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  • Celia Zayas

Inclusive Leadership: The Role of Gender Mainstreaming in Corporate Culture

Imagine you are in a room where the top 500 world largest companies' leaders are gathered. Of them, only 23 (4.6% of the total), are women, and only 6 (1.2% of the total), are women of color [1]. This means that 477 of the 500 leaders that manage an amount equal to one-third of the global GDP, are run by men, which, in a world where money is power, has enormous implications. 

While there has been a positive progression on women in senior leadership positions in companies, it is still not enough. In the EU, only 3 in 10 board members in large corporations are women, although they occupy more non-executive positions (34.8%) than senior executive positions (21%). Yet, still, government action matters, and overall female representation increased from a 10% in 2012 to a 32% in 2022 thanks, partially, to gender-parity quotas and systems of sanction, and other measures.

We see the problem. We need more representation, and actions do matter. However, mainstreaming gender in corporate culture is not (only) about having women at positions of (corporate) power. It is about changing corporate culture.

Corporate culture that privileges working over hours, identifies someone's value with how much they produce, normalizes precarious working conditions, culpabilise those that privilege their personal life rather than their career, portrays good leadership as achieving good numbers and "working hard" is not only toxic, it is also sexist. It is embedded in a patriarchal construction that perpetuates the myth of the ideal worker – typically a white, heterosexual, cisgender man – who prioritizes work above all else and conforms to traditional masculine norms of competitiveness, ambition, and aggression.

This narrow definition of success not only marginalizes women and other marginalized genders but also reinforces harmful stereotypes and expectations about gender roles and behaviors in the workplace.

Precarious working conditions disproportionately affect women and gender non-conforming people, as they have higher rates of unemployment and risk of poverty, entering into a cycle of economic insecurity that reinforces power imbalances and exclusion. 

Additionally, the portrayal of good leadership as synonymous with achieving good numbers and "working hard" overlooks the importance of emotional intelligence, empathy, collaboration, and other qualities traditionally associated with femininity. This not only devalues the contributions of women and other marginalized genders but also reinforces the stereotype that leadership is inherently masculine.

Therefore, mainstreaming gender is not only about having more women as CEOs, is about making corporate feminist, by putting in place a new culture of care, that support work-life balance and flexible work arrangement, with decent working conditions that recognize the value of work, while allowing workers to have time and energy to devote to their family or personal growth.

It is about asking the right questions on intersectional leadership and decision-making within organizations:

  • How many POC, people with disabilities, queer people, people from low-income backgrounds, are actively taking part in our company decisions?

  • How is our company taking care of specific, intersectional difficulties they might face within the workplace?

  • How is our company making sure it is not deepening these oppressions through its work? 

Organizations must prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that challenge gender biases, promote work-life balance, and create pathways for the advancement of women and marginalized genders. This requires a fundamental shift in organizational values, policies, and practices to foster cultures that value and empower all employees, regardless of gender identity or expression. By challenging patriarchal norms and creating more inclusive workplaces, organizations can create a more equitable and just economic system for all.


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