Mind The Gap

08.15.142:34 PM ET

Changing the Gender Conversation

In excerpts from their new book, Lynn Roseberry and Johan Roos argue that the gender gap exists because people don’t believe they can change it. They address those myths and provide solutions.

Women make up nearly half of the world’s population and now comprise at least half of all college graduates in Europe and North America. Yet men still hold by far the majority of leadership positions in corporations, governments and educational institutions.  

What are the reasons for this persistent gender gap?  

Many solutions have been proposed. Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In sought to suggest that women themselves must make a stronger effort to “claim” their power, as if it is up to them to fight for top jobs.  

In our new book, Bridging the Gender Gap, we argue that the gender gap in leadership persists because most people — including the very men and women who have the authority and influence to do something about it — do not believe that they can do anything about it. Despite their declarations of commitment to gender equality, they believe women’s under-representation in leadership is due to a combination of differences between the sexes, market realities, and politics over which they have no influence.  

Consider these Gender Myths:  

1. Irresistible market forces direct more women than men away from leadership.  

2. Genetic or neurobiological differences make men and women better at different things.

3. Men become leaders because they’re competitive, selfish, and aggressive, while women are generous, cooperative, and helpful.  

4. Women just aren’t ambitious or confident enough.  

5. Employers should not do anything that offends women who do not support measures to close the gender gap.  

6. Measures intended to close the gender gap create conflicts and bad feelings between men and women.  

7. If an organization doesn’t get sued for sex discrimination, it’s doing enough.  

In our work, we have drawn on convincing evidence from many fields, including history, neuroscience, psychology, history, law, and management, to disprove each and every one of these beliefs.

We also offer seven principles to point the way toward the changes that we need to make in order to bridge the gender gap in leadership.These seven principles can be applied to any circumstance in business, government, education, or community affairs. Anyone who believes that gender balance is important can help lead the way by talking about these principles with their colleagues and board members at work, and with friends and family.

7 Guiding Principles to Gender Balance:

1. Leave the past behind. Stop adhering to anachronistic stereotypes about men and women and the roles they should play in their careers.  

2. Bring men and women back to Earth. Stop believing there are genetic differences between men and women as if men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  There is less difference between men and women than between individuals of either gender.  

3. Beware when it feels right; it might be wrong. Your cultural upbringing may make you think you are not being biased, but you probably are.  

4. Understand that ambition is genderless. Women have just as much ambition as men. It is an excuse to think otherwise.  

5. Make peace, not war.  Men and women both have vested interests in gender balance, and should not view gender balance as an argument that pits men against women.  

6. Oppose intolerance. Women who oppose gender balance for other women are exhibiting intolerance of others who do not agree with them.  

7. Recognize that the law is not enough.  We must change mindsets, not simply write more laws that appear to protect women.  

This article is adapted from Bridging the Gender Gap, available for purchase at Amazon or directly from Oxford University Press

Lynn Roseberry, LL.M., J.D., Ph.D. is a tenured professor of Law in the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School, the largest Danish university devoted to undergraduate and graduate business studies She also serves as the school’s first Equal Opportunity Officer. Lynn is co-founder (with Johan Roos, PhD. and CEO of Jönköping International Business School) of “On the Agenda,” an international consulting firm that helps progressive organizations achieve gender-wise leadership and gender-balanced teams.