What is wrong with a company having 90% of one gender?
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
It is no secret that inequality in gender is a big problem for companies – not only morally, but in terms of their bottom lines. Globally, there is increased pressure from legislators and society to create gender-diverse workplaces, and there is a need to undo some of the systemic assumptions around gender roles reignited by the pandemic. Even though there is a wide consensus that gender diversity is advantageous to companies, the question remains: what is wrong with a company having 90% of one gender?
Table of contents
- Exclusion and lack of belonging
- Impact on mentorship dynamics
Groupthink is one of the most obvious things wrong with a company having 90% of one gender.
Simply put, Groupthink is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, second-rate decision-making. First introduced in the seventies by psychologist Irving Janis, this phenomenon is even more intense in gendered workplaces. According to an article on the topic Gender Diversity as the Antidote to ‘Groupthink’ on Corporate Boards by law researcher Akshaya Kamalnath, gender diversity can be a powerful antidote to groupthink, especially in the context of corporate boards, as it brings broader diverse views and perspectives for decision-making.
He refers to a paper by Williams, Liljenquist and Neale that adds that ‘it has been found that in team exercises, individuals prepare better for an exercise with a gender diverse group and that a wider range of data inputs is likely to be debated; in the end, a gender-diverse group is more likely to generate a better response to a problem.'
When 90% of a company’s workforce consists of one gender, the remaining 10% may be more susceptible to being stereotyped. Disproportionate representation may become the catalyst for oversimplified ideas and generalisations that limit the underrepresented gender in the workplace. The tech sector, which is heavily skewed towards men, is a practical, real-world example of this phenomenon in action. According to Computer Weekly, IT sector recruitment campaigns often portray women in tech as someone who likes to wear T-shirts, lives on pizza rolls and Red Bull, and codes as a hobby in the attic.
These persistent gender biases are limiting women’s progress in STEM fields despite gains to attract more girls to the field by choosing science as a subject cluster in secondary school. Some recent characters like Poppy Li, the lead game designer of a fictional video game in the 2021 comedy Mythic Quest, provide some fresh narratives around women in tech. Poppy is quite vocal about her own successes and although they are not always appreciated and she has a fair share of managerial flaws, her ‘rudeness is an invigorating step away from the norm for a character.
What’s more, stereotyping regarding caregiving expectations, marital status, and being a breadwinner also come into play when a company has 90% of one gender. In gendered environments, it becomes difficult to dilute the impacts of ingrained perceptions – especially when the media and popular culture is frequently guilty of perpetrating gender stereotypes in the workplace.
3. Exclusion and lack of belonging
According to a report by The Catalyst Research Center for Equity in Business Leadership, employees experience a sense of exclusion when they feel devalued, dismissed, or ignored for the unique qualities they bring to the table, or when they feel like an outsider because of their differences, of which gender is one example. The cost of exclusion ranges from compromised job satisfaction to a lower sense of well-being, and reduced work effort, to name a few.
Conversely, a sense of belonging is critical for workplace morale. According to Marco Gianotten, who presented a RightBrains Tech Talk last year, most companies focus on diversity, which, while an important value, is still a statistical measure that doesn’t necessitate happy employees. Inclusion and making the workplace a safe environment for everyone should be the focus – when employees share the same common language and value indicators, a company will benefit. This process of creating inclusive, safe environments can become convoluted if a company has 90% of one gender.
4. Impact on mentorship dynamics
Access to mentorship is already a challenge in gendered industries and markets – and when a specific company has 90% of one gender, it can impact the mentorship dynamics negatively. In traditionally male-skewed industries like technology and STEM, the lack of female mentors and role models are some of the top barriers keeping women from advancing. Platforms like RightBrains are helpful to provide mentorship opportunities to women in all career stages within the tech sector, and ultimately strive to grow the number of women in digitally-focused roles. Looking broader than just the tech sector, companies should also reflect on whether their workforce is self-limiting in terms of cross-gender mentorship opportunities.
What is wrong with a company having 90% of the same gender? Regardless of which way this parity lies, there are universal disadvantages to having a non-diverse workplace. Not only is Groupthink likely to flourish when limited perspectives are being voiced confidently, but gender stereotypes may restrict the worldview of the 90% and slow progression within an industry.
A minority gender grouping may suffer low morale caused by exclusion, and mentorship opportunities are impacted when there is a heavy skew towards one gender. Ultimately, companies can benefit from not asking what is wrong with having 90% of one gender, but what can be gained from a diverse, secure staff complement.