The millennial generation has grown up in a world that exposes them to far more technology, globalisation and diversity than the generations before them. Because of this, employers can fall into the trap of perceiving that this generation view inclusion as the status quo rather than a business challenge they need to prioritise. Our recent thought leadership publication, highlighted that diversity is very much front of mind when it comes to the female millennial. In fact, 82% of female millennials said they considered an employer’s diversity and equality record when deciding whether or not to work for them and 52% of millennials (male and female) said that while they believe employers talk about diversity they do not feel opportunities are really equal for all.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Sheila Cassidy, a very recent graduate hire to our consulting practice here in Ireland. Like the majority of our consulting hires, Sheila already had a couple of years work experience under her belt before joining PwC. We had a great chat and naturally ended up discussing diversity. What really struck me was how attuned Sheila was to many of the malleable barriers organisations are challenged with when it comes to gender diversity at such an early stage in her career. I wanted to get the message out there so employers can view their workplace cultures through a female career starters eyes and think about what they need to change.
So I hand you over to Sheila so she can share her experiences.
Two years ago I embarked on a leadership programme in Washington D.C. for the summer. Throughout the programme something struck me, I noticed differences between the male and female participants. These differences took various forms; the men were the first to raise their hands with questions, networked with much greater ease and, in general, appeared to have much more confidence than the women on the programme. This sparked something in me and I decided to do some research. What I found were countless studies supporting my observations. I then began to consider if this could be rooted in the messages we send young girls and how we need to change these. This can begin from a very young age, and I think this video is an illustration of the kind of impact we can have, intentionally or unintentionally.
After completing this programme I re-entered a professional working environment and was more attuned to the challenges faced by women; they weren’t hard to find. I distinctly remember an occasion when I was shown a picture of the senior leaders of the company I had just joined. There was a glaringly obvious lack of women in the group. I would like to ask men to imagine sitting down on their first day with a new employer and realising that the vast majority of the senior leaders of the organisation were women. How would you feel? Would you feel that you had an equal opportunity to progress? For me, this broadcast a clear message that women were at a disadvantage in terms of progression; I was at a disadvantage in terms of progression!
Although I am just starting out in my career, I can already pinpoint many occasions where I have been treated differently to my male peers. Unlike me, I’ve never heard a man being told to be a ‘good little girl and make everyone coffee’ or ‘not to wear fake tan in the office as guys don’t like it’.
I recall working harder and longer hours than a male peer who sat beside me, yet at the end of the week it was with him that the senior leader asked to play golf. It’s not just experiences that impact me that I’ve paid heed to; on one occasion I heard the candidacy of a woman being questioned because she was pregnant and might not want to move internationally – surely she should have been allowed to make a choice rather than have one made on her behalf? I’ve seen women display the same assertive behaviours as their male counterparts, however these behaviours are considered ‘bossy’ rather than assertive when displayed by women.
I am always fascinated by the reactions I encounter when I talk about my passion for feminism. ‘Feminism’ must be amongst the world’s most misconstrued concepts. The primary reaction is that people think I want special treatment. This couldn’t be further from the truth – I want equal opportunity! Gender balance is about creating an environment that is beneficial to, and representative of, both men and women. Gender balance is about a work culture that is free from gender stereotypes for both genders. I think it is equally important that men are not subjected to the pressure to be the chief earner and that they should be given the opportunity to take substantially longer paternity leave. What’s important is that we all understand a gender balanced environment is advantageous to both men and women. A diverse organisation is advantageous to both men and women.
Since having these experiences I have challenged myself to, in the words of Sheryl Sandberg, ‘lean in’. This has meant pushing myself to be the first to ask questions, to attend networking events on my own, to make sure I am heard; this does not mean that I don’t get nervous doing these things, but I remind myself that leaning in paves the way for others to do so. However, I recognise that women leaning in will not be enough to drive the cultural shift required to enable the required pace of change. For this, we need male and female leaders to lean in, to engage with this topic and realise they are in a position to make a real difference.
Through this blog post I want to ask leaders to stop and think. Imagine what your organisations looks like to all of the female talent starting their careers. Are they experiencing a workplace culture you, as a leader, are proud of?
Sheila Cassidy is based in Dublin and is an associate in PwC Ireland’s Consultancy division. Prior to starting with PwC Ireland this October, Sheila completed a Masters of Science in Management and Bachelor of Law in Queens University Belfast and The University of Newcastle, Australia. Sheila has worked in numerous organisations, including time abroad in London and Atlanta.