Women working at the highest levels in business — especially in fields traditionally dominated by men — might be having a moment right now.
We’ve all experienced a significant amount of disruption in our day-to-day lives since the spring of 2020. Our perceptions of how work should be accomplished have been upended by the pandemic and its subsequent aftermath. Corporate mindsets have largely shifted to measuring success by outcomes, not processes.
Many of us have found a new sense of satisfaction and comfort in remote or hybrid work. We’re using digital tools now more than ever.
With all of this upheaval in the way we work, one statistic has remained the same. Men still hold the most top-level positions in companies worldwide. A mere 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. This remains especially true in traditionally male-dominated fields. These include STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) positions, construction, and architecture, among others.
Women Making a Splash in the Business World: The OWIU Design Saga
One female CEO under 30 is making a huge splash in a traditionally male industry. Amanda Gunawan is the founder and CEO of OWIU Design. She approaches architecture and design with a more comprehensive view.
Gunawan created a firm that keeps a hand in every aspect of the process, from start to finish. This approach differs significantly from other agencies and gives her an advantage over the competition. Gunawan’s unique spin on marrying architecture and construction is strategic. It’s one example that supports the idea that varied perspectives — such as those of women and minorities — are incredibly useful in business.
And yet, women in business make up a full 29% of the STEM workforce and 52% of the college-educated workforce, but only 3% of STEM-industry CEOs.
If the way we work is changing, why are we not evaluating this imbalance? Can we do more to ensure that the right people are leading these companies? We’ve successfully dialed up the progression of a virtual workforce. Now, companies must proactively reevaluate if they have the right leaders at the helm.
The Deconstruction of Traditional Gender Roles In Parenting
Nearly everyone worked from home for much of 2020. In tandem with this shift, the majority of schools and childcare centers were closed. This meant that working parents had to juggle their 9-5 jobs with full-time, in-home childcare.
This upended many assumptions of what it takes to be a stay-at-home parent. It validated childcare as an around-the-clock job. It changed the conversation around childcare from being a “luxury” to a necessity.
There are many factors, privileges, and nuances to consider when having this conversation. Is affordable childcare a human right? In job interviews, why do employers often ask women who will be taking care of their children? Why would they think to ask if they expect to have children in the near future? Why don’t they ask men the same questions?
This issue represents a necessary repositioning for the progression of the workforce as a whole. The conversation around empowering everyone with access to affordable childcare is no longer in the background. It’s at the forefront of every parent’s mind. Hopefully, this shift will provide a much-needed development in how career-minded women in business are perceived and promoted in the workforce.
Engaging Diversity In Business
Career options appear to be bountiful these days. More people are leaving their jobs for an opportunity to climb the corporate ladder, work remotely, or not work at all.
A record number of workers are reconsidering their options. The pandemic provided a sort of reset. It gave people time to think about what they wanted out of their careers. Fortunately, diversity and inclusion became key components of this conversation.
It’s no secret that empowering women is good for business. Employers must actively work to uncover unconscious biases in the hiring process. This is particularly true in the male-dominated fields mentioned above.
Several studies support the fact that a diverse workforce makes companies more profitable by a 19% margin. Leaders, particularly those involved in talent acquisition and retention, must work to actively combat biases. They should seek to broaden their pool of applicants. By doing so, they can help assure a more profitable future for their organization.
How Female CEOs and Founders Can Get Ahead
The bottom line is that female-led companies are often more profitable and higher-performing than male-led companies. So why is this still such an issue in certain industries?
One answer could be the dominance of “traditional” gender roles in early education. Young women don’t typically get a lot of encouragement to pursue STEM careers. They still hesitate to work in the construction field. This is why CEOs like Gunawan have an opportunity to make such a deep impact.
Gunawan began OWIU Design with a holistic approach the company uses for every project. Most architecture firms design a project and then hand it off to a team of builders. Gunawan and her team stay involved in every aspect of the project, from start to finish. OWIU has an in-house construction team. They are even working on developing their own tile. These innovations allow them to exceed client expectations. It sets them apart from others in their industry.
Women make up roughly 20% of licensed architects and only 17% of partners or principles in architecture firms. In 2019, women made up a mere 9.1% of the construction workforce. This could present serious challenges for Gunawan as a millennial woman in a highly male-dominated field.
However, Gunawan has never let these statistics deter her. She credits much of her success to her holistic view of the industry.
Gunawan embraces radical honesty as a professional and an aggressive approach to seeing projects done well. Aggression is one trait typically ascribed to men. However, it’s important that women in business also lean into this trait. Assertiveness and confidence are critical not only to succeed and be heard but also to make space for others at the table.