All over the globe, women are rising. In politics, in business — in every sector of life. Women earn more higher degrees than men, make up 46 percent of the workforce, and are in increasingly high-profile roles.
And yet, so many challenges remain. The number of women in CEO roles is declining, and their compensation remains stubbornly lower than their male counterparts. A recent exhibit, Women at Work: Myth Vs. Reality, makes the compelling argument that a few persistent myths are holding women back.
The five myths
The exhibit was unveiled at the World Economic Forum at Davos, and the reception was “overwhelmingly positive,” according to Deanna Bass, executive director of diversity and inclusion at Procter & Gamble. “The exhibit was a labor of love between Procter & Gamble, Seneca Women, and the creative team at Badger and Winters. It’s very visual and auditory, and it’s really an impactful way to take in the conversation of the myths.”
“We call them myths because they are largely based in bias and stereotype,” says Bass, “yet we still hold them to be true today.”
Here are the five myths the exhibit highlights:
Myth No. 1: Women lack confidence and other leadership traits
- Reality: Women possess the right leadership qualities; it’s the way their behavior is perceived that impedes them.
- Action: Fix the system, not the women.
“It’s rooted in the narrative that women lack confidence, that women lack ambition, that they fear failure,” says Bass, “and that doesn’t ring true. Women’s behavior is often different than men, and we’ve codified that behavior as lacking confidence. But you can easily call that behavior humility, and humility is one of the top leadership skills required in today’s world.”
Myth No. 2: There are not enough qualified women for top jobs
- Reality: There are plenty of qualified women.
- Action: Tend to your talent.
Companies need to be intentional and creative in terms of talent sourcing and development. “What we’re working on is very intentional talent management,” says Bass. “That means identifying top talent early in careers and having a longer planning window.”
Myth No. 3: STEM is a man’s thing
- Reality: Women do well in STEM. It’s gender bias that drives them away.
- Action: Think differently about tech.
Studies show that girls do just as well, if not better, in STEM subjects through high school. Companies need to showcase more female role models to combat the misconception that tech and science aren’t for them.
Myth No. 4: Household chores are women’s work
- Reality: Childcare and household chores are everyone’s work.
- Action: Share the load.
“Equality based policies such as paid parental leave and flexible work environments allow both men and women to share the load at home — freeing up women to be more productive at work,” Bass notes.
Myth No. 5: Sexual harassment is a women’s issue
- Reality: Stopping harassment is everyone’s job.
- Action: Take it seriously.
“We believe that sexual harassment is a failure of leadership,” says Bass. “It is everybody’s issue.”
Changing the narrative
Bass is passionate about exploding these myths. “It’s time to change the narrative and shift from a mindset of ‘fixing the women’ to fixing the systems, policies and cultures that hold women back in the workplace.”
She sees the Women at Work exhibit, and other actions P&G is taking for gender equality, as a great way to tackle bias and spark conversations that can change mindsets. “We know that when we do this, communities are healthier, businesses thrive, and the world is a better place for everyone.”