This Sunday is International Women's Day. This year's theme is "Each for Equal"--the notion that, collectively, everyone is able to help create a gender equal world. Over the past decade, society has made some great strides in progressing toward a gender equal world. Yet we still have a ways to go, especially in the context of the workplace.
This year, as you reinforce your commitment to challenging gender stereotypes and overcoming biases, it's important to acknowledge some often-overlooked aspects of the workplace that are still very punctured by gender biases.
Women are more subject to collaborative overload--attending to the overwhelming burden of scheduling emails, creating meeting requests, and other ad hoc interactions at the expense of doing important work--than their male counterparts. Collaborative overload is an unfortunate antecedent of low levels of engagement and burnout.
Collaborative overload becomes especially problematic when the work involved isn't viewed as important or meaningful. According to a 2019 study by Asana (full disclosure: I work at Asana) among 10,223 global knowledge workers, women are more likely to be asked to do something that doesn't feel valuable to their business as compared with males. Thirteen percent of females are asked to do something that doesn't feel valuable to their business on a daily basis, as compared with 11 percent of males.
It's important to be always on the lookout for collaborative overload. Whom do you ask to set meeting agendas? When your team is up against a difficult deadline, whom do you ask to work late? Are you equally likely to ask your male team members for help on a non-essential work project as your female team members?
Collaborative overload is difficult to combat without insight into your employees' workloads. Unfortunately, women, who are most susceptible to collaborative overload, are also more likely than their male counterparts to have managers who don't have an accurate understanding of their workloads. According to the Asana study, only 34 percent of females believe their managers have an accurate understanding of their workload, compared with 38 percent of males.
You owe it to all your employees to keep tabs on their workload. Only when you are crystal clear on how workloads are distributed across your organization can you achieve parity of workload and take steps to prevent collaborative overload.
The Asana study also revealed that women are more likely to say that they lack feedback on whether they are doing a good job, and that this is their largest source of stress and anxiety at work. According to 13.4 percent of females, a lack of feedback was their most pressing source of stress and anxiety, compared with only 11.5 percent of males.
This discrepancy aligns with other research that has revealed that women receive less constructive criticism on their work. Research by Stanford University professors Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard revealed that women are more likely to receive vague feedback as compared with males. Analyzing performance reviews of one company, they found that women's performance reviews were riddled with comments such as "You had a great year" as compared with male reviews that more often included comments linked to business outcomes.
For most companies, performance reviews are an enormous time investment (time suck, for many). Research by advisory service CEB found that the average manager reported spending about 210 hours--almost five weeks--compiling performance reviews each year. As you prepare for your next performance review, examine your past reviews. Are women privy to the same level of detail, clarity, and actionable takeaways of feedback as men?
We've come a long way in conquering gender bias in the workplace. But we can't assume that it's enough to achieve parity in numbers. There are hidden biases lurking in all crevices of the office that we must recognize and squash.