Research & Thought Leadership

Do women fare better in the new world of work?

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Fed up with legacy work cultures that ignore the needs of their people, employees today are experiencing a mass-reprioritization. From confidence to humility, hierarchy to authenticity, confidentiality to transparency, today’s workforces reject traditionally dominant processes in favor of human connection. 

Within this reprioritization, we’re experiencing a renaissance of ‘soft skills’ in the workplace along with mindful pathways to development. This is good news for women, who typically drive and thrive in such an environment. 

A closer look at the linguistic bias of ‘soft’ skills

The process of hiring and career development often comes down to measurable facts: your CV and achievements. Human skills that go beyond measurability are dubbed ‘soft skills’, a term that trivializes their value (in opposition with ‘hard facts’) and is frequently equated with the feminine

Indeed, women excel at ‘soft skills.’ To remove the bias from the language, this means that they are great with people and organizational tasks. Among the most valuable people skills championed by women is communication. Part of the reason for this is that women largely communicate with the intention of connecting, while men have the tendency to knowledge share. In a workplace dominated by screens, workers today fundamentally crave human connection through authenticity, transparency, and empathy which are all powered by successful communication.   

This desire to connect is why women are reportedly preferred as leaders by those that work under them. In a recent study, many reported feeling more supported by female managers, including in coaching and development, and creating value in their team. Likewise, female leaders in a separate study exhibited more ‘creative’ competencies, meaning that they scored higher than men in relating, self-awareness, and authenticity. Leaders who are more ‘creative’ than ‘reactive’ are proven to be more effective – thus implying a potential advantage for women. 

Despite the diminutive language, no amount of wordplay can minimize the real impact of ‘soft’ skills. Legacy businesses chronically suffer from underdeveloped communication and collaboration cultures, two key areas that can make or break an organization. In a more gender-balanced workforce, these business-critical risks are lowered, and position women as the powerful communicators and collaborators that every business needs. 

Corporate learning: Who does it benefit?

One benchmark of equity and inclusion in the workplace is career development. The learning opportunities offered to employees should enable an equal shot at career growth for all.  

To complicate matters, gender also plays a role in how we learn. A key trend in adult learning suggests that men are reluctant to take part in informal learning, especially in group settings. Equally, women are more likely to get involved in ‘extracurricular’ or non-compulsory learning and activities. As corporate training programs and learning opportunities are increasingly non-formal and social, this could put men – who are demonstrated to be more goal-oriented – at a disadvantage.  

Conversely, the real danger area for women in corporate training is the limitations placed on access to learning opportunities. For example, adult English language training for women appears to be on the decline, placing them at a disadvantage in a multitude of situations.  

When given the chance to learn and develop, women are more likely to take it. The challenge for organizations moving forward will be to ensure availability of those trainings for all their people. 

Adopting new technologies at work: A mental block for women?

We recently reported on the importance for businesses of adopting AI practices as a team effort. At the same time, only 35% of women are comfortable with using AI, versus 54% of men. Overall, women feel more uncertain of the impact of AI on their jobs, revealing a career insecurity that men typically do not face.  

This could become a barrier for women in their careers. Being unprepared for or unwilling to use new technologies poses a risk for long-term female inclusion in the workplace.

A more gender-balanced future

The new world of work welcomes and even celebrates the ‘feminine’ interpersonal style, creating more space for women in the workplace, particularly in leadership. 

However, there are some areas of risk that women must consider. Firstly, the adoption of new technologies must be normalized, and the associated fears faced. Furthermore, people of all genders in positions of power are responsible for enabling growth opportunities for their workforce, including mindful training practices that include and engage all. 

It is also time for us to reconsider the term ‘soft’ skills, recognizing that these skills are vital for a thriving workforce and business. While women can drive this change, men must mentally reposition such skills as necessary for career success and advancement. 

The future looks bright for women in the workplace. If we can continue to support each other’s growth, the new world of work will develop a more rounded view on the skills needed to get the job done.  

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