And start asking men why they're not promoting more of them.
Erika Watson's insight:
"We think that the top three obstacles to better gender balance are: Management mindset, leadership criteria, and career management processes " concluded the group of men during last week's leadership team meeting, after an animated debate.
Then I asked the much smaller group of women who had been enthusiastically discussing the topic in a corner of the room to present their analysis. "Self-criticism, lack of confidence and self-selection out of promotion pools" was how they explained the dearth of women in the room — and on this team.
"I am totally turned around," the VP who headed up the division later admitted to me. "I never would have believed such a difference in analysis if I hadn't just witnessed it. The men blamed the system, the women are blaming themselves!"
He had suddenly understood that women are not always the best or only source to understanding the causes of gender imbalances — nor designing solutions to eradicate them. This would be a useful lesson for many leaders — male and female — around the world to understand. It is time to recognize that it is the people currently in power who are the ones best able to understand and adapt their systems.
Male executive teams laugh in embarrassed recognition when I show them this cartoon from my first book, WHY Women Mean Business. They readily admit to being guilty of passing it off to women to analyse... and solve. That's what all the other companies do, and they take it as 'best practice'.
Yet if you ask an executive team to analyse the obstacles to better balance (gender or nationalities) in their own companies, they usually do a good job. The top issues for them usually include: management mindsets, organizational and leadership cultures and perceived work style norms, as well as obsolete talent identification and career management processes. Men rarely mention women. Women usually do.
The difference between analyses is crucial. Both men and women need to learn that we may not perceive the same story, that we may not be right in our perceptions and that this gap helps us understand why so many "empowering women" initiatives have failed. We are usually asking the wrong people (only women) the wrong questions ("what do women want?").
Because gender imbalance is overwhelmingly framed as a 'women's issue' in most companies, companies take a sort of marketing approach to understanding their 'customers' on the topic. So most of the research and writing about gender is done by women, for women and about women, from Sheryl Sandberg's "lean in" line to Margaret Wente's recent view in the Globe & Mail that women simply don't 'want' the jobs in which they are currently under-represented.
For companies, the key question isn't what women want. The question is what does your company need to survive and thrive in the coming years? And if the answer has anything to do with talent,markets, leadership or governance, it may have to include a strategic understanding — and rebalancing — of genders. The business case is pretty overwhelming, although many leaders are still unfamiliar with the research, or uncomfortable making the argument.
As the head of Bain & Co. Europe, Olivier Marchal told me years ago: "in improving gender balance, women may hold the keys, but men generally still control the locks."
So ladies, stop preaching to other women to change. We've never, in all of human history, seen a generation of brighter, better educated or more ambitious women. They have the keys. We just still haven't figured out how to adapt our organizations to optimize their talents. It's time to focus on the locks. Get leaders to accept their responsibility and accountability for the balance they have created — or haven't. Every women's network, every additional dollar spent in coaching and mentoring women, every women's conference, is just another way of avoiding the real issues and adding another whip to blame the ladies. And as soon as you suggest this to the guys who run the place, they ruefully admit it's true.
I think it’s hard, really hard, to change that mindset. We were raised to be Don Drapers, Alpha males, casually, uncritically entitled to a gender order that is vertical, hierarchical. And now we feel we have to be more Al Gore-esque Beta-males, oriented to equality, horizontally.
But change we shall - and not just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also in our interests to embrace gender equality. The empirical evidence is clear: at the corporate level, those companies that embrace diversity and enable everyone (including white men) to feel included and valued have lower rates of absenteeism and job turnover, and higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity. And personally, the more equal our relationships, the happier and healthier everyone will be.
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