Role reversals: response or stimulus?

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In the middle of writing this article about the importance of women in the workplace, the SEA results came out and the top three places were attained by girls. So, first allow me to congratulate Ameerah, Anjaana and Sushmita for achieving top places in 2020 SEA examination. Great work! Also, CNN announced that a 14-year-old girl won 3M’s Young Scientist Challenge that could lead to a covid19 cure, and her next goal, she said, is to work alongside scientists to fight the pandemic.

The achievement of these girls warmed my heart because I know that they are entering a world of endless opportunities, because of the many challenges and hard work women in the past had to endure, overcome, and conquer.

These events caused me to assess the past trends and history regarding the continual, increasing role women are now playing as we develop our societal systems and infrastructure, and I dare say that we are much better off because of this.

I also offer my excitement, as I have a granddaughter, who should now have the same chance as her male counterparts to succeed in whichever career path she takes. This article is by no means an attempt to downplay or ignore the fact that our women are at times victims of institutional sexism, sexual harassment, or bullying, which I have written about extensively in the past.

Many have claimed what is happening is role reversals in schools and the workplace, as women are achieving the top grades in our academic systems and now, more than ever, are attaining key high-level positions in the workplace. This I would say is finally a “levelling” of the societal playing field as it were, and I wonder if these developments are responses to changes in our environment or the stimulus for changes yet to come?

Now that we have an increased number of women in the workplace, across all classifications, at technical, leadership or professional levels, I find there is more balance when compared to the formerly male - environment.

Let us look at, for example, the profession of human resource management. Over the past 15 to 20 years, this professional discipline has become increasingly dominated by women. I, therefore, contend that women tend to be better suited for the lead roles in HR management departments given their innate skills, intuition, and other emotional intelligence attributes that we men often lack. In many ways the emergence of women leaders in human resource management has helped the development of the profession, particularly, in the areas where relationship management and organising skills are critical.

The workplace as an organisation is a type of organism, one that consists of interdependent parts which easily morphs into a complex adaptive system. It is unarguable that organisms change, and adapt, according to their environment. In order, therefore, for an organisation to grow and develop, it must not only conquer its environment but must be flexible enough to adapt to the inevitable and continuous challenge of change.

Those changes may be driven by the increased availability of skilled women in the labour force due to their academic achievements, which inevitably resulted in their increasing numbers and roles the workplace as engineers, labourers, mechanics, CFOs etc. At the same time this was occurring, male academic performance, and consequently their workplace domination, was eroding. This is a good thing because, in hindsight, as workplace needs and expectations change, the balance that women add helps to alleviate some of the workplace challenges. Let me explain using the scientific difference between men and women.

Firstly, let me offer a general disclaimer as like many other behavioural studies do. Science is never 100 per cent accurate but results often reflect a high degree of likelihood. According to behavioural studies, there are several areas where men differ from women. It is believed that men are action-oriented, analytical, offer fight or flight responses, and have an innate interest in things. Studies suggest that women are more interested in people, have a whole brain perspective and are feeling-oriented and empathetic. I am sure you have previously heard about left-brain vs right-brain orientation.

There are also studies on the effects of chromosomes that we are born with, and the hormones that drive behaviours and responses. Truth be told, while I am offering these differences based on science, I am not sure if I accept this 100 per cent. As with everything else we continue to evolve (even our brains) because of our changing environment.

What does that information have to do with the workplace, you might ask, and why is it important to understand?

To bring wholeness to any area of professional endeavour we not only need the male-dominated mechanics of how things work, and the desire to innovate, but we need the female drive and intuition in the identification and solving of problems. We need more empathy and emotional intelligence in leadership. When the male action-oriented brain kicks in, the workplace needs the intuition and examination of consequences, as to how the proposed action/item will affect nature, the society etc.

I have concluded that the role reversal phenomenon we have been experiencing for almost two decades is, indeed, a response to the needs of our environment within the workplace and the wider society. Women are no longer seen as the weaker sex as it is well established that they are equal to triple tasks of workplace proficiency, household management and community leadership.


"Role reversals: response or stimulus?"

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