Between Recognition and Exclusion

Between Recognition and Exclusion - The Organisational Climate as an Indicator of Gender Equality

By Gabriele Schambach and Julia Nentwich
August 19, 2021


Male managers attest that their companies have an organisational climate conducive to gender equality -  yet women are less convinced and feel less included.

Recognition, fairness, participation, inclusion and equal opportunities are the central characteristics of an inclusive work environment. Around fifty per cent of the 1,200 male managers who participated in the survey "Leaders for Equality" by the University of St. Gallen, fully agree with the above statement and believe that they experience such a climate in their companies. In concrete terms, this means that the company invests in the development of its employees and that there are fair opportunities for promotion for everyone. This manifests in the organisation taking a positive approach  to the diversity of employees and  encourages them to contribute. This pleasing result is worth celebrating!

The organisational culture is not just an ornamental accessory beyond business management concerns, but significantly determines job satisfaction and productivity as well as commitment, motivation and well-being. Thus, it quickly becomes a cost factor when it comes to low performance, fluctuation and sick leave. Likewise, it can be shown to have an impact on employer attractiveness and the recruitment of new employees - and not least on increasing the proportion of women in management positions.

And this brings us to the proverbial fly in the ointment of these results: Female managers experience the organisational climate much more negatively. Almost every sixth woman manager even gives a negative evaluation - whereby of the rubrics mentioned, "fair opportunities for advancement" receives the lowest approval from the women. 

Obviously, women managers do not feel well included: Compared to their male colleagues, they experience themselves less naturally in the position as a manager and also assess their chances regarding career development more negatively. A woman in one of our group discussions speaks of how exhausting it can be: "I have to prove myself. I have to justify myself. I have to gain respect first. It is actually a constant struggle! Once you manage to earn respect, then it actually works. But the way to get there is exhausting. Above all, you walk it several times." Part of this struggle for participation and recognition is to be perceived as a boss, as another cadre. Another woman says "There comes a moment when people ask: 'Yes, who's in charge there now?' Some of the men don't even look at me! And I think to myself: 'What's wrong now? It's frightening that you're not even noticed!" These examples are not isolated cases, but are reported again and again in different work situations. 
The men in leadership positions also perceive this imbalance, as one cadre describes his observations: "She always has to fight. She has to do ten times as much to get the same acceptance."

In our research it has become clear that many women experience and many men observe different forms of organisational and structural inequalities in the workplace. Management floors are still male-dominated and shaped, so that women - even if they accept to “adapt” to the work culture and act similar to their male peers and colleagues – they are still seen as the "others", outsiders, strangers.

This makes it clear that women have yet to arrive at management levels as a matter of course - and that, despite the positive assessment of men in the survey, progress needs  to be made in order to genuinely include women in management culture. There is an urgent need for action here if one does not want to lose talented women on their way to management positions. Measures on the part of the company that promote recognition and respect are effective, including, for example, the commitment to equal pay (which is also an indicator of the inclusive climate). Above all, however, it is the managers who are called upon to shape the organisational culture - and since they usually form the majority, it is above all the men who are called upon here to stand up. On the one hand, they can show appreciation for their colleagues through their own actions and on the other , they can stand up for and intervene when their colleagues or employees (perhaps unintentionally) make it unnecessarily difficult for women. Acting as a role model here contributes significantly to change - especially when many men are already very active. As one executive aptly put it in a conversation: "In order to achieve more equality, I wish that more men would have the courage to become active and that it would become a matter of course for men to stand up for equality". 

With this in mind: Join in!