Simona Scarpaleggia, CEO of Ikea Switzerland and author of The Other Half is on a mission to create gender-balanced teams for sustainable business success. Today we hear her views on how men and women are different and why this is such a positive thing for a strong workforce.
Women are different and that’s why we need them
In the past, it was more readily accepted that women work differently, and have different priorities, strengths, weaknesses and leadership styles. In recent years, however, the male-dominated working environment has come to consider the notion of women having complementary qualities – like being more receptive, integrative, caring and intuitive than men – to be cliche. Modern education has moved towards programs that train people, both male and female, to value and develop nothing but their intellect. And women certainly are capable of that, as educational statistics prove. But what about those other characteristics and skills that we categorize as soft factors? The truth is that many of these characteristics have come to be synonymous with weakness. But now it is time for women to show their true colours as citizens of the world.
A recent study by INSEAD business school identified skills that are key to navigating and leading the changing world of business: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration is only possible with individuals who exhibit curiosity, initiative, persistence, empathy and adaptability.
I could not agree more. over the last five years, owing increased volatility and uncertainty in our competitive landscape – as well as an accelerated pace of operations driven by technological innovation, and increased pressure in general – I have been well aware of the risks business leaders face. In fact, many leaders find that they are simply unable to respond quickly enough or appropriately to the many challenges facing today’s businesses. They risk drawing wrong conclusions, as the timing required to evaluate is almost immediate, or missing a business opportunity while waiting for data analysis, since the amount of data is overwhelming and circumstances change quickly. In this context, critical thinking can bring about a clearer vision; creativity helps find new, unexplored, ‘out of the box’ solutions; and communication helps foster mutual understanding and deliver a clearer direction. Meanwhile, empathy and cooperation help create a safe environment where people feel they can take decisions, possibly fail, and ultimately learn from it all and move ahead.
I believe these are precisely the innate qualities that women have in abundance, and that we need to honour and cultivate in order to solve the problems of society.
Today ‘the writing is on the wall’ concerning women’s equality. Thankfully, many men and women around the world have decided to take up the mantle and let their voices be heard.
2017 BBC Salaries Report
In 2017, the BBC revealed the salaries of the UK’s highest-earning TV and radio presenters. There were, in fact, no women in the top 10 and only two women in the top 20. This prompted public debate to look inward and start a process to rectify the situation.
I recently watched a video in which a Chilean senator who was running for office was wearing a wig and makeup, disguised as a woman, and silently listening to questions like: “Do you know what it feels like to come home after a day of work, only to find that everyone is waiting for you to start cooking?” “Do you know how it feels to know that you earn less money than your male colleagues who do exactly the same job as you?” “Do you know what it feels like when you walk down the street and turned to the camera, took off his wig and said, “I don’t know how it feels, as I am not a woman. I never experience those things but I am outraged to hear that this is happening.” In this video, Senator Felipe Kast promised to fight for gender equality in his country.
On 23 October 2018, the BBC reported: “Hundreds of schools and home care services were shut in Glasgow due to one of the UK’s biggest ever strikes over equal pay. Primary schools and nurseries were closed and other public services were affected.” Around 8,000 Glasgow City Council workers went on strike to protest against the lack of progress on the equal pay issue, earning less than their male colleagues. As I watched the images of the demonstration I could clearly see women in the front line, but also many men siding with them in their demand for equal pay for equal jobs.
On 22 September 2018, an estimated 20,000 people marched to protest the gender pay gap in Bern, Switzerland. (The latest estimates point to an average 15.3% gap in the private sector. According to Unia, the largest Swiss trade union, the gap is around 20%). Again, the crowd was made up of both men and women who simply would not accept this kind of discrimination in Switzerland, which enshrined equality in the SwissConstitutionn – with the force of law – 37 years ago.
These disparities cannot be ignored. The many women and men who pledge to work for a more equal society are shining a light on burning issues that need to be turned into opportunities for the common good.
So, what we need now is not so much a compromise as a balanced combination of taking care of taking charge. This can only be achieved if men and women work together – while respecting their individual strengths, regardless of gender or rank – at all levels of society. If women are simply forced to comply with male conventions, we will ever benefit from their power. And if organizations do not value the power of women, they are missing out on society’s other half.
About The Other Half
We live in a world that is unequal by nature. One could even say that its diversity is essential to all the world’s survival. However, inequality among human beings is one of society’s biggest problems.
This book is about opportunities. It is about being at the forefront of a paradigm change and a win-win situation. And it is about leading one of the most compelling and exciting shifts in our society: women’s empowerment. Company leaders are used to dealing with radical changes in markets, but there is a story that corporations all over the globe have chosen to ignore. This story is the sum total of millions of lost opportunities, because over half the potential workforce was left behind. Although half the population is made up of women, only 50% of them can earn a decent living. The Other Halfsets out to change just that.
About the author
Simona Scarpaleggia is CEO of Ikea Switzerland and co-chair of the UN High Level panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Simona practices what she preaches. Having closed the pay and gender gaps at Ikea, she challenges other managers to do the same. Simona is an Italian citizen and resides in Switzerland.
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