The adage that "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good," is sadly true in the workplace. For decades, we’ve been telling women that in order to succeed at work and business, they must work hard(er), toughen up, and become one of the guys. Here is the problem: it hasn’t worked. Not at scale. Women are still grossly underrepresented in leadership positions, despite accounting for 50 percent of the workforce. The result is productivity loss because reaching gender equity in the workplace is not about checking a box, it’s about profitability.
S&P Global found that firms with women in the C-Suite realized a 20 percent increase in stock price momentum, a six percent increase in profitability and eight percent larger stock returns. Women are also more likely to embrace employee friendly policies and programs to champion racial and gender diversity. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, more than 50 percent of women consistently take a public stand for gender and racial equity at work, compared to about 40 percent of men.
As VEST Coach and former Director of Inclusion at Netflix, Michelle King said, “the tired advice of fixing women doesn't fix anything.” While perhaps well intentioned, this type of advice keeps us in the status quo. Creating equitable workplaces benefits everyone, not just women. If we are serious about change, we must fix the workplace, not women.
Suggesting women need to work harder disregards the fact that women are already working hard, and account for 76 percent of unpaid care work, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Through my work, I’ve coached hundreds of women. All of them work more than 12-hour shifts, work weekends, take on additional work, and show up to networking events. This hasn’t guaranteed them promotions, appointments, or capital investment.
As an immigrant from Mexico, I understand the value of hard work, sacrifice and commitment. However, suggesting that women must work three times harder than men to get ahead is only reinforcing the status quo.
As Thasunda Brown Duckett of TIAA (one of only three women of color on the list of Fortune 500 CEOs) stated " My hope is that corporate America realizes that talent is created equally but opportunity is not."
Systems and biases are keeping women, particularly women of color, from reaching mobility. This has led to an unsustainable labor model as proven by the COVID-19 pandemic. Women account for almost all of the job losses since the pandemic started. The McKinsey study also found that of those who remain employed, more than half report experiencing burnout, and one-in-four are considering downshifting their careers or dropping out of the workforce altogether.
Instead of focusing efforts on fixing women, we should encourage organizations to take a closer look at the processes and systems in place that are holding women back. Doing so will result in a broader talent pool, increased productivity, and profitability.