Gender Equality in the Workplace - A Ted Talk by Sangita Kasturi

Lake Effects Blog

Monday, May 15, 2017

Lake Forest Graduate School of Management’s Business Leader Faculty® are plugged-in experts in areas beyond traditional business fields. Recently, Sangita Kasturi brought her perspective and expertise on gender equality in the workplace and the home to a Ted Talk event.

Kasturi is the founder and CEO of Action Inclusion, an organization that partners with companies to build their capacity in areas such as inclusive leadership, diversity strategy, and change management. Of particular interest to Kasturi is the issue of women’s advancement in the workplace, a topic she has presented on extensively. Kasturi discussed this issue at a TEDx event at the University of Wisconsin Madison entitled “To Change Perceptions of Women, We Must Also Change Perceptions of Men.”

Much of Kasturi’s expertise lies in the issue of unconscious gender bias (e.g. when given two identical resumes with different names, recruiters are likely to see the man as being more qualified). And problems of unconscious bias are a major theme of the talk. Yet Kasturi flips the standard gender conversation on its head by arguing that the assumptions we make about men are as important to the success of women in the workplace as the assumptions we make about women. “Mental models,” she says, “teach us what to expect and accept. Mental models shape our reality.”

In recent years, dominant models about what roles women can perform have been drastically redefined. Yet Kasturi points out the deeply problematic reality that our culture has been redefining womanhood while holding stubbornly steady in what it means to be a man. “We will not have gender equality in the workplace until we have it in the home,” she declares with her effusive energy.

The issue of paternity leave is central, Kasturi says. If a company offers only maternity leave without paternity leave, then they have designed a system in which they are stripping both women and men from choice. Mothers are forced to put their careers on hold and fathers to continue working, even if this is not the optimal arrangement for individual couples. It also contributes to the underrepresentation of women in executive positions.

Kasturi takes it a step further. This policy, she argues, is indicative of our underlying assumptions. We assume men are not capable, as women are, of being loving, nurturing parents. Her profound conclusion is that when we allow these assumptions to exist unfettered in corporate environments, we do not permit people a full range of human attributes. We punish them for not adhering to stereotypes.

A key aspect of Kasturi’s talk is about asking the right questions, or reshaping questions in order to see a different solution. For example, the question “can women have it all?” has been asked to exhaustion, and Kasturi refuses to ask it. Instead she compels her audience to consider the assumptions behind that question. Why do we not ask ‘can men have it all?’ Why do we not think about the difficulties faced by the more than two million stay-at-home dads in the United States?

Kasturi ends her enlightening discussion with some practical strategies for organizations to increase their effectiveness in combatting gender bias, like removing names from resumes, refraining from asking salary history, and supporting paternity or parental leave.

Lake Forest Graduate School of Management Business Leader Faculty® offer their incredible insight in the classroom through our MBA and Master of Science in Management degrees, in the boardroom, and to the public. Interested in bringing one of these experts to your organization? Learn more about Corporate Learning Solutions at lfgsm.edu/cls or contact cls@lfgsm.edu.

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