Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Day After IWD - So What's Next?

We've come a long way! We now have a female Prime Minister. We have paid maternity leave and women don't have to resign from the public service when they get married!

We have a long way to go, however, when you look at the top 200 companies on the ASX and find that only 3% of their CEOs and 9.5% of their Board Members are women.

It is now apparent that the reasons why we have so few women in positions of top leadership is not because there aren’t any with the experience or expertise to be there. The reasons have as much to do with the culture of workplaces and the stereotypes of leadership as anything else.

It is good business to have women in positions of leadership in our organisations. They bring a diversity of ideas and perspectives that can only enrich the decisions that are made. Yet at a time when there is an urgent need for new and creative ways of working with the complexity of today’s business issues, their talented contribution is being overlooked.

I have read dozens of articles, commentaries and books on what women can do about that as if it is women’s problem. Some women have solved the problem and reached a leadership position. Many more women decide they don’t want to engage in the political quickstep that will get them there and opt out of the “race”. Facilitating women's moves into key leadership positions is as much a men's problem as it is women's.

So What Can Men Do? How Can They Engage With Women In Bringing About Change?
  • Level the playing field and ensure that women are being viewed the same way as men in the organisational pipeline. In other words, examine the assumptions, the biases and prejudices that may unconsciously be present about women and leadership.
  • Act as mentors to women with high potential, but ensure that it builds on their strengths, rather than imposes a stereotypical leadership model on them.
  • Have male leaders mentored by woman outside their organisation who have reached the top so they can learn what they need to do to enhance opportunities for the most talented women in their own organisations.
  • Be careful not to assume what women can or will do. Don’t assume, for example, that women won’t be able to accept some new responsibility, or take on some new role or take a promotion overseas or interstate and so not even talk about it with them, or offer it to them.
  • Give women “stretch assignments and projects” within their current role, opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and talents as well as their potential for bigger roles.
  • Actively intervene where women are deliberately discriminated against, or when discussion takes place that is not enhancing women’s capabilities.
  • Stand up for them in the presence of male staff who de-value their ideas, for example, in meetings where their opinions are not heard until a man says the same thing and claims the insight as his.
  • Have building diversity in organisations (not just gender, but race, colour, age, for example) as one of the KPIs of senior managers. More and more organisations, like Deloitte, are now doing this.
  • Make sure that at least some networking events/activities are inclusive and women friendly and make a conscious effort to make women leaders and managers part of them.
  • Respect the work/family balance needs of women with children and be flexible in negotiating working arrangements. They will repay you 150%.
  • Have regular meetings at family friendly times, not 7.30 a.m. or 7 p.m. at night.
  • Develop programs for women returning after maternity leave that are workable and meet their needs. Stay in touch with them during their leave.
  • Have an on-going group of male and female managers to work on this issue in your organisation.
How To Change The Unbelievers!

All of what has just been said are strategies that many enlightened male CEOs and leaders will already be doing, or will embrace with real commitment. There are, however, many out there who are yet to acknowledge that something is wrong and that change needs to happen.

In 2009, an important report was produced on gender bias in the workplace which examined the underlying issues regarding the gender gap in leadership. This report - Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know – is an important document for any organisation to read that is serious about addressing this important issue.

It was produced by Catalyst, but sponsored by The Goldman Sachs Group, Ernst & Young, IBM and Shell International, all of whom have adopted change processes in their organisations to address this gap in leadership in their organisations.

Catalyst is a leading non-profit organisation working globally with business and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities foe women and business

A copy of this report can be downloaded at the link below.

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