IWD 2023: How equity can boost organisational success
In recent times, we have witnessed lively discussions on how diversity can impact the success of an organisation. It is now well known that representation across different demographics brings a wide range of perspectives, experiences and commercial opportunities to the table that reflect concurrent changes to the customer base of evolving markets. Diverse teams are known to be more innovative and better equipped to identify new opportunities and solutions that may not have been apparent to a homogeneous group.
Interestingly though, I came across a study from a researcher at MIT Sloan which revealed that not only are women underrepresented in leadership roles, but they are also not being promoted internally at the same rate compared to their male counterparts. The report suggests that while women, on average, received higher performance ratings than men, they received 8.3% lower ratings for ‘potential’ than men. This suggests that women continue to have to do more to overcome promotional barriers in the workplace and the need for companies to provide resources and remove biases when tracking and evaluating work performance and assessing talent.
The path to achieving workplace equity
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day focuses on embracing equity. While gender equality refers to the idea that all genders should have the same opportunities, rights, and treatment in all areas of life, gender equity is about recognising that different genders may have different needs and experiences and that treating all genders the same may not result in true equality.
First & foremost, seeing is believing
I started my career in Australia more than 20 years ago, where I worked in external audit for one of the Big Four, which was at the time a very male-dominated industry. In fact, there was just one female partner in my department, and as a young woman, I observed how she emulated her male colleagues in many ways, including adopting their mannerisms and pulling long hours, and I did wonder if I had to replicate this to have a successful career.
A lot has changed since then, and we now see a greater number of women in leadership roles everywhere. A notable difference is that instead of feeling pressure to mirror our male counterparts to fit in, there’s more space for women to be their authentic selves. Since joining FIS 2.5 years ago in Singapore, I have doubled the size of my team, attaining a 50:50 ratio of male to female. Representation through merit is key, which is why I am so passionate and enthusiastic about opportunities to speak at events on gender equity when given the opportunity.
Remove any bias from how you rate employee ‘potential’
I commenced my career in Australia as both a racial minority and a female. I have managed to work my way up over the years, proving my skills and capabilities and often receiving high-performance ratings. Throughout this, I also am the proud mother of two children - a girl and a boy. However, it was very noticeable that I did not ascend the promotional ladder as quickly as my male counterparts, as perhaps is reflected by the MIT Sloan study “women have to hit a higher threshold of future performance in order to justify the same potential score” relative to men.
To mitigate bias, organisations need to be clear on how to measure or predict potential. Whilst there is no playbook on this, managers can at least challenge one another to define potential, describe what they are trying to measure and how they justify the score they give to an employee.
Recognising gender differences to truly embrace equity for all
I believe that everyone should be enabled to do their best in the sense that they should be given the tools to succeed. A working mother, for example, may need additional support in terms of childcare, while another woman undergoing pregnancy may need support of a different kind in order to do her daily duties. Businesses should take active measures to ensure that there are policies in place to promote equity in the office.
Specific life-stage situations aside, I believe companies can support women to achieve their potential by putting in place mechanisms that address self-imposed perceptions that stem from being relatively ‘new’ to the table in terms of leadership or a new challenge. My experiences have taught me that as an individual, it is important not to fall for the imposter syndrome, a psychological occurrence where one doubts their skills. The term was first coined as imposter phenomenon in 1978 by clinicians at Georgia State University to describe the experiences of high-achieving women. In an article published in Harvard Business Review, it suggests that what women experience isn’t just imposter syndrome; it is the result of historical systemic bias and exclusion. Providing women with the same opportunities as men to grow and stretch themselves and putting in place the network to support their development, including feedback and validation, will build their confidence and self-efficacy.
Promoting the next generation of women in fintech
At FIS, I co-chair the APAC chapter of a program called Empower, which aims to equip women with the guidance and mentorship that will aid them in their career progress. I am also part of the Women In Payments group, which is an organisation dedicated to empowering women and addressing pay gaps and challenges faced by women in the fintech and payments industry. These programs are imperative for women as they demonstrate their inclusivity in these industries, especially to those who are in the early stages of their careers and want a clear and positive roadmap for their career progression.
The journey towards gender equality may be long and winding, but it is a journey worth taking. We should continue to work together to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of gender.