What does it take to break gender bias? We speak to a select representation of UAE-based women entrepreneurs and professionals on their goals to create a world free of discrimination
While any day makes for a great opportunity to celebrate the women in your life, International Women’s Day, observed globally today, is the time when one celebrates women, sees them thrive and becoming empowered.
It’s also a day that recognises the incredible achievements made by women, raising awareness and encouraging all to advocate for gender equality, coincidentally also the theme for the current edition. This year’s theme, #BreakTheBias, focuses on creating a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination, creating gender equality in workplaces and communities.
A UN report in 2020 found almost 90 per cent of men and women hold some sort of bias against females. The Gender Social Norms index analysed bias in areas such as politics and education in 75 countries. Globally, close to 50 per cent of men said they had more of a right to a job than women. Almost a third of respondents thought it was acceptable for men to hit their partners. There are no countries in the world with gender equality, the study also found.
Gender bias is largely an unconscious attitude, which, for example, makes the use of the term businesswoman more tasking than businessman
“Gender bias is largely an unconscious attitude, which, for example, makes the use of the term businesswoman more tasking than businessman,” says Sarah Refai, CEO and Founder, Coconut-media Inc. and Dawrati Online. “So, gender bias is ubiquitous. I have personally experienced bias when starting out, with men finding the need to advise me. Following my financial success, their attitude has changed, but women entrepreneurs continue to be underfunded and undermined.”
Therefore, says Refai, it’s important to communicate their successes, celebrate them, and change the narrative. “We must quantify the lost economic potential due to gender bias against women,” she says. “This is the reason why I shared my financial success — to inspire women and men alike to follow their entrepreneurial dreams and find success.”
Tropes such as ‘leadership as a masculinity trait’, ‘women are best suited for support functions’, etc. are so deep-rooted in the corporate culture that they are seemingly hard to overcome.
According to Shainy Koshy, Lead, Talent Acquisition Specialist, The Continental Group, gender bias is commonplace in certain jobs and less so in others, but they exist. “Tropes such as ‘leadership as a masculinity trait’, ‘women are best suited for support functions’, etc. are so deep-rooted in the corporate culture that they are seemingly hard to overcome,” says Koshy. “This status quo has multiple consequences, including the pay gap, that deters young people from making academic choices based on personal inclinations. But, in recent years, with greater awareness and gender neutrality discourse, we are witnessing a ray of hope. It’s work in progress, but with greater engagement, more advocacy, and a multi-pronged approach to empowering women, we will #BreaktheBias.”
Most importantly women need to celebrate being themselves, opines Kavitha Rajasekhar, Managing Director, CXO Strategies. “I was lucky to grow up in a family where women have always been self-empowered and not looking for permissions for growth or for breaking stereotypes,” says Rajasekhar. “I believe the onus of breaking the bias lies a lot with women as well.”
Nivedha Sridhar, Director of Marketing, Facilio, says: “We are at a time when a society’s socio-economic stature is determined based on how empowered its women are. It is to this effect that we are increasingly witnessing women-centric reforms from progressive nations. On IWD, we, as women, have a collective obligation to acknowledge and perpetuate such positive developments and make the path smoother for the next generation.”
As the ethos that drives International Women’s Day gains global momentum, women have started garnering recognition, but a lot remains to be achieved still. “If gender bias is culturally sanctioned, then we must create a counterculture where everyone is appraised based on their experience, education, skills, etc, and not gender,” says Refai.
“This can be done only if we instill gender neutrality in schools, households, and across all walks of life. I have done so in my businesses, starting with merit-based hiring. With an expansion on the cards, we intend to do this at scale. If a man can wear multiple hats, so can we, and we can do it better. Nothing should convince a woman otherwise.”
From a purely HR perspective, Koshy says adopting gender-neutral recruitment policies is a logical first step. “There is also the need to sensitise the managers and the c-suite to discriminations of all magnitudes,” she says.
“Personally, I’m working towards building a culture where people are rewarded for their contributions and skillsets; not for their gender. And I believe transparent communication is integral to achieving the same.”
A goal, which we are already implementing across our largely women-led team, is to truly empower our women leaders to actually lead, both from a decision making perspective as well as a financial and profitability perspective and run their lines of business as they see best.
Rajasekhar’s personal goal this year is to think beyond the bias, and instead move ahead with hard work and determination and not limit ourselves by assuming there is a bias. “Another goal, which we are already implementing across our largely women-led team, is to truly empower our women leaders to actually lead, both from a decision making perspective as well as a financial and profitability perspective and run their lines of business as they see best,” she says.
When it comes to breaking the bias, the biggest issues stem from assumptions, such as managing family and a leadership role or differences in pay, finds Sridhar. “The challenging part is becoming aware of it,” she says.
At work, we embrace a culture of transparent communication and meritocracy through regular meetups ensuring everyone is heard and understood. For me a personal goal is to become more aware of conscious and unconscious biases.
“These are not individualistic thoughts but a systemic one that needs to be addressed organizationally through training and conversations. At work, we embrace a culture of transparent communication and meritocracy through regular meetups ensuring everyone is heard and understood. For me a personal goal is to become more aware of conscious and unconscious biases. Uncover the effects of bias and address it consciously through setting expectations and communicating the why behind such actions. Secondly, to create networks and conversations for women in proptech and women in property operations that encourage and advocate the need to break biases.”