Gender bias in the entry phase perpetuates the equity gap for women at the top

All I wish for Christmas is more women in top jobs in Ireland. Gender prejudice? Yes, I suppose so! But after a long career in recruitment, I am convinced that the status quo is not healthy in a modern society or economy.

The latest figures for 2022 from the job exchange LinkedIn show that women are still underrepresented at all levels of organizations and workforces here.

The proportion of women in management positions is 42 percent. At the C-suite level, where the senior leadership titles are chiefs, the proportion of women is much lower, at just 24 percent.

You can’t help but wonder if there are active biases at play, or cultural and sociological factors? And the more important question to dovetail with identifying the cause is how to effect change. Is it nurturing, nature, lack of opportunity, or lack of interest?

LinkedIn analysis includes the 1.84 million Irish currently on the professional platform; Split 55pc male to 45pc female. So it’s a very big, representative image and also a very “traditional” one when it comes to gender roles.

The most female-dominated occupations in the country are nurse, receptionist, elementary school teacher, caregiver, office manager, accounting assistant and administrative assistant.

In terms of the industries in which women work, the sectors with the highest female representation are healthcare, education, family services, cosmetics, nonprofits, and civic organizations.

Male-dominated professions are managing director, engineer, software, driver, electrician, carpenter and security. And the industries where men are dominant are construction, automotive, construction, automation, security, technology and military.

Of course, if there were fewer women in an industry, one would expect fewer women to move up the ranks. But the leadership gap is also pronounced in industries where women make up the majority of the workforce. For example, although 51 percent of retail employees and 63 percent of employees are in wellness and fitness, women make up just 32 percent of senior positions in retail and 46 percent in the growing wellness and fitness sectors.

LinkedIn data also shows that men in Ireland are 15 percent more likely than women to be promoted internally to managerial positions.

Does gender affect a person’s ability to lead or get work done?

The analysis says women’s leadership styles tend towards democratic means; whereas a male leader tends to resort to autocratic means. But as far as I know, attributing talent or business results to one gender over the other has no empirical basis.

And it seems absurd not to nurture and utilize all the talented resources and potential that our working population has to offer.

The industry is crying out for talent, and yet we seem to have this conscious or unconscious gender bias that needs to be addressed. If we don’t close the equity gap at the entry point into leadership, it will be much more difficult to later build a pipeline of talented women in leadership positions.

So if that means dedicated school programs, more affordable childcare, more flexible work practices, and actively closing the gender pay gap, we need real, workable solutions.

Proactive employers, aware of securing talent in any form, must strive to end gender stereotypes in the workplace.

Ireland is seeing a gradual improvement in the gender pay gap, which will be further amplified by upcoming legislation. There is equal access to education; and the shift towards greater flexibility in working hours and location accelerated during Covid and proved manageable and in many cases more productive than traditional office presenteeism.

We are all creatures of the culture we were raised in and the parenting style, environment and resulting personal makeup. We all have inherited traits, including biases, that we are often unaware of. We rely too much on stereotypes.

I think gender bias in the workplace is largely unconscious, so we need to work harder to illuminate and raise awareness about it. Otherwise, valuable talents will be lost in the economy and in society.

Male-dominated industries have been shown to be prone to gender stereotyping in workplace studies. Women in these industries face barriers to advancement that are often attributed to factors such as leadership style, management training, and performance appraisal practices.

Unconscious biases are difficult to identify and prevent, and can be ingrained in a company culture.

However, there are steps all organizations can take to change this.

This includes investing in mentoring and training programs at the pre-manager level, unconscious bias training for hiring managers, redesigning job descriptions and making flexibility the standard for all.

At the societal level, there is continued pressure in primary and secondary education to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects for girls. And there seems to be a more conscious thought and effort among parents and the media to portray girls and boys in non-stereotypical roles.

We can only hope that the more we raise awareness of the disparity of women in leadership positions in Irish workplaces, the more conscious change can take place. Because in this day and age, it’s ruthless not to admit that the best man for the job is just as likely to be a woman

Geraldine King is CEO of Ireland’s Employment and Recruitment Federation Gender bias in the entry phase perpetuates the equity gap for women at the top

Fry Electronics Team

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