Kaya Consulting

Where are the women in our workplaces?

Global statistics indicate that the percentage of women in the workforce hasn’t changed much over the last decade. Notably, despite progress, women are still scarce among senior leaders. According to the 2018 Fortune list, only 24 women (4.8%) were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. In addition, according to the World Economic Forum the global average annual earnings for women was $12,000, compared to men’s earnings of $21,000.  

Why does inequality still exist? Where are the women in our workplaces?


Gender equality policies

Many countries in the world have quotas for women on boards of public companies, and gender equality policies exist within many organisations. However, the statistics above indicate that policies alone do not result in transformation.

The 2018 Grant Thornton International Business Report, which focused on women in business, highlights that the businesses that are doing well are those whose policies and practices are rooted in a genuine belief in the benefit of gender diversity.

The leaders in these organisations recognise the advantages of gender diversity and, as a result, create inclusive cultures where diverse voices are encouraged and listened to. In essence, only a mindset shift results in behavioural change. A policy checkbox exercise isn’t enough.

So, how can leaders undertake this shift in mindset to create a shift in culture and behaviour? Like most shifts in mindset, it starts with understanding one’s current mindset and unconscious bias.

Role of unconscious bias

According to a World Economic Forum survey, ‘unconscious bias’ from managers is still seen as the biggest barrier to success for women in today’s workplace, followed by lack of work-life balance and a dearth of role models.

As human beings, we create ‘shortcuts’ from past experiences to help us make sense of our world, whereby we categorise people, places, experiences, etc. This ‘making sense’ process involves developing mental models for everything around us, creating a lens of beliefs and preconceptions that we see the world through.

We’re not consciously aware of these deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and behave. Harvard’s global online research study, which included over 200,000 participants, showed that 76% of people (men and women) are gender-biased and tend to think of men as better suited for careers and women as better suited as homemakers, demonstrating that bias is inherent and instinctive.

Therefore, the goal of unconscious-bias training is to bring the bias to the conscious level, to make it tangible. The training helps us become aware of our bias; to acknowledge it; to own it and then to challenge it. It’s an uncomfortable process, but with this discomfort comes greater self-insight and growth.

Furthermore, effective unconscious-bias training can also help organisations identify practical ways of implementing policies to reduce bias. For example, when symphony orchestras started using blind auditions by placing candidates behind screens and drapes, the number of women in the five leading orchestras in the US increased fivefold. By 2003, more than one third of players in the top 24 orchestras were female.

Diversity, inclusion and belonging

Becoming aware of unconscious bias is the first step, and it can be highly effective in bringing women into the workplace.  But what then? Once women are there, how do we create an environment of inclusion and a sense of belonging?

“Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.” (Verna Myers)

Diversity, inclusion and belonging work hand in hand, but it’s important to distinguish between the three.

  • Diversity is about the ‘who’. Who is recruited, promoted, sitting at the executive level?
  • Inclusion is about the ‘how’. How do we welcome and embrace diversity? How must we behave?
  • Belonging is about the ‘feeling’. How do I feel when I’m the only female sitting at the boardroom table with men?

Belonging is feeling that, as an employee, you’re accepted and celebrated – it’s feeling that you can be your authentic self. It means you can take your mask off, be yourself and feel comfortable contributing. Your need to belong is a basic human characteristic and the pain of exclusion – of not belonging – is similar to that of physical pain.

Organisations tend to focus on diversity and getting the numbers right. Often, they don’t give enough attention to inclusion and belonging. As a result, we struggle to retain the diverse employees we recruit. We need to think about what we’re doing in organisations to create that psychological safety, where all people feel comfortable being themselves and share their honest views and opinions.

We can only include and create a sense of belonging for others, when we face our biases.

This is the starting point.
Confront your biases, reflect on your lens:

  • Who do you connect with more easily in the workplace?
  • What comes to mind when you see a woman at the boardroom table?
  • How comfortable are you taking instruction from a woman?
  • Who do you trust on face-value?
  • How do you feel when led by a woman?
  • Whose capabilities do you doubt?

Who is the Kaya Group?

Our core team is comprised of organisational psychologists, ensuring we have a depth of capability rooted in the science of organisational psychology. We have a superb understanding of human nature in the workplace. This is critical, given the workplace environment is so complex and constantly changing. We have extensive experience working with individual schools and systems in enabling leadership capability, a culture of wellbeing, and high-performing teams.

From a psychological perspective, drawing on over 150 years of research into capability and human potential, we don’t try to ‘fix’ people.

We believe that all people have capability and, therefore, potential. It’s our job to unlock the motivators and facilitate the understanding that unleashes this potential, equipping people with the mindsets, awareness, behaviours, training and discipline they need to manage and fulfil their capability.

By enabling individuals to leverage their strengths and manage their weaknesses, they can realise their career potential while maintaining personal wellbeing.