A Blog series by Elise Misse

Blog #12

Gender Blindness – A Good Intention That Can Go Awry

The business world is constantly awash with buzzwords. The latest of these is gender-blindness – a promise to base workplace decisions purely around ability, without factoring gender into the equation.

This, on paper, is a welcome step into the 21st Century. The challenges facing women in business have been well documented for many years. They need not be elaborated upon here – just read up on some of my previous posts for examples. Unfortunately, though, gender-blindness is not always quite as efficient as it appears. Disregarding all aspects of gender when making decisions can sometimes end up counterproductive. Like all matters pertaining to sensitive subjects, the most efficient solution perhaps lies somewhere in the middle of two perspectives.

Gender-Blindness Equals Equality?
On paper, gender-blindness in the workplace provides complete equality. For quite some time, women have felt frozen out of opportunities due to matters beyond our control.

If gender-blindness is being practiced, women and men have exactly the same opportunities. A role will be assigned to whoever has the most relevant experience, shows the highest level of achievement in the past, dazzles at the interview, and develops the best rapport and chemistry with the interview panel. This all sounds great – a decades-old problem solved in one fell swoop. Let’s see if we can achieve world peace before lunch now that we’re on a roll.

What needs to be taken into account is the difference between equality and equity. Equality is providing the same support to everybody, regardless of class, colour or creed, for example. That is something that we should all strive to achieve. Equity, however, is providing everybody with the same opportunity and giving everyone what they personally need to be successful.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
The fact of the matter is, men and women are different. We communicate in different ways. We approach problems using variable techniques. We may even have alternative aims and ambitions. That’s what makes the world – including the business realm – great. Diversity brings a great deal of different perspectives to the table. While we are all capable of empathy, there are definitely advantages to investigating how the different genders think.

Let’s Talk About Gender
Equity in gender treatment is achieved by concentrating on finding the best person for the job. Sometimes, that will be a male applicant, and you know what? That’s OK. We just need make sure that the decision is being made for the right reasons.

That means acknowledging the differences between applicants, and even celebrating them. If we enter into decisions with an open heart and mind, and feel comfortable explaining our thought processes, everybody in the business landscape will feel more comfortable.

No woman in the workplace wants to be wrapped up in cotton wool. Women make up 50% of the human race, and that’s a large number of individual personas. To say that, “all women want X” is like claiming that all cats have black fur, or all garments are a size 10. It simply is not true.

Unfortunately, this message has not quite tallied up with gender-blindness – mainly because, despite all good intentions, it’s not necessarily possible to achieve. For good or ill, subconscious bias still exists. Sometimes, this may work in a woman’s favour. More often, it won’t. Either way, that is not what we are looking to achieve as an equitable society and business world.

No woman wants a job because a company has a quota of female roles to fill. That just leads to resentment. What matters is that we are provided with the chance to perform roles that we’re good at – and, perhaps more importantly, to be given the same opportunity to learn from our mistakes as our male counterparts.

Women in business are not ashamed of our gender, and we don’t expect men to be either. The world is big enough for all of us! This means that there is no need to bury our heads in the sand, claiming not to see any differences between genders. They are there, and they should be celebrated.

Let’s all work toward a more honest, open dialogue, where gender differences can become a comfortable part of the conversation. This will be much more helpful – and progressive – than gender-blindness. If anything, we should be opening our eyes even wider.

Discussion Points

  • Why do we find it so difficult to openly acknowledge the differences between genders? Is this a societal issue, or restricted to the business world?
  • How can we improve communication with all employees and colleagues, regardless of gender – or any other characteristic?
  • Does the business world need to assess its priorities, shifting from a drive toward equality to a dedication to equity?
  • Am I way out of line here? Should gender-blindness actually be celebrated, and continue to be used as a business policy throughout the world, with hiring decisions based on resumes alone?

About LEAD Network Europe

The LEAD Network Europe is a non-profit and volunteer-led organisation whose mission is to attract, retain, and advance women in the consumer products and retail sector in Europe through education, leadership, and business development. The LEAD Network is run by and for its members, women and men, and we value every individual for their unique perspective. With a primary focus on promoting gender equality the organisation strives for the advancement of women of every race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, educational background, national origin, religion, physical ability and lifestyle. Its vision is of a fair, diverse and vibrant industry where everyone can thrive. A diverse workforce where both men and women are enabled to contribute their full potential and lead their organisations to the next level of value creation. LEAD Network accounts for 18,000+ members – both women and men – from 81 countries.

For more information, please visit www.lead-eu.net