An Original Essay by Stephanie Toft — 2022-2023 SCA Australasia Essay Award Winner
I remember it like it was yesterday; I went to my senior manager’s office to discuss my career aspirations as a 21 year-old woman with a passion for strata. I was then told I couldn’t be taken seriously because I was young, female and pretty. I knew right then that there wasn’t a glass ceiling to be shattered; I was stuck in a tiny bulletproof box. I left the industry defeated a short time after.
I would like to think that as an industry we have progressed in our mindset and how we handle ourselves as professionals. However, I have heard an array of stories in recent times of women being subjected to harassment and discrimination because of their appearance, their choice to have children, their preferred life-work balance, and even their potential to lead because women can be too emotional.
Whilst it is not only women who have endured uncomfortable, discriminatory behaviour, I will be focusing on the positive impacts women can have and why we should take proactive steps to make the strata industry one women want to join and stay in.
1 Women are natural Project Managers
A mentor of mine once said he found mothers were far more efficient and effective as workers, especially in leadership roles, because they could handle high pressure situations and manage their time.
2 Women are emotional
What is often referred to as a red flag I believe is one of the best assets for a business. Women being emotional means they are more empathetic and have a high level of emotional intelligence. As a result, women are better at negotiations and conflict resolution, and their sensitivity provides for a collaborative and engaged workplace.
3 Women remember the little things
Birthdays, anniversaries, events, milestones – all the little things that all add up. Whether it is the welcome pack when starting at a new company, the homemade cake to celebrate someone’s birthday in the office, or even remembering your colleague’s kid’s name, these are all critical in developing lasting relationships with team members and clients.
These are just 3 examples why women are amazing and are valuable in any industry, but in particular an industry such as strata where there is a never ending and stressful workload, demanding clients and high burnout rate.
How can we as an industry make strata more appealing as a career choice to women?
1 Remove unconscious bias
Unconscious bias’ are established when we are kids, which is why some activities, hobbies and even colours are stereotyped into being a ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ thing.
These unconscious bias’ hinder women’s career progression and even prevents them from entering well deserved leadership positions. A woman who is social and likable may be considered unsuitable for a leadership position, however a woman who is assertive could be deemed unlikable and ‘too bossy’.
A study carried out by Danielle Le from MIT found that on average women were 14% less likely to be promoted than their male colleagues, as men received 8.3% higher ratings for potential, despite women receiving higher performance ratings overall.
Research has shown that it’s not just men being bias towards women. Unfortunately, the ‘queen bee syndrome’ is a real phenomenon which sees females (often leaders) being more critical of their female colleagues.
More training and understanding on unconscious bias and self-awareness is required to diversify our workforce, especially in leadership positions.
2 Nobody puts Baby in the corner!
After having my first child during the global lockdown, my return to work was, forcibly, flexible which I am forever grateful for. That being said, return to work strategies for women have historically not been so successful, despite the significant benefits to both the individuals and businesses. We need to acknowledge the value that our talented women bring and how welcoming them back into the workforce is more cost effective and productive than finding and training new recruits. Businesses have a responsibility to spend just as much time on the return-to-work strategies as they do with the handover-before-maternity-leave rush. If this is done right, women will feel supported and connected, employee retention will improve, and businesses will have a diverse and loyal workforce for many years to come.
Employees are looking for benefits to help with lifework balance. The benefits of integrating flexible work arrangements into your business include widening the talent pool available, reduction in absenteeism, improved productivity and overall improved job satisfaction. Like Sir Richard Branson says, if you look after your people, they will look after your clients.
4 Call it out!
One in three people in the last 5 years have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and 61% of workers said they had witnessed discrimination in the workplace.
As an industry we need to call out discriminatory, harassing, and bullying behaviour. Businesses have a role to play to address incidents with perpetrators, be it staff or clients, rather than fear the ramifications to the bottom line. Employees are more likely to report if they feel comfortable that their complaint will be handled correctly and that they won’t experience retaliation. As individuals, we need to step in when we can to call this behaviour out before it escalates. Do the right thing and be an ally.
We have a duty to leave the world a better place than when we entered. I am going to change the culture of women in the workforce so that my daughter can make her own choices without fear of losing her career, and so that she isn’t stuck in a bulletproof box.