of the time.”
While we know that women, as confirmed by the report’s findings, tend to see these matters differently, it’s still alarming to hear they may not be seen differently enough. According to the report, women are also guilty of failing to fully recognize the absence of equality, something Sandberg highlighted by citing another survey finding.
“Nearly 50% of men think that when just 1 in 10 senior leaders in their company is a woman, that’s sufficient. And remarkably, a third of women agree,” Sandberg wrote. “When so many people see a leadership team that’s only 10% women — who, let’s remember, are half the population — and think, ‘That’s good enough,’ it’s a sign that we’re too comfortable with the status quo.”
Calling these failures to recognize inequality “blind spots,” Sandberg asserted they’re getting in the way of true progress, especially where remedying the challenges of working women of color is concerned.
“It’s hard to solve a problem we don’t fully see or understand — and when it comes to gender in the workplace, too often we miss the scope and scale of the issue,” she wrote. “...We need to open our eyes to the inequality that remains. We won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are.”
So, where to go from here? Sandberg recommended three strategies:
1. Make the connection between gender diversity and business results more widely known.
“Illustrating how supporting women helps an organization’s long-term success can bring more employees on board,” Sandberg wrote. “While 78% of companies say they already articulate a business case for equality, only 16% back it up with numbers. And firms should show their commitment: When employees see higher-ups prioritizing equality, they’re more likely to do the same.”
2. Get managers better involved.
“They make many of the day-to-day decisions that shape women’s careers. They’re often the ones who decide whether a company-wide program or policy is embraced or ignored. When they’re committed to gender diversity, their teams follow their lead,” she wrote. “Companies should take steps to ensure that managers understand why equality matters, have the tools and training to make a difference, and are rewarded when they do.”
3. And finally — make it intersectional.
“More companies prioritize gender diversity than racial diversity, perhaps hoping that focusing on gender alone will be sufficient to support all women,” Sandberg pointed out. “But women of color face bias both for being women and for being people of color, and this double discrimination leads to a complex set of constraints and barriers. When companies fail to see this, they miss the chance to level the playing field for everyone.”
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