20 May 2019
Challenging stereotypes in professional environments

By Charlotte Botha, Senior Resourcer

Women still face discrimination in workplace, and while improvements are being made slowly but surely, more must be done.

Challenging stereotypes in professional environments

Gender equality is a topic that has come to the fore recently, and for good reason. It’s vital that the issues that women encounter are highlighted and addressed, and I am continually left astonished by the sexist attitudes that women of the world still face on a day to day basis. While improvements have definitely been made, some parts of the professional world are still in the same archaic and patriarchal mould that it always has been, putting women on the back foot before they’ve even had a chance to prove themselves.

Working in workforce solutions within the tech sector, I have had exposure to sexism; I work alongside female consultants, talk to those at other firms and deal with female contractors regularly, and many of them have had similar experiences in their careers. Tech is a traditionally male-dominated environment, and while attitudes and outlooks are beginning to change, more has to be done.

These historic connotations still cling on to our industry to this day. The vast majority of consultancy firms feature senior teams made up mostly of men. Thankfully many of them, including RedRock, are working to change that, but the sector at large must do more to support women, and it’s a microcosm of the wider professional world.

A number of factors are at play – there are persistent stereotypes that limit women’s opportunities at the interview stage, such as ill-mannered views that we’re too sensitive or don’t deal well with rejection, that we’ll soon be starting families and that we won’t turn as much of a profit in return. Beyond this, there are also systemic issues that hold women back.

The industry can be inflexible and require long hours, making it non-conducive to raising young families. Although this obviously impacts on both new mothers and fathers, it usually has a far greater impact on women returning to work and wanting to establish a career after becoming a parent. It reinforces the theory of men going out and being the breadwinners.

There’s also the issue of maternity pay, and in my industry, employees rely heavily on commission beyond their base salary. This is often neglected when a woman takes an extended period of leave to have a child, reinforcing the cap on what women are able to earn – luckily, we’re offered an enhanced maternity package at RedRock to cover this should we opt to take it, but other organisations don’t necessarily provide the same benefits.

It is these systemic issues that create further obstacles. A lack of female representation not only at board level, but within the wider business environment, leaves those entering the workforce at ground level with fewer role models further up the hierarchy. This is an issue that has been highlighted in the tech industry, but it is evident in countless other sectors. While it doesn’t make it impossible, and certainly someone must be the trailblazer, the path to progression is far less clear when there aren’t footsteps to follow.

Barriers are there to be broken down. Although it’s astonishing that these particular barriers remain in place in 2019, it gives us all the more reason to work towards removing them. The lack of female leaders in any industry is a legacy issue – men have always been in charge and that’s how it’s remained, whether that’s been a conscious or unconscious decision. It stems from the hiring process, which must broaden its horizons in order to find female leaders from different industries if they’re to tackle the current shortage in our sector.

At RedRock, part of our process is to analyse and assess an individual’s transferable skills. This can be done at a leadership level too, finding senior hires from different industries with the right skillset to be applied to a new situation. There are sectors out there where there are female role models and leaders – consulting can take a leaf out of their book and take immediate action in tackling the gender imbalance by sourcing employees from elsewhere, rather than waiting years to create female leaders by virtue of career progression.

I would love to see more networking groups and training programmes, much like what Women’s Tech Hub Bristol are doing in our city or the nationwide Women in Recruitment programme, that exclusively tailored for women so that we can begin supporting each other as we move to break down these barriers.

The only way we can truly progress is to break down the stereotypes of maths and science in education and have legacy leaders addressing the situation head-on. Diverse organisations are proven to be more successful ones, and as soon as that is recognised by those in power we can begin taking steps to achieving equality in the workplace. As of yet, whether it is in  tech or wider society, a lot of work is left to be done.