Offentliggjort den 6. juni 2017
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honored to be invited to speak at this important session, titled Pink Collar, Blue Collar. This title refers to the persistent gender barriers facing women - and men - in accessing the right education and skills that are necessary to meet the demands of the workforce of today and tomorrow.
This session is aimed at exploring some of the policies and solutions that empower women and men in pursuing more rewarding careers and the possibility to fulfill their full potential.
We know that gender equality can transform our world and that closing the gender gap will create growth and opportunities for all. We even have a global agenda – the 17 global goals - that puts gender equality at its center and recognizes that progress on this issue, is crucial to achieving progress across all 17 goals, which in the end means achieving sustainable development for people, planet and prosperity.
So, why is change proving so difficult? Is our approach wrong? Are we focusing on the wrong arguments to affect change? Are we overlooking the role of our own behavior?
Well, firstly there is no easy solution, inequality is characterized by many different and complex factors, such as; social norms, discriminating laws and insufficient legal protection, unpaid work and unequal access to the digital universe, economic assets and property.
In order to affect the real change we desire, I believe we have to have a greater focus on the role of social norms and unconscious biases and the barriers they present. For example, our social norms in many ways influence women’s economic opportunities; they frame a woman’s choice of education and career, and they reflect and strengthen discriminating stereotypes, which can affect equal pay and promotion.
Gender stereotypes create a widely accepted judgment or bias about certain characteristics or traits that apply to each gender. A good example of how we can challenge this mentality is illustrated by a quote of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook:
“Next time you are about to call a little girl ‘bossy’, say instead: she has executive leadership skills.”
Gender stereotypes lead to unconscious biases that affect our decisions and evaluations. And because it is an unconscious act, we actually believe that we are not gender biased.
It is clear that it is not just a small percentage of the population that act based on unconscious bias; otherwise one could argue we would be seeing change occurring at a faster pace.
A World Economic Forum study showed that unconscious bias of leaders is still the largest barrier in relation to women achieving success in the work place.
We need to become conscious of our unconscious biases and knowledgeable about the effect they have on our decision-making. We could start by becoming more open for the less traditional and question more readily the legitimacy of binding social norms, and existing societal and business structures.
Basically, it is about the freedom to choose. It is about the right of every girl and boy, woman and man to have the same opportunities of pursuing their dreams in life. It is about providing the basis for everybody to use their talent and to fulfill their full potential.
And it is a matter of diversity, respect and dignity.
We know that diversity brings better solutions, more innovation, increased growth and that it reflects to a greater extent the gender composition of a customer base. And there is plenty of research to prove that diversity in the workplace makes business sense. For instance, McKinsey has found that gender-diverse companies outperform others financially by 15 %. Business leaders are also increasingly aware that tackling barriers to equality has the potential to unlock new opportunities for growth. But still these barriers continue to exist.
I believe we need to disrupt the current societal and business structures in order to increase diversity and create equal opportunities in our societies. Should women have to fit-in the traditional “white-collar” corporate structure? Or can we create new structures that are flexible enough to embrace and support both pink collar and blue collar? How do we design to reduce gender biases and promote diversity or a rainbow of collars?
Culture and tradition are not easy to change, whether it is societal or corporate. It requires a continuous effort and total engagement at all levels but, when change comes (and its best that it comes from within) it will be powerful and sustainable.
One of the most fundamental obstacles to diversity is what I mentioned before, namely unconscious or conscious gender biases and expectations.
We know that gendered expectations are produced and reproduced from kindergarten to university, in families, on the streets, as well as in the work place.
We need to step up our efforts to combat gender biases and expectations, which limit the individual’s free choice and limit prosperous development of societies.
In Denmark, there is an increased awareness of the need to promote non-stereotypical roles for women and men. A couple of quick examples:
- There exist several projects aimed at employing more men in day-care institutions and thereby promoting men as caregivers.
- And there is an app called the norm twister which has been developed, with exercises on increasing awareness about gender-based division of tasks amongst child-care staff – encouraging women to play football with the children and the men to cook with them. These initiatives are developed with the thought; “You can’t be what you can’t see!” in mind.
Continuing on the same line of thought, we must also step up our efforts to combat gender based educational choices. In an increasingly challenging global market all countries and societies need to mobilize all resources and all talents – regardless of gender.
In too many countries both boys and girls continue to make gender stereotypical choices of education. Especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - the so-called STEM-subjects, there exists a significant gender-bias, too few girls are pursuing an education or career in STEM.
A 2015 OECD survey shows that parents to a lesser degree expect their daughters to choose a technical or scientific education. It is time to challenge traditional attitudes and gendered expectations of boys and girls - as parents, educators, teachers, brothers, sisters and mentors. It’s about creating greater opportunities. It’s about breaking down traditional expectations and opening up all opportunities to boys and girls and for them to choose freely.
I cannot say it enough; gender equality is not a female issue. It is an issue that affects us all. It is an issue that should be of great importance for us all, because in achieving gender equality everyone wins. It must be a common agenda, because we share a common dream of a more inclusive and equal world.
Let’s think new, let’s challenge each other, let’s work towards a future, where boys and girls, men and women can lead, participate, shape and dare to challenge the world of tomorrow.
And let’s work towards a business rationale where gender equality and diversity are perceived as a means to engagement, better performance and innovation – not as a nice to have, but an absolutely must have.
To create a better future, and to grow and prosper, we need to challenge our mindsets, question our social norms, become aware of our unconscious biases and work to expand and diversify our talent pools.
Only then will the colour of our collars no longer be an issue.