To achieve the IWD theme of gender equality, focus on gender equality in leadership

The theme of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2020 is gender equality. Per the IWD website, “Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive.” How true. Communities cannot thrive with half the global population facing combinations of overt and covert biases that limit women from realizing their potential. To thrive, gender bias must become part of history and this will only happen when there is gender equality in senior leadership. This will set the stage for male and female leaders to have equal participation and give equal consideration to men and women when business decisions are being made. This is when economies can thrive to the tune of an estimated additional $12 trillion

We are a long way from realizing these trillions. Today there are 30 female CEOs in the S&P 500. That is 6%: 44% shy of equality. Getting to equality in leadership will take a ton of work. The biggest deterrent is unconscious bias, which increases at each successive level of leadership. This is why 37% of entry-level managers in the S&P 500, 26.5% of executives, and 6% of CEOs are females, or why 50% of voters, 20% of legislators and 10% of heads of government are women. Why does bias rise for increasingly powerful roles? According to Allen Johnson an expert on patriarchal societies, men are okay with a few women in higher positions of power, but they are not going to relinquish too much power. Per two leading experts on gender stereotypes and unconscious bias, Drs. Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, “as women gain greater equality, a portion of people react against it. They long for traditional roles.” 

For thousands of years, men have dominated positions of power in business in addition to government and religion. It won’t take thousands of years to change this, but it won’t happen overnight, and it will never happen without more women in senior leadership representing half the population that is tired of subordination, and numerous inequities and biases including sexual and gender harassment. To do this we must prepare aspirational women, first to neutralize unconscious biases, and second to leverage the inherently better people skills women tend to have to develop competitive leader skill advantages. This formula can put a stop to the biased habit of denying women’s competence to lead departments, organizations and nations. #EachforEqual

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