Promoting Women Empowerment – That one thing that goes terribly wrong

I loved attending the herCareer conference in October 2017 in Munich. I love the fact that there is a conference dedicated to empowering women to pursue their careers.

I loved that both men and women were representatives of big multinational corporations, universities, or their own businesses. More than flyers, pens, and cookies, they were handing over advice, an open ear, encouragement, and opportunities.

“What are your thoughts on this? What do you want us to do, so we can ensure our work environment meets your expectations and needs?”, was the question asked by a representative of a corporation dominating the global beverage market. Frankly, I don’t agree with their policies and would argue that their efforts empowering women in more developed parts of the world is the burden of women in less developed regions. Yet, I appreciate that a global player is open to listen to feedback and, according to his presentation, is willing to making their work environment (in Germany) more family friendly.

Yet, there is one thing that went terribly wrong. One thing that I repeatedly come across and which leaves me speechless:

It is the way advocating careers of women occurs via stereotypes, and mostly, objectification. If you don’t believe me, take a closer look at the following picture.

I refrain from blaming a particular company. This is just one example out of many.

Likewise, I was struck by some headlines and titles for talks and presentations. (Again, I will rephrase only, intending to address a problem, not one example, company, or person.)

“How to walk in High Heels into the C-Suite.”

“How to make use of us being emotional in leadership positions.”

“Communications as strength for founding your own business.”

This is truly problematic. Whilst wanting to advocate equal opportunities for both men and women, and aiming to empower women to pursue a career, these stereotypes still persist. We continue to think in this binary frame we so need to break.

Women are more emotional. Women wear high heels. Women are better in communicating.

Please, once and for all, stop this. I am wary of hearing these enforced behaviours, turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy that then becomes the “normal state”. A hundred years ago, women used to have smaller brains, if you asked the stereotypes. Today, women were high heels, are more emotional, and better communicators.

We are not only telling girls and women how they should be in order to comply with the “normal”, we also make life hard for all men whose strength are empathy and communication, and who then are regarded as “too female”.

There is one solution to end this: refrain from judgement and be open to question believes. Appreciate that human beings are more complex than stereotypes. Stop depicting women in an objectifying and sexualised way. You want to empower women, not belittle them. And, mostly, acknowledge that, the only way towards equality and empowering women in the workforce, is to finally stop thinking in binary frames.

That will be the first step towards empowering women and creating greater equality in the work environment and beyond.

 


Originally published on LinkedIn, October 16th 2017

Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

 

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