Note published on March 25 in Expansión Mujeres, Actualidad [Current Times] Section by Ana Grimaldo.
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Do women have the obligation of helping one another just because they share the same gender? Experts in human capital discuss the expectations set on women leaders
In Mexico, only 15% of vice-presidencies or area directorships are held by women, according to the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO). In consequence, one of the most frequent demands made by women in the corporate sector is that of holding an increasing number of positions in order to break the glass ceiling and other phenomena that also affect them, such as the gender salary gap.
Olivia Segura, director of Advisory in Human Capital and Talent Management at KPMG in Mexico, states that the importance of the participation of women in leadership positions involves the creation of spaces with the necessary diversity to maintain representativeness, the creation of inclusive policies and having role models to follow in order to promote greater levels of participation of feminine talent.
Nevertheless, the fact of having a woman occupy positions of leadership within an organization does not guarantee that other women behind her, in lower-level positions, will benefit from it.
Why is it that not all women undertake to break the glass ceiling for others?
Blanya Correal, a labor expert and strategist explains that women in positions of leadership not openly helping others is a relatively common phenomenon, but that it does not always have to do with an intention of doing them a disservice or of showing indifference.
Women that reach those positions of power, she states, are placed within boundaries, in comparison with their male peers. “Additionally, they are dragged down by two particular elements: first, they had to fight and overcome many obstacles to get to where they are, and they do not think it is ‘fair’ for someone else to reach the same place without having to suffer in the same manner; and, second, there is a general feeling that they have to constantly justify why they occupy that position”, says Correal.
For the also expert in human resources, this motive has an influence on the fact that many women in positions of leadership are reluctant to implement affirmative measures such as gender quotas, because “nobody wants to think that they were given a position just for being a woman.”
A third element that constrains the extension of support to other women relates to the few available spaces for them to do networking. By spaces she refers to the places in which to conduct this networking or not having a large network of contacts and even to the fact that they have no time to nurture ties outside of work if a major part of the responsibilities at home also falls upon them.
Arleth Leal, businesswoman, high-profile headhunter and counselor, explains that another factor for women not providing support to those who may follow behind them is because of the absence of a generalized idea of sorority in the corporate world, in the sense that there is one of camaraderie.
“It doesn’t have to do with their not wanting it, but rather that men have been working and getting to know one another for a longer time”, she points out.
Inclusion as a culture and not as a goal
Mónica Flores, president for Latin America at ManpowerGroup, states that when a woman reaches a position of leadership, the expectations on her development often go beyond the very attributions of her position and also encompass desirable qualities in the personal areas of life.
“If, as a woman, you have a male boss, you do not expect him to understand things that happen to you that he has not gone through. On the other hand, if you are a mother and so is your boss, you expect her to be more sensitive in regard to flexibility in your working hours, which will help you fit your life and your work together”, she says.
However, despite the fact that it is desirable that all leaders work with a perspective of gender and sensitivity toward topics such as inclusion and diversity, in the opinion of Flores it is even more worrying that a woman does not meet these expectations.
Breaking glass ceilings or improving labor conditions, she says, does not always imply giving women a better position, but offering better benefits that include childcare or care for the elderly, also advice on the design of their career plans, integrating them or creating mentorship and networking programs. Lastly, she highlights the importance of focusing on women’s skills that are more than compatible with the needs of employers in the twenty-first century, such as discipline, trustworthiness, problem solving and the ability to create connections between team members.
In this sense, Correal supports the idea that inclusion is not a goal, but a manner of working at all levels within the organization for the benefit of all collaborators and of the company.
She also advocates for affirmative measures, such as gender quotas, salary compensation for women or extended maternity and paternity leaves, necessary to level the playing field in which people compete for better positions.
“A woman wants to receive recognition for her talent, not because of her gender, but we have to make them and everyone else understand that these quotas are not a gift from anyone, that if they got to where they are through that route it is because of their work”, she states.
Correal adds that there is a prevailing fear among women of being perceived in their workplaces as being “feminists” or “pro-woman”, because this would be an additional motive for disqualifying their already questioned team or business directorship or management.
To avoid this aversion to the concept, Arleth Leal recommends having collective and individual talks on topics that are being discussed in the public arena and have to do with topics such as feminism, gender violence or harassment situations because, she considers, there is still a lot of misinformation around these topics.
“At work, there is no absence of the stereotype that the feminist peer is the bad-tempered one who hates men and will create conflict over any situation, but the reality is only lack of awareness on their part and, therefore, we have to talk about the feminist cause and what it upholds”, she points out.