A lot of industries are dominated by men. It’s an unfortunate, retrograde fact, but it’s true. Workplaces were built for men, by men, and not a lot of the organisational structures around work have changed since.
A lot of workplaces (law firms, I’m looking at you) are built upon a very masculine tradition of excellence and upward mobility. This type of system works well when all your employees are white men, but otherwise ignores any kind of diversity or internalised bias that plays a large role in employment decisions. When a system is built from the top down, men in more powerful roles are able to give those below them a leg up but, funnily enough, female employees are often overlooked.
The issue is particularly apparent in STEM careers, where men make up an estimated 72 per cent of the workforce. And while more women are beginning to thrive in those industries, just increasing the number of women in a workplace doesn’t deal with the issues that make those workplaces uncomfortable for women. Around 38 per cent of women find that workplace culture is the biggest challenge they have faced in their careers.
Upward mobility for women has always required assimilation into a masculine workplace culture with all of its competitive ideals. Collaboration and compromise aren’t exactly prioritised in patriarchal environments. While certain companies innovate and find creative solutions to optimise their employees’ experience at work, many others are stuck in a mind-set where the 9-to-5 rules and rampant competition are the only way up. This ‘traditional’ workplace structure disadvantages women by allowing the internal biases of decision makers to come into play.
But accepting a disadvantaged starting point and working hard anyway should not be the only way forward. A study found that women working in largely male environments experience higher rates of stress than those in a gender balanced or female-dominated environment. Reducing this stress should be a focus in male-dominated industries. Businesses need to make sure that the workplace environment support both men and women to reach their potential.
Hiring more women is part of the solution, but it is not the whole answer. When workplaces are built upon systems that involve inherent biases and have no form of oversight, there are going to be issues regardless of how many women are working there. Even female employees internalise misogyny, which could subconsciously affect decision-making.
Though women have been dealing with these structural disadvantages, and worse, since entering the work force, we shouldn’t have to. Encouraging women to go into male dominated careers without building a supportive workplace and ensuring they are comfortable is hypocrisy. Without reform, women will leave those jobs even faster than they are now (the rate of women leaving STEM jobs is more than double the turnover rate for other industries).
Changing workplace culture requires evaluating what is making women uncomfortable and how they can be more supported. It requires keeping processes open and asking women for their input. Hiring more women is a good way to ensure that the workplace is not a site for toxic masculinity to grow, but it doesn’t go far enough. It’s time to think beyond forcing women to work in a system that wasn’t built for them. It’s time to restructure a broken system.Support Villainesse