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Rethinking the pursuit of gender parity

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Article by Lotus Smits, Global Head of Diversity & People Experience at Glovo

Every year, the need for greater gender parity grows. That’s because progress is painfully slow. In the EU, it’s set to be achieved in 200 years, while in the US the pay gap hasn’t budged for two straight years.

The pandemic only served to make this worse. For women in the workplace, it spelled a colossal setback, with women being pushed out of more jobs at an alarming rate.

Now, if we are to not only regain this ground, but accelerate on and make more progress, we need a plan of action that is bold and ushers in far-reaching changes.

To me, this comes down to how we think about leadership in general. In his TedX talk, psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic said how despite women possessing more of the values more integral to great leadership; such as humility, integrity and competence, it’s often men’s charisma and confidence that wins out.

Similarly, McKinsey looked at the actions of managers during the pandemic, and women were found to provide more emotional support, help navigate work-life challenges, and check in on general well-being than their male counterparts.

Research even shows that beyond employees, when it comes to a company’s bottom line women leaders would add $1.6-2.3 trillion to the global gross domestic product. Yet despite this, only 2.8% of global venture capital funding went to women-led businesses in 2019–and even that was an all-time high.

Promoting strong leadership values over gender isn’t just a victory for equality; it’s a victory for the workplace.

To finally make some progress worth celebrating, I suggest four major changes to the workplace and below, explore how these can be key drivers in addressing gender balance and giving women not only a seat at the table, but rightfully a seat at the head of it.

1. Redefining how we talk and think about gender

The irony of trying to address the gender balance is that we often do so by the compass needle of gender stereotypes.

Women did three times as much childcare as men during the pandemic, which was part of the reason so many left their jobs, whilst in the US the pay gap widened the more time people took to care for their families.

But why, when we think of carers, do we think of women? We should have broad policies in place that accommodate all sexes. This way, the playing field is levelled and carers of any gender are supported.

Gabrielle Novacek, MD & Partner, Boston Consulting Group, says how we should stop thinking about demographics, and instead think about how our workplace can become more effective to a broader workforce.

That way, when we think of carers, or leaders, innovators and business owners, we’re not thinking of gender first–but individuals.

2. Changing what defines great leadership

It’s not just about changing how we define leadership, but all levels of seniority. And acknowledging that how we pick our leaders can have an enormous effect on the rest of our workforce.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic sees the way forwards as not lowering leadership standards for women, but elevating them for men. This way, the sync between incompetence and leadership is broken, regardless of gender.

This lens on leadership also levels the playing field for men and non-binary employees who do not display typically ‘masculine’ behaviours. Leadership based on competence seems like a low bar to set ourselves; yet it is one that is still sorely missing.

3. Making the workplace experience the same

Workplaces support maternity leave, so why shouldn’t they support other situations pertaining to female health? This means we are putting our people forward, and telling women, regardless of age, medical condition or circumstance, we will support them to work how they want to work.

One in four women suffer a miscarriage, yet organisations are only now waking up to introducing policies to support not just bereaved parents. With big organisations such as Channel 4, Monzo and others introducing their policies last year.

While if your workforce includes 10 women going through menopause, 8 of those will experience noticeable symptoms–with almost half finding them hard to deal with. Yet menopause policies offering flexible working or comfort breaks, are still a rarity.

4. Encourage allyship

Arguably the biggest misnomer about the fight for a better gender parity is that it’s a job for women, to be fought by women. Yet it stands to benefit us all and should be fought by everyone.

Encouraging people to speak up in the workplace is not just about women speaking out against prejudice, but having their male counterparts do the same. If a workplace is serious about its commitment to gender balance, it must encourage speaking up and showing true allyship.

Let’s look to Germany for an example. After recently voting in their first male Chancellor for 16 years, for the first time in their history they have selected a cabinet with a 50:50 gender split. As Olaf Scholz explained, “Women and men account for half the population, so women should also get half the power.”

Inviting someone into the conversation and acknowledging their skills and expertise is vital to normalising diverse leadership, building a supportive community and driving organisational change.

But progress must be maintained. A point to make for all of the above is that we must set ourselves ambitious targets, and ensure we stick to them; surpass them, even. If we do, then in the years to come, we’ll not only be looking back on a far more positive workplace for women, but for everyone. And as much as we want to see progress for gender parity being made, there are other aspects and dimensions that require actions for a more diverse and equitable workplace, so anyone can feel at their best.

About the author

Lotus SmitsLotus is currently leading the Global Diversity, Inclusion and Culture Team at Glovo. She has always been fascinated by human behaviour and dynamics. After receiving her master’s degree in Behavioural and Organisational Psychology from the University of Amsterdam, Lotus worked as part of the people team for Vodafone in London and then at Booking.com in Amsterdam. In 2017, Lotus moved into a role building the Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing strategy & programs from scratch, and this allowed her to discover her passion for creating a healthier, fairer working environment. Lotus wants to empower everyone to feel connected, valued and to fulfil their full potential at work.


Lotus Smits featured

Inspirational Woman: Lotus Smits | Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Glovo

Lotus SmitsI’m the Global Head of Diversity and Experience at Glovo, one of the world’s leading multicategory, on-demand delivery platforms.

In this role I get to combine my personal values like fairness and respect, alongside my skills to engage people, build impactful programs and drive organisational change.

My biggest focus at this moment is working with the leaders at Glovo to increase their knowledge and awareness on the topic of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging (DI&B) and to explore how as a company we can be leading the charge with a culture of inclusivity and equality at its core.

I was born in Amsterdam, one of the most liberal cities in the world that celebrates the uniqueness of all its inhabitants and it's proud of its diversity. I wish more places were like that.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

For me, it wasn’t about sitting down and planning my career step by step, but rather being proactive in expressing my ambitions to the people around me, so they could help me grow and involve me in the right opportunities. If you’re not clear to others about your ambitions and the direction you want to go in, how are they meant to know? Only you can be your biggest champion.

When I graduated from school I went on to study psychology because of my curiosity for human behavior. At that time I wasn't aware roles in DI&B existed but I always wanted to work in a role that helped people reach their full potential, and ensure the organisation I worked for helped them get there.

Some important milestones, like the topic of my Master’s thesis and my graduation internship at Vodafone HQ in London, slowly moved me into the DI&B sector. After leaving Vodafone I joined Booking.com HQ as a Learning & Talent Advisor. From the outset I made it clear I wanted to be a part of the journey when Booking.com started building a DI&B team. One year later this happened and I helped Booking.com to build the DI&B team from scratch - a catalyst for my career.

Reflecting on the last five years, the most important lesson for me has been to proactively try and explore new opportunities that come your way. Approach anything new with an open, curious mind and figure out interests and strengths along the way.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Most of us can be our own biggest enemy, myself included. When I am really hard on myself, I always wonder: would I say this to my best friends when giving them advice? Most often, probably not!

If I give space for my doubts and insecurities and let them take over, this will hold me back. To help tackle this, over the last few years, I've started a very conscious journey to train my mind. Every morning I meditate, reflect via journaling and listen to podcasts to overcome doubts and live with conviction.

It's an ongoing process but I am definitely making progress in the right direction. By both taking challenges by the horns and learning to train your mind to be your biggest advocate cannot be underestimated.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Leaving my comfortable life behind in the Netherlands during the pandemic to take on my next challenge at Glovo! I enjoyed my previous job at Booking.com, had a lovely house and my friends and family were nearby. But life was quite predictable.

Rationally I said to myself it was better to stay in the Netherlands to see how the pandemic would evolve, but all my instincts said I should make the jump and join  Glovo’s HQ in Barcelona.

Reflecting back on the first few months of my relocation, was it always easy? No. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

Relocating to a new country, starting a new job with fresh faces has been such a tremendous learning experience. I would never have wanted to miss this. I’m excited for what’s next to come at Glovo and lead its exciting pipeline of diversity and inclusion initiatives in 2021 and beyond!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I have learnt not to shy away from new challenges and opportunities. Research shows that most people don't achieve what they want because they don't take the initial jump for a fear of failing. Getting started, just with little steps, is half the job done.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Find people around you who see your value, potential and can support your growth. Where possible, always say yes if mentorship opportunities arise. Be proactive in asking your manager for projects that stretch you so you can both show your ambition and enhance your knowledge. Ultimately, work with people that empower you to do your best work.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Progress for gender equality in the workplace is under scrutiny like never before, which is great, yet the technology sector is lagging behind. With an average of 17% of women in technology, it continues to be a heavily male-dominated sector that in turn can put some women off pursuing a career in the space.

But the more women we champion and raise into senior positions, the more young women will see a greater level of role models and hopefully feel more inspired to pursue a career in STEM. This is a core focus for us at Glovo and we are actively recruiting some of the most talented female engineers to our global growing tech team.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Crucial is making DI&B the responsibility of every single person in the company. Everyone should approach their daily activity with an inclusion lens so they understand what they can do to play their part in driving a healthy, inclusive culture.

DI&B is sometimes seen as a tick-box exercise but if you want to do this well, every company must take a hard look at the roots of their company culture, systems and processes and ask themselves, what barriers could women at the organisation possibly be facing? Then do the utmost to remove those barriers to provide everyone with access to equal opportunity.

There is currently only 17 percent of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would make coding the coolest course in high-school for all genders,. It would be compulsory and everyone would want to get involved. The hope being that pupils would be jumping at the chance to involve themselves in such innovative courses and the teachers would be the motivating, encouraging role-models helping them to succeed.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

My recommendations are not only for women but for everyone. Changing the tech industry to become more diverse and inclusive is the responsibility of all of us. It is imperative to have a widespread understanding of the individual roles we each play in changing the dynamics of our current working environments.

My current top recommendations are:

Podcast: when women stopped coding

Documentary: CODE: Debugging the gender gap

Film: Hidden figures

Harvard Business Review: How men can become better allies for women

Event: WebSummit - aside from being one of the biggest tech events, it is also a brilliant opportunity to connect women in tech and focuses strongly on DI&B


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