When you hear the term gender-gap, what is the first thing you think of? You probably thought of the wage gap between the salaries of men and women. You’d be entirely justified to gravitate toward this, as the statistics on the wage discrepancies are an eye-opener. Here’s the problem with jumping to that: the wage gap is an outcome of a problem rather than a cause. The root of the problem begins far earlier than that first corporate job or investor meeting.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative Winter Meeting and participate in the working session titled “Invest In Her”. The session started with an acknowledgement of the skewed ratio of men to women in the room, approximately 7 to 93. After an inspiring introduction by Henriette Kolb the Chair of the Gender Secretariat at the International Finance Corporation we jumped into small groups optimized to engage attendees, foster connections, and build solutions.
Our focus area was in Procurement and Services Diversity. In other words the idea of creating inclusive business supply chains by relying on women, minority, LGBT, veteran, and other oft-marginalized group owned businesses. Historically contracts have gone out to business owned by societies “elite” creating an uphill battle for many minority owned businesses. Today minority and women owned business are finally overcoming this bias and make up one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. Yet there is still a significant gap in their utilization rate compared to other business units. We dove into this challenge by outlining the largest problems we see in gender equality, especially at the organizational level.
Here’s what was shocking: Access to capital was not the issue. In recent years globalization has transformed the procurement industry allowing even developing nations to become key vender locations, as a result of their lower labor and resource costs. In these nations women entrepreneurs and business owners are not suffering from lack of capital access. In fact Africa boosts the only 3 countries in the world with greater female economic participation than male (No Ceilings). Instead the most frequently cited issue was lack of business training or knowledge of how to spend investment. Women could get access to capital but had never received training or mentorship on key factors skills such as sales, operations management, hiring, etc. Why? Because they were never expected to be business owners or managers. In fact, most discrepancies in skills and training could be cited as from before the age of 18.
Recently I read an article by Patricia Garcia in Vogue titled “Should We All Be Raising Gender Neutral Children” that really made me think. It pointed out that our inherent biases when raising boys and girls are what create the biggest divides. Boys are most frequently asked about numbers and counting, girls are most frequently asked about appearances and looks. Boys are encouraged to be aggressive (how many times have you heard “boys will be boys”), girls are encouraged to smile and look pretty. Boys are encouraged to win, girls are encouraged to try. How often is a young girl asked about math or even reading? If you read Lisa Blooms article in Huffington Post “How To Talk to Little Girls” you’d be surprised by how much less frequently it occurs. In fact the skills and attributes that are needed to be successful in business are what we steer boys towards and girls away from. Years later we try to make up for it with endless “One day Workshops”. In comparison to years of misdirection these fall far short of what is needed to best “Invest In Her”. Still skeptical? See the pure data from the Clinton Foundations No Ceilings Project. So what’s the solution? Is there one?
Disclaimer: Different people have different styles: the goal is not for women to emulate men, but to have the same level of opportunity and success with their own styles. Individuality is what makes diverse groups so much more dynamic.
In the long run it’s clear that we have to change our own perceptions to create an environment, which empowers boys and girls equally. It takes time but adults have to begin to check themselves around children and make sure that they are not perpetuating stereotypes unintentionally. In the short run, diversity programs and one-day workshops are not enough; instead we need to focus on personalized skill development. Selling yourself is not something that can be picked up in a couple hours and neither is recruiting a board or bringing on clients. One-on-one mentorship, full-length trainings, and most importantly encouragement and support are the changes we can make today.
Coming full-circle: the wage-gap is an extension of the biases that are ingrained from early ages. Women are not worse negotiators than men, they are simply not encouraged to be aggressive or value themselves as highly. Imagine if at age 4 a girl was asked about building legos, at age 12 the economy, and age 18 her dream. Investing in her does not mean creating quotas for jobs and investment, it means believing in HER.
Money won't create success, the freedom to make it will.
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Resolution Fellow | Dalai Lama Fellow | Jefferson Awards Foundation GlobeChanger Bridging the Public and Private Sectors Around Global Social Change