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Econ 050: Gender equality in the workplace

Date:25 October 2019
Econ 050 is a podcast on the economics and business topics that matter to the Netherlands and the wider world, made by the Faculty of Economics and Business and the Northern Times.
Econ 050 is a podcast on the economics and business topics that matter to the Netherlands and the wider world, made by the Faculty of Economics and Business and the Northern Times.

The Netherlands sees itself as an extremely equitable country, which is not entirely without cause: it was one of the first in the world to legalize gay marriage and provides at least some paternal leave. But when it comes to achieving genuine equality in the work place – not just between men and women, but also between majority and minority groups – Professor Floor Rink of the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Groningen says that this country still has a long way to go. Over the years, her research into organisational behaviour and leadership has examined the role of mentorship, how gender roles from a young age influence hiring practices and how transparency can push companies to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to diversity initiatives.

Professor Rink sat down in the studio with Econ 050 to talk about how the glass ceiling forms far earlier for minorities, and how having any hope of getting rid of it will require recognising that it exists in the first place. Hear the full episode of faculty podcast Econ 050 online here now. Don't forget to like, share and subscribe!

On the effectiveness of hiring quotas:

Traci White: So do you see quotas from your professional perspective as a good tool to try to achieve equality, or is it kind of like a gesture to try to compensate for hundreds of years of inequality?
Floor Rink: I think everybody who will ultimately say that we need to install quotas does this with sorrow in our hearts, because we would prefer that our system just function optimally so that the such measures are not necessary basically, right? Because there are downsides to it. The obvious one being that it's always uncertain, although the claims are that you want to have quotas installed in the most objective way possible, it's very difficult to live up to the claim like all else being equal, we will choose a woman now. When is there ever a situation when all else is equal?

Why only focusing on the glass ceiling is starting too late:

Rink: That phenomenon really suggests that there is only something in the top layer that holds women back, but more recent research really shows that we should actually no longer use that phrase because it starts from childhood on, basically. We treat boys and girls differently and as children already, all of us internalize different norms about how girls should behave and how boys should behave, and throughout our studies and throughout our early careers, we therefore see that there are subtle barriers that women are confronted with compared to men. So it's not only that there is a top down problem, it goes through all layers of society.

On how important intersectionality is to professional equality:

Rink:You can take into account that people have intersectional identities, meaning that the way that they are that they feel about themselves but also the way that they are viewed by others are very much discerned from having multiple minority statuses. So that let's say I am a white woman, but you can also have somebody who is for instance from Morocco in the Netherlands that's another minority group, and female, and then her identity is likely to be informed by the intersectional treatment that she receives based on those identities. And for her in particular, it may not be that people think that she's typically communal. It may be that people may also think she's typically communal, but perhaps also she suffers from certain biases attached to having a Moroccan status for instance, and that's not good… It's double the chance of experiencing prejudice. But on top of that, it's also double the problem of if you experience it, that you don't know where to attribute it to. So where let's say if I would feel the sexism of what any kind, I think for me it's quite clear what it is and I can think OK, this must be because I'm a woman. But if you have a double minority status you are a very intersectional identity, you may think, “Am I treated this way because of my ethnic background or because I'm a woman?” So that also creates extra stress, so it's double the experience and then double the ambiguity about how to interpret it.

On the role of mentors, and what they could do better:

Rink: It would be good to have diverse mentorship, so to couple mentors to somebody who's outside of their normal area of expertise, or who is not their traditional successor, but to make sure that there is a diverse match made such that the follower who is very different can benefit from being a little bit out of its comfort zone and the mentor really needs to make extra effort to include somebody who's a little bit different in their own network. And another thing that the literature also really highlights is that this mentorship should perhaps be more focused on sponsorship rather than the social support functions. Rather than having friendly conversations and understanding each other and trying to get a better understanding of what work-life is for the other party, to instead be a little bit more task focused and ask, “what do you need to move up and how can I provide this to you?”

On how the Dutch diversity charter Women on Top is changing work place culture:

Rink: It means that you have to fulfil certain requirements and that you are being evaluated by this organization on a yearly basis, and that the reports are being shared with the government. So it's really a signal that you want to be public and transparent about how you deal with these issues. And I just checked the website one month ago or so and they have now over 200 organizations that signed it. So all those organizations have a big plus in my mind.