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Seven Harmful Myths About Women in Business

02 Jul 2019

Despite the fact women run billion-dollar companies and are innovators and leaders responsible for some of the world's biggest brands, women are still subject to lazy, harmful stereotypes about their abilities.

Here are seven of the most insidious myths women still have to encounter in the workplace, along with some advice on how to tackle these untruths.

Women are bad at negotiating

This is often brought up to partly explain the gender pay gap, as part of an argument that women just don't negotiate their own contracts as well as men. However, research shows women are very effective negotiators and ask for pay raises just as often as men ¡X but men are 25 percent more likely to actually get that raise when they ask than their female counterparts. 

"Women are good negotiators, just different from men. Female-associated behaviors such as supporting others, [demonstrating] curiosity, [encouraging] cooperation, and [being] convincing, are increasingly being regarded as important negotiation techniques,¡¨ says Horacio Falcão, INSEAD Professor of Decision Sciences.

Women executives don't support other women

This particularly dangerous myth is also completely false, with studies showing nearly two-thirds of women who receive career development support go on to help develop new talent. By contrast, only 56 percent of men do the same.

Furthermore, 73 percent of these women who are actively developing new talent support fellow women ¡X while only 30 percent of men can say the same.

"In my previous job, I was the most senior woman in the Middle East, so one could think that investing in my network of female colleagues couldn't bring many benefits and that I should instead invest my time developing my relationships with male seniors and peers,¡¨ recalls Dr. Leila Hoteit, INSEAD MBA alumna who is now Partner and Managing Director at BCG. 

"Yet two of my biggest breaks came through the support of other women. So, don't compete, but join forces!¡¨

Women don't have what it takes to be entrepreneurs

According to the 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report, companies helmed by female entrepreneurs had 13 percent higher revenues than those run by men and finished 9 percent above the average.

Randa Rustom, a Founding Partner of Apis Health Consulting Group and an EMBA alumna, says: "At INSEAD, I learned to think like an entrepreneur. My vision for Apis Health Consulting is to be well-established with a big team of competent consultants. We already have a team of seven people, as well as contracts in the Middle East.¡¨

Women can't lead a business if they have kids

The amount of time a person has to devote to a given job is not nearly as important as his or her time management skills. In terms of demonstrating leadership skills and the ability to make effective decisions, quality matters more than the quantity of time a person spends at the office. 

This argument is also a worrying sign that a company's culture isn't conducive to attracting the best workers, irrespective of gender or background. Family-friendly policies attract better talent ¡X which helps spur productivity for the entire company.

Emma Russell is a mother of two and an INSEAD Executive MBA alumna. She says: "I became very organized, creating a strict schedule and allocating specific times for work and for family. I have continued this same discipline upon returning to work.¡¨

Women are bad at math

The numbers don't lie when it comes to disproving this myth. Several major, international studies have repeatedly shown that cultural factors ¡X which can be changed ¡X are to blame for the math gender gap where it exists.

"My father used to say math will not help you get married,'¡¨ says Diliara Safina, INSEAD Executive Master in Finance (EMFin) alumna. She's now the Deputy Treasury and Financial Control Director at Leroy Merlin. 

"I say, forget biases. If you really think you are good at numbers, then you really are. At work, my boss started to take me seriously when I showed him my 730 GMAT score.¡¨

Women lack the confidence to lead

Women and men actually have similar levels of ambition and comparable career aspirations when they first start life in the workplace. However, over time, women encounter discouraging obstacles that their male counterparts do not. 

This includes, for example, a lack of access to the work and career flexibility they need, and a lack of support from influential figures. These setbacks can damage a woman's confidence in the workplace.

"The Leadership Development Programme [at INSEAD] helped me put myself and my life into perspective. [It helped me] understand and value my strengths,¡¨ says Maryam Haghighi, an EMBA alumna and now an HR Leader for General Electric. "I also learned to accept my weaknesses and to ask for support when I need it.¡¨

Women basically have equality in the workplace already

While we've made some positive steps, progress still isn't complete nor is it happening fast enough for the current generation.

According to a report by Lean In and McKinsey & Company called "Women in the Workplace¡¨, if the current rate of progress continues, it will take 25 years to reach "gender parity¡¨ at the Senior VP level and more than 100 years to reach parity in the C-suite.

"Work with and through allies ¡X including men!¡¨ advises Quint Simon, an MBA student who is currently the Co-President of the INSEAD Women in Business Club. "The best strategy is to create a coalition of managers, mentors and peers who recognize the issue (gender bias) exists and work with them to tackle the problem head on.¡¨

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