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#ChamberBreakers: How gendered economy sets women up to fail

While capitalism has long been lauded as an efficient and open economic system affording equal opportunities, it is far from a neutral concept, and often inherently stacked in favour of people of privilege.

Now in its third season, the #ChamberBreakers podcast series is unpacking capitalism, to see whether it is broken and what we can do as businesses to pave a more equitable future for all.

In this episode, Lianna Brinded, director at Yahoo, and Xavier White, CSR and innovation marketing manager for Verizon Business, speak to professor Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

Kaplan coined the term “gender capitalism” to describe how today’s capitalist economic system is defined by the dominant gender — white cisgender males — in everything from policy making, to product and service design, and allocation of capital.


“We can think about the flows of capital being gendered looking at, for example, venture capital, and how almost none of the venture capital funding for startups goes to women or people of colour,” Kaplan says.

Research by Kaplan’s institute found that CEOs who grew up in gender-unequal environments were much more likely to allocate company capital disproportionately to men over women.

Consequently, women division managers are less able to grow their division and get the best results, which makes it appear they didn’t perform as well as their male peers and in turn harms their promotion chances.

“This is an example of the ways that through capital allocation inside an organisation you can actually create a situation where you no longer have any qualified women candidates, because you haven't given them the chance to grow,” Kaplan says.

She stresses that while women are encouraged to “lean in,” the system is designed to push them back.

Step aside and step in front

Kaplan has identified two things managers can do to start to change the system from within: Step aside and step in front.

“This stepping aside is giving up some of the positions that you have achieved because of your own privilege and ceding that to other people,” she says, adding that ceding opportunities that you actually want — such as appearing on a panel — can create openings for other people who are equally qualified but have been overlooked.

Stepping in front could mean cancelling a job search if there is not a diverse enough panel, or promoting and championing people from more diverse communities, even if you have to face a backlash.

“If we're really going to get change, it can't be an add-on that you sprinkle on top of everything and you feel good,” she says. “You have to do something that costs you in order to really make the shifts that we have been hoping for but haven't happened.”

Read more: #ChamberBreakers: Why capitalism is broken and what’s the solution?

She notes that many executives feel they have worked really hard and deserve their success, but it takes a “mind shift” to see that others are working just as hard and it is not paying off for them as they don’t enjoy the same privilege.

Fixing gendered capitalism means tackling everything from changing the language in job ads, to finding new ways to support diversity in entrepreneurship, to creating fairer promotion processes.

“It can't be about fixing women or fixing people of colour,” Kaplan says. “The system itself must be fixed, not the people that capitalism is failing.”

The six-part podcast #ChamberBreakers is out every Monday. Next week’s episode features Susan McPherson, CEO of McPherson Strategies.