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Last week in the Midlands was the inaugural Midlands Regional Competitiveness Week, which was a look into how the Midlands is progressing, showcasing what makes the area great, and looking into the future to see just how we can make it even better. Sponsored by EngenuitySC, a non-profit organization that focuses on helping local leaders develop a more prosperous region, the goal of competitiveness week was to connect the community and the leaders within it to discuss what we can do moving forward.

On Friday, February 2nd, the final day of competitiveness week, EngenuitySC held their “Managing Gender Bias: A Workshop for HR Professionals” event, which highlighted the importance of women in leadership in the workplace. Led by Jodi Detjen of Orange Grove Consulting, a firm that specializes in helping HR departments establish gender equity and diminishing bias, the event was incredibly eye-opening–in good and in bad ways.

We kicked the event off by going around and introducing themselves. I was surrounded by a diverse, fiercely driven group of people, and when it was my turn, I said that I was “just an intern, here to observe,” and what Jodi said next told me what this event was really about:

“Never say you’re ‘just’ anything. Know your value.”

From there, it was a series of various stories from attendants; for example, one person said “There was a job opening for marketing where I work, and they said they did not want to hire a man for the position, because it was a ‘woman’s job’, and I thought to myself, what IS a woman’s job?”

I quickly learned from the workshop that a woman’s job is simple: whatever she wants it to be.

Another attendant said that she was hired as an HR leader, and it was assumed that she would also cook and plan office parties–“I hate to cook,” she said, laughing, “I can’t believe that was just an ‘assumed’ part of the job.”

Bias and assumptions, as I learned from Jodi, are two totally different things. For instance, it is assumed that since there aren’t very many women in leadership, they do not want the positions.

“Women do want these leadership roles. They just feel as though they aren’t qualified, or ‘perfect’ enough, to get them; so they don’t apply,” says Detjen, as a graph displaying the measly statistic of “>15% of women in leadership positions” was behind her. She revealed that there are actually various companies out there who are specifically looking for women to be in higher up positions, because it’s been proven to be beneficial to all involved. In fact, companies with leadership positions held by even just 30% of women experience a jump in revenue–meaning, women in leadership roles are profitable.

From attending this workshop, I learned three major things. The first, is that really the main thing that’s holding women (including myself) back, is our own internal bias, or criticisms. The second, is that being ‘perfect’ is not what is required for leadership jobs–and to never be afraid to take that next step. And the third, and probably the most impactful, is that this is not just a ‘men’ problem: it’s an everyone problem, and one that will take time and effort to really change. Detjen’s most recent publication, “Ten Myths About Women Employees You Should Leave Behind in 2017”, says this: “A leadership team should reflect the population it serves. A group with diverse backgrounds and experience leads to more thoughtful deliberations and decisions. The natural result of a gender diverse team is expanded reach to both male and female customers, clients, and consumers. True diversity grows the bottom line.”

The future for women in leadership is bright and ready to flourish; and we have the ability to change it. And, with that change, comes a vibrant, innovative, and, well, equal, world–one that’s ready to embrace whatever challenges may come.

For more information on EngenuitySC, visit engenuitysc.com. For more information on Orange Grove Consulting, visit orangegroveconsulting.com.

Photo courtesy of Orange Grove Consulting.

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