The end of March 8th

Celia de Anca. Director. IE Center for Diversity

8 March 2017

The problem with equality is that it’s like a map with both internal and external barriers. What we have to do is to map different routes that advance toward the same goal.

María Vazquez is a young Spanish woman in her thirties, with a career in management and a master’s degree in big data.  She is confident that one day she will be able have a job whereby she will be able to exercise influence and express her ideas. But there are certain things that worry her. Should she stop now and start a family. Does she really want to have a family or is it because she feels it is expected of her? Is she seen as a competent professional or is gender a variable for her success? At the recently held Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, she met Malek, a young Moroccan woman specialized in big data engineering, with whom she immediately felt an affinity. It turned out that Malek shares a surprising number of her concerns, in spite of the two of them being from very different cultures.  

According to the Global Gender Gap Report, drawn up by the World Economic Forum, Spain holds the No. 29 position out of 144 countries included in the survey, while Morocco is at No. 139. But the report offers up far more surprising data. The US is positioned way below Spain in the No. 45 position, and Nicaragua is way higher at No. 10. It turns out that equality, contrary to what most of us believe, is not measured by the level of economic development in a country, but rather by the difference in levels of economic or political representation of men and women in the country in question.  

The only reason we continue to celebrate March 8th as International Women’s Day is that it reminds us that there is still a lack of female talent involved in deciding policy, particularly in the decisionmaking bodies of business organizations. And like every March 8th, we should ask ourselves three basic questions - Why are there still so few women in positions of leadership? Why is this still a problem? And what can business organizations do about it?

Women have advanced greatly in terms of social and economic inclusion. We often have intense discussions about the level of advancement toward “the line”, without realizing that we are reducing a complex problem to just one variable, namely equality, or the elimination of barriers. But if we take a step back for a moment and consider a less simplistic model, we can understand that this supposed line is, in actual fact, a map. This map has multiple roads etched by the evolution of external barriers created by the male business model, and internal barriers resulting from our cultural beliefs and gender-based expectations. The unique combination of both these variables draws a specific path for each woman, each company, and each society - as well as mapping a path for us to follow.

In many western cultures, the external barriers that render female talent invisible, such as legal discrimination, or social stereotypes that make leadership difficult for women, have already been identified and associations, governments and businesses themselves are working to eliminate them.

But as external barriers fall, at different paces in different cultures, surveys demonstrate that other internal barriers spring up in their place. These new barriers often exist at a subconscious level and translate into a lack of motivation, invisible insecurities and tensions about the role that each woman has to play in society, all of which often prevent women from being visible.

Coming back to the three initial questions, female talent is still not fully represented in the decisionmaking bodies of governments. Only 18% of members of parliaments worldwide are women, and only 20% of functional management positions around the world are held by women. This is a problem for organizations, given that they need the talent that women bring.  

And yes, there is still a great deal more that organizations can do. Using the tools that are being developed in different research centers, they can gauge the current situation by taking a look at two key variables, internal and external barriers, in order to establish the individual position of each company employee, and the position of the company on that “map”, in order to establish the right career path for them.

Hence, with different routes based on different starting points we can move forward along different paths toward the same goal, so that hopefully, in the not too distant future, we can stop celebrating March 8th. 

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