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In a post titled ‘Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome’, Tulshyan and Burey argued in 2021 that the key to overcoming imposter syndrome, is not to focus on fixing individuals but to create an environment that encourages a diverse range of leadership styles. This environment should embrace a variety of racial, ethnic, and gender identities, considering them just as professional as the dominant, typically “eurocentric, masculine, and heteronormative” model.
Their critique addresses a prevailing narrative in the workplace within the ongoing pursuit of gender equality – the “Fix the Women” perspective. This perspective places the responsibility on women and underrepresented groups to adapt, change, or improve themselves to attain gender equality. While personal development and growth are undoubtedly essential, it is equally crucial to recognize the limitations of this perspective and shift the focus towards addressing systemic issues.
The “Fix the Women” perspective manifests in various ways in the workplace. It often advises women and underrepresented groups to be more assertive, negotiate harder, or develop specific leadership skills to advance in their careers, rather than addressing the systemic biases and barriers that hinder their progress. Additionally, this perspective assumes that women should adapt and acquire strategies to balance work and family life, instead of advocating for family-friendly policies that support all employees, irrespective of their gender.
Why is the “Fix the Women” narrative so problematic?
The “Fix the Women” perspective is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, it places the responsibility on women and underrepresented groups to adapt to the existing system, diverting attention from the structural and cultural issues that contribute to inequality, thus perpetuating the status quo. Secondly, it often disregards implicit biases, systemic barriers, and workplace cultures that hinder the progress of women and underrepresented groups. This perspective fails to challenge and address these aspects. Moreover, it exposes women and underrepresented groups to the risk of backlash when they act contrary to the norms associated with their group. For example, a woman behaving assertively to align with leadership norms may trigger backlash, as the expected norm for women is communal behavior.
To achieve genuine gender equality in the workplace, it is essential to move beyond the “Fix the Women” perspective. Organizations should focus on addressing systemic issues, such as implicit bias, unequal pay, and limited leadership opportunities, rather than expecting women and underrepresented groups to conform to an unequal system. Furthermore, they should implement policies that support work-life balance for all employees, regardless of their gender, by encouraging family-friendly policies and flexible work arrangements. Striving for diverse leadership at all levels of the organization is essential. Organizations can promote mentorship, sponsorship, and leadership development programs for women and other underrepresented groups, as well as foster awareness of gender biases and stereotypes in the workplace.
The “Fix the Women” narrative in the workplace can impede progress toward gender equality. To create genuinely equitable workplaces, it is crucial to shift the focus from women and underrepresented groups adapting to the system to addressing the systemic issues that perpetuate gender disparities. Embracing systemic change, inclusive policies, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion can help us move beyond the “Fix the Women” perspective.
Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109(3), 573–598. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.109.3.573
Bates, L. (2022). Fix the System, Not the Women. Simon & Schuster, Limited.
Benchmarking current diversity management strategies (Sweden)