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The importance of HeForShe for business startups

Jun 10, 2019

 

Ensuring fair representation is not always a priority for a startup, but the United Nations (UN) says that committing your business to gender equality from the get-go will put you ahead of the game. 

For younger companies, dedication to non-profit related goals can seem daunting at best, and simply unrealistic in most cases. 

Industries (yes, we’re especially talking to you, techies!) are continually lambasted for their inability to promote women to senior roles in their organisations. Only five per cent of senior tech roles are taken by females. Other sectors are also very slow in seeing the opportunities available from recognising how to ensure equality is integral to a company’s values and processes.

This is despite women entering the workforce at record levels, according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures.

How personality expectations differ 

In cosmopolitan 2019, it is hard for many to question whether women are disadvantaged in the workplace, and even more difficult to ask how implicit perceptions of female counterparts are still contributing to the disparity.

For example, research by Harvard University has found evidence that men and women’s managerial abilities are measured by two separate standards. Men are praised for showing signs of ruthlessness, while women are lamented for assertiveness, even in the exact same scenario.

And research tends to suggest that women with a "stern" or more "masculine" appearance are more likely to hold a CEO position, compared to a woman with "softer" looks. Harvard’s Dr Robert Livingstone found that women essentially have to look like men but cannot act the same for fear of being perceived as “too bossy”.

 

Endorsing negative stereotypes

This double-edged sword creates an environment in which many established companies are unable to dismantle implicit bias towards women. These biases are sedimented even further every time an instance occurs. 

The notion of sedimentation (coined by existentialist philosophers, such as Simone de Beauvoir) says that people repeatedly endorse stereotypes by behaving accordingly, even while they might claim to believe otherwise.

The global movement

The HeForShe movement has been developed all around the world, to address these biases and is encouraging organisations to make a clear statement early in their existence to prevent biases becoming established in the first place.

This movement has the support of the UN having been launched by the organisation’s Women Goodwill Ambassador, actor Emma Watson, in 2014.

HeForShe invites men to commit to gender equality and has seen male leaders, from top football club managers to Government ministers, committing to at least one gender equality goal.

The importance of HeForShe for business startups?

In virtue of their size and age, startups have a number of important differences that could mean they benefit from HeForShe more than their established rivals. 

1) Ahead of the game

This is probably the most important reason to commit your company to gender equality from the get-go. Because startups are young, their culture is not fixed. But crucially, as time passes, the company culture becomes more and more sedimented.

Endorsing gender equality early means that any pesky stereotypes are eliminated. New employees will know what is important to the workplace, and this will have lasting effects as the company grows. 

2) Smaller management team

Simply put, getting a smaller team to prioritise gender equality is far easier than a large one. 

Plus, if management knows that HeForShe is a part of the company’s ethos from day one, there is less likely to be any disagreements as the company grows into one that has both men and women in senior roles, if it does not already.

3) Welcome challenges

Startup culture is often described as a fresh environment which is brimming with potential. Compared to larger companies, employees often have more range to express themselves, and new ideas are welcomed with open arms.

This provides a basis to create a welcoming environment which is open to the challenges that come with committing to HeForShe, but with the attitude to tackle them head-on.

4) Valuable clients are becoming more demanding

A male partner in one of the large consultancy firms recently explained why he became so enthused about HeForShe. When he and a group of all male colleagues turned up at a meeting with a large potential client, he was sent away and told by the female chief executive that when he could present a team as mixed in gender as her top team, he may have a chance of doing business with that company.

The public sector and politicians have embraced HeForShe – over ten heads of state across the world have signed up to the project and almost all UK police forces have a senior male officer who has committed to equality goals on behalf of the organisation.

So, if you want to do business with some valuable clients, they may expect you to have made such commitments.

HeForShe provides a useful way of challenging the implicit prejudices that exist in the workforce. By treating a commitment to gender equality just like any other company target, individuals repeatedly endorse gender equality in real time.

Joining HeForShe could be more than doing the right thing for your business, it could also give you a competitive advantage.

Saying ‘I commit’ takes seconds – to sign up to the campaign visit www.heforshe.org