International Women’s Day: Leaving your comfort zone and growing talent

08 March 2023

It’s International Women’s Day and there’s much to celebrate in terms of the progress of women in the workplace, yet some startling disparities remain.  Only eight FTSE 100 companies are led by women, for example. That’s clearly neither representative nor beneficial, so chaps: we need your help and I, for one, know that many of my colleagues genuinely support the advancement of women – it’s just that they’re not always sure how to go about it.

To help, here are three issues men can proactively consider to promote and support the advancement of their female colleagues:

The curse of the ‘assertive’ woman

It can’t be right that an assertive woman is framed as ‘bossy’ where a similar male colleague may be seen as ‘influential’. ‘Determined’ is perceived as a positive attribute for a man but a ‘determined’ woman? Maybe less so.

If you’re uncomfortable with an assertive woman reflect: would her actions or demeanour be ‘ok’ if she was a man? If so, it may be worth reflecting on that for a minute or two.

Jelly mould promotions

It’s human nature to feel more comfortable with ‘people who look like us’- and perhaps understandable that senior male colleagues will instinctively feel most comfortable in advancing younger men who look and think like them. ‘Birds of a feather,’ and all that.

The self-perpetuating impact of such unconscious bias on the advancement and promotion of women, however, is obvious – and how many great candidates are therefore lost to your business as a result?  How many future leaders stymied, who then take their talents elsewhere?

Ditch the bias and get out of your comfort zone and imagine where your company could be. Promote the best candidate for the role based on deliberative consideration not instinctive biases and see where that takes you. Nowhere negative, that’s for sure.

Leading by example

In the post-pandemic world huge advances have been made in the visibility and acceptability of family and life commitments in the workplace. This has made the lives of women in the workplace – still often the primary carers – easier. Leaving the office to pick up children or to make a hospital trip with an elderly parent has become much more ‘acceptable,’ and with women less likely to be placed on the ‘mummy track’ as a result.

However, as with any behaviour a leader would like their team to adopt it’s critical to lead by example. If you want your team to feel it’s fine to make time for family commitments, model it: leave loudly to pick up your kids. Likewise, don’t set a precedent for regular long hours, late nights or over the weekend – lead by example. This will send a clear message to colleagues on the acceptability of a balanced home and work life.

Wholehearted support of women in an organisation takes more than wearing a pink shirt on International Women’s Day. We have to walk the walk. Be honest with yourself; take a minute to reflect on your biases; consider how you ‘expect’ men and women to behave; and then lead by example. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can shift the dial.

Article written by Kate Paterson, Architecture Associate and member of our Gender and Equity Impact Group.