With International Women’s Day coming up, for many of us it’s a time when we reflect on progress towards equality. It’s also a time when I’m frequently challenged about whether there is an issue and why we need a day, when I wonder why it’s only one! From that starting point it can be difficult to engage in meaningful discussion or debate on the issue. Many of those who dismiss the problem, particularly where it exists in the workplace, simply claim that it doesn’t exist at all. I want to address some of these Gender Equality Myths so you can feel equipped to educate the naysayers.

Myth Number 1 – The Gender Pay Gap doesn’t exist

This is a common claim. The problem is that the objection to its existence is based on emotions and beliefs (which is another blog in itself) rather than simple facts. Yet, “Beliefs don’t change facts. Facts, If you are rational should change your beliefs” Ricky Gervais.  According to latest figures the gender pay gap in the UK is 15.4%. This is based on the average median hourly earnings per person. While each sector varies, 9 out of 10 UK Companies pay women less than men. You can believe what you like, but FACTS ARE FACTS!

Myth Number 2- “I’m not sexist, so it’s not my concern”

Nobody wants to believe they are flawed, but I’m sorry to tell you, we all are! Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE has inherent bias – yes me too. We’ve all been raised in a society that values women and men differently (amongst many other biases). It’s everywhere; from the majority of books our children read, through to advertising, TV shows, and in the home. I got my eyes well and truly opened during home schooling where gender stereotypes are even perpetuated in maths problems!

It shows up in many ways in our lives, and often we’re not even aware it’s happening. When you’re an engineer and you’re told “I’ll do this, you won’t want to get your hands dirty” by a well meaning colleague, or when you’re asked to get the coffee as the only woman in the meeting, it’s clear you’re seen as ‘less than’, even if it’s unconscious. Opening your eyes to how gender inequality shows up every day means you are in a better position to challenge inappropriate behaviour and actions.

Myth Number 3 – Women lack the confidence to progress to the next level

I work day and daily with women who have the capability and confidence to step up, but are actively held back. You might think the glass ceiling has been consigned to the history books, but “we’ll never have a woman in this boardroom” is something that shockingly is still being said.

Of course not everyone wants to progress to the next level, but many women are ready, yet find that men are promoted ahead of them over and over. Why? There are many reasons, but it primarily comes down to bias. An unconscious belief that she’s not got what it takes/ isn’t committed enough/ will be distracted by family (and the list of nonsense goes on).

Also, women are held to a higher standard. Research demonstrates that men are promoted on potential, whereas women are promoted based on past performance. That means while women are working hard to prove themselves, men have got ahead!

It’s time to stop making excuses and recognise that supporting the women in your business to progress is good for everyone.

Myth Number 4 – Women choose Family over Career

Here’s the thing, we’re not in the 1950’s. The reality is women AND men can choose either, or like many, CHOOSE BOTH.  The big issue is it’s rare for a man to be judged for it, yet women are judged for every choice they make. Have you ever heard the expression ‘working dad’?! Decisions to take time out of your career to focus on young children should not affect your standing in the workplace when you return.  It doesn’t matter who the primary carer for children is, employers should (and thankfully many are starting to) accommodate parents equally. How we see men who make the choice to stay at home needs to change just as much (if not more) as how we see women who have a high-flying career.

Also, the UK has the highest costs of childcare in the world, and for some ridiculous reason in many relationships, those costs are assumed to be the woman’s. This has traditionally forced many women to leave work or go part-time. Yet it’s a shared cost. When we enable men to take a more equal role in parenting then things will really change.

Myth Number 5 – Women don’t ask for more money

Oh yes they do, in fact the research backs this up. Women who asked obtained a raise 15% of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20% of the time. There’s also other negative impacts, the perception of a man and woman making the ask is very different. For women, no matter what tone they take it can have a negative impact on their chances of getting hired or getting the promotion. If a man asks he is seen as a go-getter, a confident ambitious dude with the drive to succeed. Sadly, when a woman asks, she is often seen as pushy and demanding.

Myth Number 6 – It’s political correctness gone mad

When I do a phone in show on the radio about any equality issue, this is the one thing someone always calls in and says. It’s interesting that there’s a belief that the fight for equality is a recent development. Its almost as if the suffragettes didn’t exist, and International Women’s Day is 111 years old!  This phrase is trotted out by those wishing to excuse sexism (and numerous other ‘isms’ that we can do with less of). Challenging gender inequality and fighting to #breakthebias can go hand in hand with finding Frankie Boyle or Jim Jeffries hilarious. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

Myth Number 7 – Gender equality isn’t real – look at all the successful women!

You seriously think that the fact there is a few female CEOs and politicians means everything is fine? Really? There are more CEOs of FTSE 100 companies called John than women. 32% of female MPs and female actors have been shown to be paid substantially less than their male counterparts. These are just a couple of examples. Do not let exceptions to the rule cloud your opinion of the issues that women face.

After over a century of highlighting the inequities women face, and celebrating their contribution, isn’t it time to accept that there is an issue? And guess what, YOU can be part of the solution. Gender equality has a highly positive impact on everything from the global economy to your household. What will you do to help #breakthebias this IWD?

Did you know I deliver motivational talks and career sessions for businesses? I’ve worked with Deloitte, Citi, Sensata and other global organisations. With a mix of humour and inspiration, I can help the women in your business to navigate their careers with ease.

Email me at sineads@genwomen.global or message me on LinkedIn to have a chat about your needs.