Women breaking the bias in male-dominated industries

Emmanuella Ama CODJOE

We are intelligent, intuitive and inspiring. We are worthy, wise and wonderful. We are dynamic, diligent and dauntless. We are women. We are the epitome of femininity. The above are qualities of women who strive to make a difference in society each and every day. They are innate virtues that make us stand out and keep us from being marginalised by others. Every girl at some point in her life gets troubled by the demands of the world.

She fights countless battles in her mind just to arrive at a sound conclusion that she can be whoever she wants to be. Mothers raise their daughters to be resilient almost to a fault, almost to the extent of invalidating what her daughter feels just to toughen her up to face the world. Why are females so tough? Why are we built tough? Our daily hustles and battles make us so. It is in our DNA.

We are built strong regardless. For decades, society has been redefining the role of the female gender. The role of a woman used to be plain and simple many centuries ago. Women were known as child-bearers and homemakers. Today the innate role of a woman has not changed. We are still what we used to be, except we have evolved to be much more, similar to the evolution of the human race.

Nonetheless, women have a role to play wherever they find themselves; many paths to take aside from nurturing a home. The workplace can be considered as the second home in the lives of most women. In view of this, the workplace is the place for career growth and productivity and as such, should be conducive and sensitive to the needs of all its users.

As a recent university graduate, I have had to ponder over the kind of industry I hope to belong to, the kind of people that make up the industry and the kind of impact the industry has on people. Females in male-dominated fields are considered to be very brave to sit at the table of men. Despite the large number of males in these fields, a good number of females have made a name for themselves.

However, listening to a couple of interviews online about women in the workforce and the challenges they face revealed an issue that has caused many women to give up their careers. These interviews disclose the need to break the bias in our work environments and as a matter of fact, this concern applies to all females in male-dominated industries.

Due to the pressures of working in male-dominate fields, most women in the workforce have to choose between being a “working mother” or quitting their jobs to take care of their homes. This written piece seeks to reflect on the challenges of being a woman in the workforce and the unconscious biases that exist within our industries.

The unconscious biases that exist in a society is like a plague that creeps in on us from time to time. Women have been discouraged by these biases ever since we were little girls. We have grown to believe that we cannot perform certain tasks and as such, there is the need to have our perspectives changed to have more confident in ourselves and trust in our capabilities.

Even though research has proven that women prefer to have jobs that allow us to interact with other humans more than objects while men are the complete opposite, there are large overlaps on both sides. Women in male-dominated fields are able to work just as the men do. Unfortunately, there are a few conscious or unconscious biases in the industry. A conscious bias may be deemed as prejudice while an unconscious bias may be as a result of societal influences.

These in the long run affect the capabilities of females in male-dominated industries. Alarmingly these biases are not solely driven by the men in the industry but by society at large. Women are usually misunderstood as being too emotional when they are actually being assertive. Others assume women are weak, hence cannot keep up with the work load thrown at them; forgetting that women have the ability to multitask. That is our superpower.

A women can be thinking about a solution to a work challenge while preparing food and watching her kids play with a baby tied at her back. Trust me, we can handle it, bring it on. All we need is the opportunity to do what we love without being influenced by biases. Women have creativity at their fingertips. Just like a fairy godmother waves her wand, that’s how we make magic happen. Everything we create is very humane and user-focused.

Our solutions reflect the needs of the users. We pay attention to every detail because we want our clients to experience maximum comfort and satisfaction. And just to add more value, we go the extra mile by sprinkling some spices with a dash of salt and pepper to enhance the quality of our services. What more could a client ask for? Women go out of their way to cater for the needs of their clients just like how mothers care for the needs of their children. Women are nurturers, thus, we have the patience to nurture things from conception till they are fully grown and matured.

One way to break the bias is to have more inclusive work environments. The unconscious biases will slowly fade away when we stop feeling limited or constrained and strive to reach our fullest potential to produce the best results. An inclusive workplace is a work environment that makes every employee feel valued while also acknowledging their differences and how these differences contribute to the organisation’s culture and business outcomes.

Particularly for women, an inclusive workplace is sensitive to the needs of women to encourage a better work-life balance. Employee benefits like work-from-home, part-time work options, lactation rooms for nursing mothers and allowing employees to bring their kids to work on some days makes a workplace more inclusive for women.

A workplace which includes this level of flexibility encourages women to excel in all spheres. Women are gradually becoming more economically independent and most households strongly benefit from this trend. Imagine a society in which women work towards their fullest potential, double-wins for the society!

Sadly, reality comes knocking at our doors and we realise that the society has not fully embraced the idea of gender parity and inclusive work environments.  Most leaders at the top of the pyramid cannot understand the struggles of the modern-day “career woman” and “working mother”. Women are under-represented at the top of the corporate ladder. Many women at the beginning of the careers have to choose between climbing the corporate ladder or being a homemaker.

Imagine the many years of unfavourable working environments that have caused many women with talents to quit their jobs to focus on raising their children and taking care of their families. To cap it all, taking care of one’s family is not limited to only the nuclear family but this also includes the extended family within the Ghanaian setting.

This makes it even more difficult for women in the workforce to balance between work and family. It is about time that corporate institutions laid down policies to curb the rate at which women quit their jobs due to unfavourable policies. These institutions should implement measures to make women stay longer in the workforce. The repercussions of workplaces that are non-inclusive affect not only the company but the economy and society at large.

Some women choose to work until they are ready for child-bearing then quit all together. Such women either become full time homemakers or venture into small scale entrepreneurship. Some women also choose to exit the workforce for a couple of years until their children are grown enough before returning to the workforce; and then retiring. Others choose to work while raising children until they retire.

Finally, some women choose not to have children at all to fully focus on their career growth. All these scenarios represent the different kinds of women in the workforce. And these in a long run have a negative impact on the general output of the industry. Women who are currently at the early stages of their career have started to make subtle decisions on how they would want their career growth to unfold.

But we do not have to make these tough choices when our workplaces are inclusive and conducive. Every employee is valuable to an institution by virtue of being employed. It is heart-breaking to know that women quit their jobs because the work environment and policies do not allow for a better work-life balance.

In spite of the constant battles with one another and occasionally with men, women and men are meant to be allies not enemies. Some benefits of working in an inclusive environment include both women and men enjoying the benefits of nurseries and day-care or bringing their nannies to work. The parents in the workforce would be at ease knowing that their kids are in a safe place nearby.

Also, schools close early so children can be picked up early and brought to the workplace. This would be a great time for kids to do their homework while parents wrap up their tasks for the day at work. This will allow parents to stay focused without worrying about the welfare of their children. And this also reduces cost of paying drivers to pick up kids from school and nannies for taking care of children after school especially for young couples.

An inclusive work environment will encourage more women to go after leadership positions. Most institutions have made effort to have at least one woman occupy a leadership position but this initiative is not just about randomly placing women in higher places. It is about motivating and mentoring them to occupy leadership positions.

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is a time to reflect on women’s achievements and to look back at polices that discourage gender parity. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias.

Imagine a gender equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

Together we can forge women’s equality.

Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

This is the time to break the bias.

We can Break the bias in our communities, in our workplaces, in our schools, colleges and universities.

Together, we can all break the bias – on International Women’s Day (IWD) and beyond.

>>>the writer is a graduate of the School of Architecture and Design at Central University. Upon her graduation in December 2021, she was the first student to be awarded with a first class in Bachelor of Architecture since 2009 when the School of Architecture and Design was incepted. She has a keen interest in architecture, public spaces and urban design. She is currently a Teaching Assistant for the 4th year architecture studio at the Department of Architecture at Central University and continues to explore the overlaps between architectural design, user-experience and the city.

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