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Closing The Gap

Reaching gender equality at work means getting over this major hurdle first

Despite ongoing efforts to improve gender equality in the workplace, still too few men recognize the extent of the problem. Until that perception gap is addressed, attempts by individuals and organizations to make progress will be stymied.

That's the conclusion of a new report from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a leadership development network, released to coincide with this year's International Women's Day on March 8.

Just two-fifths (41%) of men believe men and women experience unequal roles in the workplace, compared with almost two-thirds (63%) of women who view that to be the case. That represents a perception gap of 22%, according to the research, which surveyed over 300 professionals across Asia Pacific.

Meanwhile, less than half (44%) of men agree there is a gender pay gap versus almost three-quarters (72%) of women, resulting in a perception gap of 25%. More than half (57%) of women versus just a third (32%) of men believe women are hit on or harassed in the workplace as a result of their gender. 

Those disparities in perception — while at best hopeful — at worst play a key role in undermining progress, perpetuating systemic challenges and preventing women from receiving support, according to Elisa Mallis, CCL's managing director and vice president (APAC) and co-author of the report, entitled "Overcoming Barriers to Women's Leadership and Unlocking the Power of Diversity."

"The gaps in perception ... may explain the slow progress or lack of progress we are seeing when it comes to closing the gender gap," Mallis told CNBC Make It. "While we are asking women to lead and lean in, we may also need to more actively ask men to lift ... their perceptions."

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Questioning perceptions 

Tackling that perception gap requires both men and women start thinking differently about their assumptions, said Mallis.

Individuals and organizations can do that by asking questions like "are things really equal for female and male leaders in the organization?" and "are we really doing what's needed to tap the full potential of our female talent?" Even if the answer is yes, Mallis said there's always room for improvement, and recommended individuals join discussion groups on female leadership and challenge others' assumptions.

Those "push" factors are example of external actions individuals can take to help female colleagues overcome the challenges they may be facing.

But women also need to confront internal "pull" factors that may be preventing them from realizing their full potential, the report noted. For instance, it found that when offered new challenges, 11% of women turned them down versus 2% of men. 

Mallis recommended women think hard about what they want to achieve and what push and pull factors might be limiting them, before reaching out to colleagues and networks for support. 

"When you feel that trigger deep inside that you are being held back from something you really want, that's the time to really examine those limiting factors and test whether they really hold true and how they can be overcome," said Mallis.

Don't miss: Men are not the only ones biased against women, UN study finds

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