Personal choice and gender equality

« We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons…but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters. » Gloria Steinem

Why is change taking so long? Women have had voting rights/equal rights the last century, women are working – why don’t we see more women further up on the hierarchical ladder? It is a complex question with many possible answers. I’d like to zoom in on a little part of this labyrinth of possible responses, which is about personal choice.

Even though we have seen a lot of change for women and minorities the last 50 years, we are not exactly going fast forward. In Norway, one of the most egalitarian country in the world, the picture is not as egalitarian as one would think. As much as 40% of women working are working part time, and by that lose out on promotions, salary level and pension points. The discussion in the media is rather vivid around “what matters”; building a healthy and happy family or making a career and building pension points? Some have argued that it is a responsibility for women to work full time and make the country’s wheels go around (Norway has an unemployment rate the last years around 3%, which means there is a lack of labour in certain industries). The word « personal choice » is often brought up, that the women chose to focus on family values. Combining work and family is seen to be a real challenge, having domestic help is not very common.

We have talked about « adapting the women » for a while, these days we see a wave of « engaging the men ». The research company Catalyst mentions in a report about engaging men in gender equality that there are three factors that hinder men to become gender champions; apathy, fear and ignorance. On that note, there is enough information and discussion around that show having more women in senior positions give better results on the bottom line. It’s actually kind of hard to stay apathic or ignorant to that if you care about your business. And I would argue that there are no signs of feminists or D&I specialists wishing to give all advantages to and favour women. One could say that social activists want a better world for men and women, where men should have the same rights to take leave in order to take care of the family, work from home, not to be expected to work around the clock, etc. So what is the fear about?

It is a choice, however, to stay in the mode of fear, apathy or ignorance. We like to stay within our comfort zone and keep things as we know them – it feels safer that way. I will recognise, however, that when being in majority, or in a power situation, it is not easy to look beyond our own reality – we need to choose to seek it out or we may have an experience that happens to us, that changes our perspective.

I would argue that it is difficult to judge what is real personal choice, as we are surrounded by stereotyped attitudes in society (with slight cultural variances), and it colours us in so many ways. We expect certain behaviours (proved by Catalyst on gender and leadership), certain educational and career choices, certain looks. This can be a straightjacket for both men and women, and I do think it limits us and reduces creativity.

We still live in a world where in many cases men are favoured over women (consciously or unconsciously) in e.g. promotions, challenging and developing projects and pay raise. This is a reality we can choose to change, men and women. We can choose to continue working towards having the same opportunities and fair treatment. Because it makes us better.

And.. change takes time. When implementing change I believe in using resilience and creativity, let things mature and repeat the resilience and creativity. Make the choice to stay open-minded and listen, whether you are a man or a woman. Walk in the other person’s shoes, see the world from that person’s view.


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