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Stubborn myths hold women back, P&G's Tastad says

Carolyn Tastad

Women are being held back by enduring myths that create barriers to gender equality in the workplace, Procter & Gamble's Carolyn Tastad told more than 300 senior leaders at the NEW Executive Forum, August 1 at the Omni Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California.  

Society continues to operate with a set of false assumptions about women, the P&G group vice president said. They don’t raise their hands, speak up, assert themselves, go for the big jobs or have what it takes to lead.

“We need to get these myths out of people’s heads — we need to unlearn them — and replace them with a new narrative,” Tastad said. “Only then can we start to make real progress.”

In her keynote “The Myths that Hold Women Back,” Tastad addressed the false assumptions head on:

Women are less confident or lack ambition relative to men

“This feeds into what we call the ‘fix the women,’ myth,” Tastad said. “It goes like this: If we women would just change our behavior — be more confident, have more ambition or stop fearing failure — we’d have more opportunity to get ahead. In other words, the workplace is fine. We just need to fix the women. “Every time we stand in front of women and teach them how to build their confidence, we imply they didn’t have it to start with. And I believe this is patently false.”

There aren’t enough qualified women for the top jobs

“Here is the ‘pipeline’ myth — the idea that C-suite teams are predominantly male because corporations have insufficient female talent to fill those roles,” Tastad said. “What happened to the women between the day they were hired and where they are today? They were qualified when they stepped foot into [the company]. They took the same screening tests, they went through the same interviews. If we gave them the same opportunities we gave the men, then why are we asking the question of whether they’re qualified?”

Tech is a guys’ thing

“Women have always been good at STEM, yet they are significantly underrepresented in STEM-related fields,” Tastad said. “There were more women in tech in 1984 than there are now. As someone with a computer science degree, I think I was one of them!” The culture in the tech industry hasn’t been supportive or welcoming of women, Tastad noted. “And, from a young age, many girls haven’t felt encouraged to study STEM or if they read the headlines, they don’t think it’s the right place for them.”

A woman’s place is in the home

“There’s the narrative that women feel like they should quit work and stay home when they have kids,” the P&G leader said. “There’s also the narrative that men don’t want an equal role at home. Both of these are wrong.” Still, everyone assumes women are worrying most about home and family. “We don’t even think to ask men about childcare,” she said. “Our world is changing — our definition of family is changing — with blended families, same-sex couples, single-parent homes, non-binary gender definitions. We need to update the way we think and talk about families, to be inclusive of this new normal.

Sexual harassment is a woman’s issue

“Sexual harassment isn’t a woman’s issue, it’s a business issue that affects the health and wellbeing of companies,” Tastad said. “And it’s not about sex. It’s about privilege and power — power that has been traditionally held by men and that some men have abused.” Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated, she said. Women’s claims must be taken seriously. “We’ve got to stand up for those being harassed with a zero-tolerance policy.”

“Together, we can create a world and workplace with equal voice and equal representation for women and men,” Tastad said. “To do that, we have to dispel the myths, change the way we think and talk about women, and create a new narrative that enables a world free from gender bias, where everyone sees equal.”

During the three-day NEW Forum, attendees experienced the interactive “Women at Work: Myth Vs. Reality” exhibit provided by Procter & Gamble. The traveling exhibit provides insights and solutions for creating a more gender-equal world.