Gender inequality in the workforce

Women have made great strides in the workplace, but inequality persists. Gender Inequality remains a subject undergoing intense study which creates constant debate. We caught up with Human Resource's senior officer Ms Gertrude Spiteri and Social Researcher Ms Nadia Abdilla who shared their views with us about gender inequality in the workforce.

Why do you think women should be included/represented in top management positions?

Nadia Abdilla/Gertrude Spiteri: Achieving gender equality in the workplace is imperative. In a male-dominated corporate world, change is crucial. This is not only because it is the right thing to do but because it is also linked to economic performance. However gender imbalance at the workplace persists. Women bring a diverse perspective to problem solving which guards against groupthink. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon in groups which occurs when there is a desire for conformity and harmony resulting in irrational and dysfunctional decision making. Various studies indicate that having women in leadership results in higher earnings and higher returns on equity. Moreover, having women in top decision-making positions exposes the rest of the workforce to a diverse role-model scenario. When women see other women in managerial roles, they find it easier to relate and imagine themselves in those roles and are more likely to put themselves forward. Having said that, men can be excellent role models for women and vice-versa so, it is more about cooperation and working with an open-mind. Diversity at top positions enriches discussions and leads to a better and more holistic understanding of the workforce. 

What initiatives need to be implemented to encourage female participation in the workforce?

Gertrude Spiteri: A number of initiatives at the national level have proven to be successful in encouraging female participation in the workforce such as the Breakfast club and free childcare. But these alone are not enough. I personally feel that the principal factors are support and flexibility. Work schedules should be designed with flexibility in mind. We need to properly understand the realities of working women with children in our society. Being a mother of two adolescents, the biggest headache was always the misalignment between working hours and school hours. When children finish school at 1400 and normal working hours finish at 1700, having children and working is a difficult task unless you have a good support network. It is a known fact that it is usually women who manage children's responsibilities by opting to work on reduced hours.

In an ideal world we would have a school system from 0800 till 1700 that provides our children with all the education, sports and moral education that is needed and children can come home to enjoy time with their parents. Support for such a reality is missing in our society.

Other initiatives include gender diversity education in the workplace but also in schools. We need to start teaching children that household chores need to be shared. After all, gender is a socially constructed phenomenon and relates to roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. 

For women to take on leadership roles, they need to be supported and mentored through training in leadership and management skills development. There is a dearth of role models for women and this makes it even harder to break the ceiling and have the courage to be leaders themselves.  

What are the factors that might be limiting women from climbing to top supervisory and leadership roles?

Nadia Abdilla: Women are not new to leadership positions. Take women leaders who led civil rights reform movements. Yet, in today's top-leadership roles women remain underrepresented and sometimes completely absent. It is a common reality that women get stuck in middle-management positions and this is due to a number of factors. A major factor revolves around the issue of motherhood and child-rearing. With amendments in the law being ticked off the list, change in mentality is not a task easily ticked off. The traditional mentality of having a 'stay-at-home-mother' is to a great extent still prevalent and the lack of a proper flexible and collaborative workplace is a major limiting factor. This leads women to postpone or even freeze their career fearing that they would not be able to take on the responsibility that a top position entails.

The endless battle that women face trying to merge the career they have worked so hard for and family life needs to be addressed as one should never be at the cost of the other. It is not about the hours one spends at one's desk and about the time spent sitting at one's desk after hours, but about one's outcomes and performance. We need to be task-oriented. Hence, a dual approach from top-down and bottom-up is vital to eliminate barriers and biases. This is how to promote a more inclusive and balanced environment.

What are your thoughts/experiences with regards gender inequality?

Gertrude Spiteri: Luckily, I have a lot of support with regards to balancing work, family life and my studies. I don't want to say that it is easy, however having the people around you pushing you and cheering you on is a great help. I meet many women who take a step back once they start a family for the simple reason that their priorities change. I believe that women make excellent project managers, since they usually run a household excellently and are great at multitasking. Such skills can be transferred to the workplace. However these are not properly recognized. 

Research in social psychology has shown that people's motivation to affiliate with similar people is stronger. Therefore, if our default position is to hang around people similar to us, then we need to step back and make an effort - men need to take a risk and include females in their male dominant leadership domain and women need to take a risk and join this domain. A society which does not address gender inequality is a society that is not performing to its full potential. And I finish with the words of Christine Lagarde:

"The evidence is clear, when women do better, economies do better".

Nadia Abdilla: It is clear that change in this area can only be achieved if several but concrete actions are taken to achieve a common aim. We can only aim to properly address gender diversity if we break barriers by removing one stone after another. We need to foster a collective consciousness in favour of diversity. Malta's legislative developments, as well as government policies and initiatives adopted to foster such a consciousness, can be said to have produced good results in promoting positive action. But good is certainly not enough.

In no way do I want to present this as being only a women's struggle, it is of concern to all. All individuals need to take time to properly reflect, understand and value each other for who they truly are, so that progress is achieved faster and the endless battle to accomplish gender diversity is brought to an end. 

Date uploaded: 30/5/2019