Younger women face "gender fatigue," subtle bias

Mon Mar 8, 2010 2:04pm EST
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By Jane Merriman

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Women bosses are no longer unusual in the corporate world, where many top-flight companies see gender and diversity programs as a "must-have."

Flexible working, parental leave, mentoring and women's networks have become the norm in many businesses.

But gender diversity's move into the mainstream gives an impression that gender issues at work have been "solved," which makes more subtle discrimination harder to spot and can even disadvantage young women starting their careers.

"Younger women find it difficult to connect to women's networks in the workplace, because they view these networks as something that belonged to their mother's generation," said Elisabeth Kelan, a lecturer in Work and Organisations in the Department of Management at King's College in London.

Kelan describes this situation as "gender fatigue," where people in the workplace lack the energy to tackle afresh something that they no longer see as a problem.

Research for her book "Performing Gender at Work" found that young women were not engaged by topics for discussion in women's networks, which some felt were just a "club for whining."

"This means they are deprived of a voice, they have no space where they can discuss the issues in relation to gender they face in the workplace."

Companies have made big efforts to counter gender bias, appointing diversity officers and running diversity programs that have raised the profile of gender equality and diversity.   Continued...

<p>Office workers descend a set of stairs to a train station in central Sydney October 8, 2009. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne</p>