In honor of International Women's Day, we are excited to present a special edition of our Inside Edelman Series, dedicated to promoting gender equity and raising awareness of the challenges and threats that women still face today. By highlighting inspiring voices from across our network, we hope to spark meaningful conversations and inspire action toward a more equitable future.
Gerry Wisniewski, Managing Director of Revere Europe, highlights the subtle nature of gender bias and how it can hinder women's progress at work. Gerry also advocates for policies that support shared parental and caregiving responsibilities and recognizes the need for more support of women experiencing menopause in the workplace.
Share a personal story of a time when you faced gender bias or discrimination in your career, and how you overcame it. How can we all work together to create a more equitable workplace for women?
Gender bias can be very subtle. I’ve personally had my knowledge, expertise and judgment questioned, so you have to work harder, be prepared and have your eyes on the details to prove yourself. As an example, in my career, I’ve found that I’m more often asked or expected to take on administrative, organizational and people tasks by both senior people and those reporting to me, over “thinking” tasks despite being the most senior or experienced person in the room, which can be enormously frustrating. This “office housework” is often unrecognized but important to organizational functioning and can be a hurdle to equality in the workplace, with women’s time and energy being disproportionately expended on these tasks. There has been a lot of research on this topic, and I highly recommend reading 'The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work'. The researchers point to an analysis of employee hours at a large consultancy firm which found that regardless of seniority, the median woman spent about 200 more hours on non-promotable work each year than the median man — equating to approximately one month's worth of dead-end tasks. For junior women, it comes at the expense of meaningful work, with junior men spending about 250 more hours each year on high-value work such as with clients. Senior women on the other hand spent the same amount of time on promotable tasks as senior men — meaning they just worked more hours in total. The firm’s executives were shocked. The reason for the imbalance is twofold — not only are women asked to do this work more often than men; but when asked, they are more likely to say yes.
Unfortunately, this bias can also extend to the home for many women. We usually take charge of managing the family calendars, organizing social activities for family, friends and children, and ensuring the smooth running of the household. We’re organizational machines! The sad fact is that I’ve not yet overcome this bias; it still happens today, and it requires a constant effort to recognize what’s happening and address it. And I’ve learned to pick my battles.
What can we do to create a more equitable workplace? Pay attention. Pay attention to when women are not talking in meetings or get talked over, or have their ideas ignored. Notice when you ask or expect women to take on “office housework” and ensure you’re divvying it up equitably. Ask women for their opinions, listen to them and don’t dismiss them or ask them to justify what they’ve said. Pay attention to your own biases and decide to do things differently.
What are some innovative solutions you've seen in the Technology sector that promote gender equality?
I don’t see a lot of real innovation in the tech sector when it comes to promoting gender equality. The focus generally tends to be on attracting women and girls into STEM careers, providing them with role models, inspiration, skills and programmes to support their entry into the field. But it’s a sad fact that the journey once you’re in the field is still tough, you face the same biases and must work harder to prove yourself and demonstrate your knowledge as you do in other sectors. Frankly, I’d love to see the tech sector doing more; it’s a sea of sameness right now. I’d love to see a tool that analyses your emails or content for biases and points out when you’re exhibiting biases, explains why it’s problematic and offers alternative suggestions. AI has the potential to help us make sense of all this data now, so I’d love it to be applied in that way. Half the battle is that people don’t really “see” how they might be part of the day-to-day problems. But the reality is we would probably be more willing to listen to a bot than a colleague that called us out.
Allies are important in advancing gender equity. What are some actions that men and women can take to support gender equity in their personal and professional lives?
Educating ourselves about the biases that persist is important, which can be from the overt to the very subtle. A fantastic book that I’d thoroughly recommend is The Authority Gap, by Mary Ann Siegart, who spent 20 years as a journalist and in senior editorial positions at The Times of London. In her book, she defines the authority gap as the common tendency to underestimate women's competence, resulting in them being taken less seriously than men in both public and professional spheres. She interviews women at the top of their fields, and they describe how they are routinely patronized, have their views ignored and expertise frequently challenged, spoken over by male colleagues, trolled on social media for expressing opinions, and have managed people who resist them as a boss because of their gender.
The book will make you angry and exasperated in turns, but it also offers solutions: things we can do as parents, individuals, partners, colleagues and employers to close the authority gap. It ranges from affirming what female colleagues say in meetings, rewarding hard work, preparation and attention to detail more than being persuaded by the confidence and conviction with which something is said and being aware that women’s performance evaluations tend to be shorter, less positive, vague and dwell more on personality than their achievements, and finding ways to eliminate bias by having clear performance structures. Meanwhile, at home make sure your children see you as having equal authority and sharing household chores and childcare equally. It’s an excellent book and everyone should read it.
What strategies have you found to be effective in advocating for equity in your personal and/or professional life?
At work, promoting pay equity is critical, and I think as an industry we are doing the right things in terms of being transparent with data as a way to hold ourselves to account. Policies that support shared parental and caregiving responsibilities are critical to the workplace. We need to encourage more men to take paternity leave and have shared responsibility for children and caring.
I’d also like to see more recognition and support for women experiencing menopause. Despite being a natural phase of life that many women go through, it’s still a taboo subject in the workplace. Menopause can have debilitating effects for some women which makes daily life challenging and can go on for years and they need more support and understanding to adjust work to their new reality. Without adequate support, we risk losing female talent and expertise at senior levels.
Gerry Wisniewski is the Managing Director of Revere Europe, a DJE Holdings Company.