Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg recently stated at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland: "We reward men for being leaders, for being assertive, for taking risks, for being competitive; we teach women as young as four to lay back, be communal. We need our girls to be ambitious to achieve in the workforce." Double-standards are ubiquitous in the workplace. Ambitious men are assertive. The same quality in women is often seen as aggressive and competitive. In a society where equality is increasing in value, how do you avoid this type of gender discrimination in the workplace?
Men have, traditionally, been seen as the bread winners, while women are the caregivers. A man can work tirelessly through long hours and weekends — while a woman needs to go home and tend to her family. These days, the trend is shifting. More women are executives than ever, while still raising children and tending to domestic duties. Men are changing roles as well, providing a more active and even leading role in the household. If a spouse supports your ambition, your job environment certainly should.
As stated in a Forbes' article published in October 2011, there are more than 27 million small businesses in the United States, and over 7.7 million of these businesses are owned by women. Though these statistics vary by source, this still equates to an overwhelming majority of male small business owners. While perhaps an interesting fact, here's the difficulty with it: by focusing on the numbers, it's still valuing gender over qualifications. Does it matter how many men versus women are in the workplace, are CEOs, are on boards, or own businesses? The answer, in my mind, is no.
What matters, or should matter, is who is capable of holding these positions. What is important is that both genders are treated fairly, regardless of sex, or for that matter: race, age, culture, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic that causes prejudgment. Favoring one group over another only serves to call out the already existing gap. How do we solve for this? The answer is simple — too unassuming for many to recognize: treat every person with equality. Sure, it's easier said than done, but isn't that true with everything worthwhile? Instead of being hypersensitive to details that don't matter, look at performance, values, skillset, and experience.
Managing gender discrimination in the workplace is about eradicating discrimination. Imagine that all you have is a resume with no name or individual characteristics. Then imagine that you can get to know that same person with no identifying information. This is impossible in actuality of course, but the key to mastering impartiality is two-fold. Do not hold back rewards, roles, responsibilities or recognition based on prejudice, and do not provide these things for the same reason.
Lisa Promise is the founder of Promise Consulting Group, a full-service marketing, advertising, and communications consulting company for small businesses. Read more about Lisa here.