Anna Zaroda-DąbrowskaDr Anna Zaroda-Dąbrowska, creator and leader of Think Tank Diversity Hub, shares her expertise on how to promote female leadership.







In Poland, do you see a bias towards women being recruited for their proven ability, and men being recruited on their potential?

Stereotypes, which are strengthened throughout our lives, lay the foundations for unconscious attitudes regarding gender, and these in turn affect the actions of people who decide who to employ, develop, offer a managerial position to, support or not.

Unconscious bias suspends women in their careers and can disadvantage a woman in the context of her career over time, making it more difficult to access key management positions.

Men and women are judged differently at work because of unconscious attitudes. Multiple studies confirm that both men and women assess female candidates as less competent, with less employment potential and deserving lower salaries than men with the same qualifications. Women therefore have to prove a lot more to be evaluated as equal to men. This is particularly the case when men and women apply for higher positions or leadership positions.

In Poland, this phenomenon is very visible. I would go so far as to say that it is more intense due to cultural conditions, and a common, conservative perception of women’s social roles. In many industries, stereotypical perceptions of women remains a challenge, and results in unjust conclusions that women are unfit for this profession. This way of thinking affects women – potential female researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs and leaders who must decide whether they fit into this professional role and a specific career path or not.


Do you believe that there are different ways to source talent that will create greater gender equality?

There is no easy route to gender equality. We should certainly try to limit or eliminate bias in the recruitment process and use language that doesn’t discourage women from applying for a given position. Research on the impact of the language used in recruitment ads shows that the use of male pronouns and words stereotypically associated with male management style makes women feel excluded: they don’t identify with the position and are less motivated to apply.

Let's look at the STEM sector. In Poland, it is struggling with a shortage of women –and professions related to technology are perceived by both men and women as typically male. What we observe is that the problem arises not from the lack of talent, but from employers’ difficulties in reaching a group of potential candidates and convincing them to apply for positions. Changing the perception of certain professions as typically male or typically female is therefore one of the most important actions in creating greater gender equality.

How can routes to career development and advancement be opened up to more women? Are there ways of making development opportunities more ‘female friendly’?

In October 2018, at the It’s Complicated conference, I ran a panel discussion with four talented female leaders from international corporations. We talked about gender balance in leadership and barriers women have to overcome in their careers. They shared their personal stories, offering the following advice:

Be vocal about your expectations. Let everybody know your needs. By doing this, women build their confidence in relation to other employees and, on the other hand, allow the organisation to better build a supportive working environment and guarantee equal opportunities for development and promotion.

Educate men. This should start from their early days, when they see working mothers and both parents sharing household chores equally, and continue in the workplace, where stereotypical thinking is met with the reality of women as equal partners in business, and where their participation in leadership brings benefits.

This is very valuable advice. We need to remember that even though equal policies and procedures exist in a company, real equality in development and advancement depends on people and their attitudes, and the first thing to do is to overcome the barriers in our minds.

What types of flexible working practices can enable talent retention, specifically female talent?

In Poland, professional development opportunities and employment stability are ranked highest by women among the factors determining choice of workplace. Then comes salary and the company’s location. Although flexible practices are often valued by employees, I don’t see them as a factor that could fundamentally affect female talent retention.

Of course flexible working practices sound appealing to many women (and also to men) and can be an inducement not to leave a company, but we need remember two things while considering these kinds of options for employees. First, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Employees, both women and men, expect flexible working time for many different reasons and childcare is only one of them. Just offering these practices to young mothers can evoke negative reactions among the rest of the employees. Secondly, the “children and family” argument for the need for flexi-time matters more at the beginning of women’s career, but then it loses its importance when they are, let’s say, over 40 years old.

In your opinion, what does a fully inclusive business culture look like?

Inclusive culture means much more than diverse culture, because it is not limited to satisfying representation of minorities in the workplace, but indicates a special working environment that consists of company policies and practices (both formal and informal), core values and people’s attitudes.

This is an environment that offers equal recruitment, training and advancement opportunities to all, whatever their gender, age, health, sexual orientation, beliefs or other characteristics; an environment that is full of respect and able to recognise the benefits diversity brings. In a fully inclusive culture, all people feel free to talk about their doubts, expectations, limitations and needs, and their needs are accepted and respected by others.

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