The workplace isn’t always a fair and equitable environment to be in. Although many of us would like to believe everyone is given a fair chance to not only enter employment but also climb the corporate ladder, this, is sadly not always the case.
Alarmingly, just 28% of C-suite roles are held by women – despite the fact that women occupy 48% of entry-level positions, according to new research from McKinsey.
Men are also 21% more likely to be promoted to a leadership position compared to their counterparts, and, for every 100 men promoted from entry level, only 87 women are promoted. And for women of color this disparity is even greater – and it’s worsening – as 73 women of color were promoted to every 100 men in 2023, compared to 82 in 2022.
Promoting gender balance in the workplace
When we achieve something, it can seem like a natural response to share it with others. However, 89% of employees report that it feels like it’s bragging to share their achievements.
At ServiceNow’s World Forum London 2023, Stacey Marston, head of people systems and operations at National Gas joined the I Am Remarkable session to promote a change to this, and to encourage employees – particularly women and individuals in minorities – to share their challenges, successes, and goals.
“I thought the program was fascinating as I do believe there is a certain gender norm around not talking about achievements because as women, we often don’t want to talk about what we’ve accomplished,” Marston said in an exclusive interview with UNLEASH.
“During my introductory session, they touched upon how personal backgrounds can impact this, which resonated with me because I grew up in a working-class family. We lived under the belief that if we spoke about our achievements, it would be seen as showing off.”
Yet, what compelled Marston to learn more about the group was the discovery that many other senior leaders shared her feelings.
“It really surprised me to find that most female leaders across all levels of business felt like they struggled with sharing their accomplishment, which were often heightened by imposter syndrome,” she says. “At National Gas, given the nature of what we do, most teams tend to be male-dominated, which in itself can act as a barrier for women and other marginalized groups.”
As an HR person working in the technology sector, Marston identifies with being the only woman in the room, explaining that others are not likely to see it until it’s brought to their attention.
A point that Craig Harman, product manager at National Gas Transmission, agrees with. “I’ve got two daughters,” he says, “and since they’ve been getting older, I’ve started to consider what the world of work will be like for them.
“Sessions, like I Am Remarkable, helped me identify with these issues they may face – and I believe that the more traction they get, the more people who aren’t directly impacted by gender inequalities will start to create links, whether that’s through their daughters, spouses, or friends, for example.”
Additionally, Marston shares an anecdote of how, when attending tender events, she noticed that many of the roles were held by the classic gender stereotypes. “In every demo, we saw that the HR executive was a woman, and the manager was a man on each level. Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee – you start noticing the gender imbalance everywhere.
“However, this is getting better. And initiatives like I Am Remarkable help to drive this by providing women with the tools they need to progress up the career ladder to ensure they’re not contributing to this disparity by underselling themselves, their skills, and experiences.”
The importance of role models and overcoming imposter syndrome
There is no hard and fast answer to closing the gender gap. However, there are a number of ways in which women and minority groups can feel more included.
Arguably, one of the most common ways to promote inclusivity is by asserting diverse role models. In fact, 85% of women in Fortune 500 companies were mentored, with 75% of leaders saying it played a key role in their career success.
Marston agrees, explaining: “As the old saying goes – ‘You have to see it to believe it’, so encouraging more women to take leadership roles is a great place to start. This is particularly important because in popular culture, the idea of someone who works in technology isn’t necessarily a woman.
“When I first attended National Gas’s learning center, I noticed that most of the apprentices were male. It made me wonder how this impacts the women in the group. Do they feel they can be their authentic selves? I think this will only change once people start to see more people like themselves in the group, because the more of you there are, the more comfortable you can feel.
“Of course, this relates back to having role models, and believing that you can achieve what you set out to.”
During her session at ServiceNow’s event, she shared that public speaking used to be one of her biggest fears. However, with time, dedication, and support, she was able to conquer this fear. “I still get nervous,” she says.
“But someone once told me: You don’t have to be confident to start, you just have to have courage. And I really think this is true. Each time I step outside of my comfort zone, it gets a little easier and my confidence grows bit by bit.”
One factor that can often fuel this fear is imposter syndrome – with seven in 10 employees experiencing it in the workplace.
Having experienced it herself, Marston explains that this is again, not something that she’s been able to overcome completely, but rather a challenge that she’s learned how to better manage. “The more you speak to people of seniority within a company, the more you realize they, too, are only human; they still have their flaws, their families, their goals, and so on. I find that when you approach it like this, it’s not as scary.
“More recently, I’ve taken the approach of focusing on what I need to do to fulfill my job role.
“If I let my imposter syndrome get in the way of what I need to achieve, then I’m letting my team members down. And I never want to do that.”
Sign up to the UNLEASH Newsletter
Get the Editor’s picks of the week delivered straight to your inbox!