On November 10, five phenomenal women sat down with our Executive Director, Stephany Zoo, at the 2017 Youth Future Conference to talk about the current challenges women face in the workplace and how we can work toward addressing these issues. An overall theme seemed to emerge as the panel went on – that fluidity in leadership style, in world view, and problem-solving is key to tackling the gender gap.
Our panelists came from diverse backgrounds, from the tech sector to HR to the nonprofit scene. They came from places like Singapore to Kenya to China, but the pervasive gender gap in the workplace remained a common problem across all cultures and all industries. Thank you to the wonderful women who shared their thoughts and solutions with us:
Below are the key takeaways from their discussion:
What is the single biggest issue women face in the workplace today?
In male dominated industries, such as tech, it’s difficult to get women interested and comfortable in a workplace whose culture is not designed for them. Instances of not finding female mentorship or being perceived as a potential date can drive women away from these growing industries. For women that do stay, setting boundaries, making sure motivations align with male counterparts, and reasserting expectations is key as the trend of professional and personal lives blurring continues to increase.
What is your personal leadership style and what influenced it?
- Virginia: Traditionally “masculine” even with a female team
- Influences: Close to her father, previous bosses and clients were male as a lawyer
- Arielle: A Scandinavian gender neutral style
- Influences: First mentor was a Swedish man who was process-oriented and collaborative
Grace: A mix of both traditionally feminine and masculine characteristics
Influences: Was traditionally “feminine” but it led to male counterparts not taking her seriously so she switched to a “male” style but it felt unnatural
Wei: Change style based on mentee (just as she parents differently to each of their children)
Influences: Trial and error—She noticed that this is the best way to bring out the best in the teams
Candice: Changes style based on her team based on their stage of growth
Influences: Because she was the founder, she has grown with this team
How can women bring men into the conversation about sexual harassment?
Just have a conversation with a male friend. Women often expect men to read their minds about gender-based issues that society has deemed “women’s problems,” but the reality is that most men don’t understand a woman’s experience and journey in the workplace. After the conversation, encourage them to be a champion and have the conversation with another man.
How can a man help women realize that certain behavior is not appropriate in a culture where women are taught to withstand abuse?
Make the workplace comfortable and safe so that when women get into uncomfortable situations, they know what comfort is supposed to feel like. If you are the authority figure in the room, ask the woman to speak. It shows others that you value a woman’s opinion and shows her that she is valued.
What is the single most important metric to measure gender equality?
Unanimously the panel agreed it was the economic empowerment of women. How much money is in a woman’s hands? How much do women contribute to society? The more women can economically contribute to society, the more equal that society will become.