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The women in the middle: Bridging the learning gap

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Pioneering for women in leadership has been a journey for me and it’s important to reflect on this and our own perceptions as women on how to do this as we mark International Women’s Day. 

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In my twenties I didn’t believe that we should make a distinction between women and men in the workplace and that to do so would do us, women, a disservice. I really thought that as I reached my thirties a lot of the gender inequality would iron itself out. Yet, I’ve vastly done a U-turn on that position. I really can’t believe that so much – more than I had realised – is still going on. Sexism in the workplace is endemic and it has to be called out.

Lean In and McKinsey conducted a 2016 research piece on this topic. They put the same CVs in front of recruiters with one vital difference – one has a man’s name, the other a woman’s. Sadly and unsurprisingly, the male CV would be selected to go through two interviews 60 per cent more frequently than the female CV.

There is still an old boy’s club, and it’s shocking. We talk about making sure your introverts and your extroverts at work are well looked after, but male bosses need to make sure that women are looked after – just because a woman hasn’t asked for a pay rise, does not mean that they shouldn’t be given one. We need to involve men in this fight – get them to help and understand that they have a role to play – we just can’t do it without them.

But it’s not only the men who have work to do.

We, as women, need to be conscious of our own judgments and preconceptions about established societal roles and how these play into gender bias. The reaction I received from women themselves when I went back to work was interesting to note. My husband stayed at home to help support with the children and it was other women and friends themselves that found this astonishing. Why so? I had been at home and working, with the children for such a long time, also, why were we both not given our dues? We also need to call out when women are being unfair to women – we all have a part to play to heal fractious infighting, cattiness and preconceived notions.

But how do we proactively tackle this in the workplace? We can’t just be calling each other out and pointing fingers all the time.

Learning is a key foundation on which I’ve built my career. From a holistic – as a person – point of view, women should stretch to do better and be better. Reading, learning and training play a pivotal role. From learning soft skills to learning how to improve confidence for presenting and understanding the right scenarios in which to proactively ask for pay rises. All of it has helped.

Being able to move beyond being polite to actively putting a stamp and owning our own ideas so that they won’t be attributed wrongly to men is also important. We have to know, and build up resilience in both soft and ‘hard-wired’ skills, from a firm grasp of digital skills to handling your manager. If we do, we will be in a better place to deal with the complex and changing business environments, earn, and ask for, the positions we rightly deserve.

And, we need to pass the knowledge and learning along. Mentoring younger females in the workplace is vital to helping them scale the ladder. That may start at home, in teaching a child that she can do anything she wants to do, to seeking out a female with strong potential to bring along on the journey. It may seem like an insurmountable task and just a drop in the ocean. But we all have a part to play, from galvanising the men in our lives to stop being our own worst enemy (or enemies). It won’t happen overnight, but it is still worth fighting the good fight.

About the author:

Tara O’Sullivan is the Chief Creative Officer at Skillsoft

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