In 1980, when I graduated in Organisational Psychology, there wasn’t a single woman in the top executive ranks of the Fortune 100. Rather than being demotivated, I made it a personal challenge to change this.
I started working as a psychologist in a multi-national company and discovered that there exist powerful norms and standards with respect to gender inequality. Most striking was that both men and women were convinced of the truth of these traditional convictions. In 1986 I started my own consultancy practice and have since advised, trained and facilitated many organisations in a variety of transition processes towards operational excellence, quality management, customer orientation, employee engagement, team autonomy etc. My experiences taught me that only very few female leaders succeeded in adding real value to a company. This is not due to incapabilites, but because of their personal behaviour, often described as the ‘Queen bee’ attitude, the “Crab basket’ phenomenon or being the ‘alpha female’. This hinders other female leaders to strive and flourish.
Today we know that performance in science is unrelated to gender. Women may have outnumbered men on college campuses in a number of degrees, but they have not moved up to scientific or leadership positions as would have been expected. Research and experiences show that cultural changes take time and are not linear changes. Despite the attempts to influence gender inequality we have not yet arrived at the tipping point that indicates real change.
When will we percieve an equal number of men and women leading our companies, scientific research and … country? 2055?
We are not in 1980 anymore and I grew wiser. I asked myself the question: “What’s wrong?” Why is it that although research proves males and femalse to be equally strong in sciences, organisations still fail to behave accordingly?
The answer lies in the implicit associations between gender and science made by people working in these organisations. Regardless of their gender, people seem to suffer from an unconscious bias that interferes with conscious decision-making. This bias is not specific to adults, it is already measurable with 15-year olds and plays an important role when they have to decide to follow a science or non-science career.
The transformation towards gender equality in science is to be considered as an integral process that must be managed along the line of science organizations, universities and schools. Achieving gender equality seems like an impossible role, but executed in the right way brings personal, economic and societal benefits. It contributes to the diversity that many organisations need to be able to overcome the challenges of world the operate in.