3 Reasons Diversity Initiatives Fail to Shift the Dial on Gender Balance

Advances in achieving gender balance in the corporate space are slow, at best.  Despite the deafening cries for progress towards gender parity, progress is, indeed, evading us.  The latest gender pay gap statistics in the UK prove the point, with the largest pay gap reported in the construction sector at 25%, followed by finance and insurance sector at 22% and education at 20%.   The World Economic Forum predicts it will take the world another 217 years to reach parity, and many other reports show that, while we appear to be inching closer to a more diverse and inclusive world, progress is, well, patchy and sometimes questionable.

I have to ask myself the question why?  After all, in my conversations with clients and other companies, it seems diversity and inclusion is an important part of the business agenda, and gender balance even more so.   Most have already spent copious resources on various initiatives that intend to support and advance women - and, more broadly, diversity - within the organisation.  And yet, few would claim genuine parity at all levels.

If you ask me, part of the problem is the belief that we’re doing all the right things whereas the truth is that most of the current initiatives fail to shift the dial on diversity.

Here are my 3 reasons for it:

All female leadership and other initiatives

The intentions behind programmes that support the advancement of women in the organisation are great, but there are a number of problems with this approach: (i) when programmes cater to women only, the overarching message the company is sending to its women is that there is something wrong with them and that it is trying to ‘fix’ them.  This is particularly true of leadership programmes which intimate that women need more development than men to become leaders; (ii) even successful female-only initiatives tend to backfire because, to the extent they succeed to motivate and engage women, by the time women go back to their unchanged work environment, frustration starts to set in as they continue to perform in an environment that fails to recognise the value of their authentic contribution; and (iii) initiatives that are aimed at a specific segment of the population tend to be divisive and fail to attract the requisite amount of support and inclusion to harness lasting progress.

Appointing a female head to ‘tackle the problem’

In many cases, executive teams are genuine about their desire to advance women.  But they don’t recognise it as a central business priority and look at it as a project to be managed.  Having identified it as an issue, they tend to look for the right person to address it which, in many cases, happens to be the one woman on the executive team.  I have heard this story so many times.

These women, or other senior women in the organisation, are anointed as Head of People, or Gender Diversity Sponsor or similar, and are expected to single-handedly ‘solve the issue’.  If they’re lucky, the board will agree to authorise resources to support the position in the form of additional help and/or budget. Yet in most cases, all the resources are going to be insufficient because the ‘problem’ cannot be solved by one or few individuals, and certainly not this particular ‘problem’ (because it’s not so much a problem but an unexplored opportunity).

Parachuting women into senior roles

In many cases, gender imbalance exists primarily at the very top.  Many companies tackle the issue by bringing in lateral hires as they don’t appear to have their own senior female pipeline to address the disparity.  Sadly, this is one of the worst solutions to this issue.  Having spoken to a number of corporates who have taken such measures it becomes clear very quickly that there is no substitute for ‘growing your own’.  Attracting senior women from elsewhere is, at best, a temporary solution.  These freshly-hired women – like the the women who have been at the company for years – will be exposed to the very same culture that failed to produce the senior pipeline in the first instance.  As a result, the new senior female leaders are likely to become disenchanted with their roles as they come to realise that they are not hired for their expertise and contribution but, instead (to put it bluntly), to tick a box.   Even if they do succeed in making a contribution to the company that is genuinely valued, companies have to carefully guard these women from being hired away by others with a similar agenda.  The reality is that there are not that many senior women out there who seem to satisfy the existing requirements for board or senior level hires (although, of course, many more women can indeed to the job) so, unless companies develop their own female leadership pipeline, they stand to lose those recent hires to others that have a similar approach to gender balance.

These are but a few reasons current initiatives fail to advance gender balance at work, and there are a number of others.  If you would like to explore this topic further, email us for a longer version of this post.

Do you have the right people on your leadership team?

If you’re a CEO or a Managing Director of a team or a business, you will have noticed that things are changing. Fast. So fast that most of us are finding it hard to keep up. The amount of information being flung at us is nearly insurmountable. To such an extent that, in order for us to digest as much of it as possible, we dedicate an average of 3 seconds to any digital message (emails, tweets, blogs etc) before we decide whether it is going to capture our interest or end up in the ever-growing junk box.

You will have noticed the louder voices of so-called minorities – women, Millennials, the politically-neglected – urging the incumbent regime and processes to change.

You will have noticed technological advances – from the speed with which information is spread to the integration of artificial intelligence with human endeavours – that affect our daily interactions.

The world is undoubtedly changing. Here are five concrete reasons to ask yourself whether you have the right people on your team to embrace those changes:

  1. Ever-growing complexity

The explosion of available knowledge and information nowadays makes it impossible for any one person – no matter how clever – to absorb it all. The sheer vastness of information and the advances that we have made in mathematics, science, genetics, medicine, etc. make any one person’s job to understand how that knowledge interacts in order to solve one problem far too complex for any one type of person. The need to solve complex problems infers a need for diversity.  The only way that vast pools of knowledge in different disciplines can be leveraged to solve complex problems is by bringing together a group of individuals who hold vastly different types of information, experience and knowledge.

Consider this example: In 2006, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings asked the public to help Netflix predict viewer film ratings. Netflix announced an open competition, rewarding anyone who outperforms their own Cinematch consumer film rating algorithm by at least 10% with $1 million. Various groups went to task. Among them, teams of mathematical whizzes, computer programmers, psychologists, engineers and data scientists. Each team did all it could to improve the algorithm. A couple of the teams achieved remarkable success by improving Cinematch’s accuracy by over 8%. But not any one single team was able to get any closer to the requisite 10% in order to win the grand prize.

You can probably guess what happened next. The top-performing team realised that their knowledge alone was not going to be enough to crack this code and offered to collaborate with other teams that had vastly different experience and knowledge. The team of data scientists collaborated with a team of computer programmers and a team of psychologists. Each group, however intelligent, operated on a set of assumptions that defined its knowledge, blinded by a number of facts that were disguised by these assumptions. It is only when the teams came together and broadened their understanding of complex human behaviour that they were able to succeed.

So, while, individually, each team had vast knowledge and understanding of their area of expertise, it was not until they combined the very different knowledge and experience that they were able to exceed the requisite 10% threshold.

In today’s world, most business problems are complex. They are complicated by the fact that systems are at once different (depending on where in the world they might be located) and yet are connected through the power of technology. They are complicated by the sheer layers of possible outcomes. They are complicated by different tax structures, legal instruments and cultural behaviours in different jurisdictions. Even a business that works solely in one country will not be able to escape the every-growing complexity of our world because – no matter where we operate – we are digitally connected to each other and, as a result, influenced by everything that’s happening around us, be it in our community or on the other side of the world. While IQ is important, as the example demonstrates, IQ itself is no longer sufficient to solve the problem - you need cognitive diversity, the different ways in which we interpret situations and solve problems. Chances are, if you’re recruiting the most intelligent people out there, you’re recruiting a very similar type of thinker. In order to grow the diversity pool in your business, stop paying attention to old recruitment habits (including the level of someone’s intellect) and start thinking about how to get as diverse a pool of candidates as you can muster.

  1. Rising global middle class

The world’s middle-class population growth has shifted from established market jurisdictions to those we consider as ‘emerging’. Our global middle-class population is estimated to grow from approximately 3 billion in 2015 to over 5 billion by 2030. Half of this growth is occurring in Asia (China and India) as well as other emerging markets, including Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

The explosion of the middle-class population presents the single biggest opportunity for most businesses. Yet to take advantage of those opportunities, a business must be finely calibrated to understand the complexities of those diverse emerging markets where the opportunities arise. Countries like China, Vietnam, India, South Africa and Nigeria (to name a few) are all culturally diverse, economically volatile and politically charged. To successfully navigate markets in those countries and to take advantage of opportunities in those markets, business must understand and be fluent in the cultural intricacies of those jurisdictions. Competition from local businesses is vast and local talent is scarce. So in order for any company to successfully engage in the market where opportunities arise, it will need to make space for a diverse employee base and build an environment which doesn’t just attract people from different backgrounds and experiences but is also able to retain them and, most importantly, allow them to contribute with those valuable differences that they bring to the table.

  1. Increased customer sophistication

In this world that we now live in, where information about any given product or service is readily available, anyone who is looking for something specific, original or unique will be able to find it.

This in turn makes it difficult for companies. Not only do businesses have to closely and fully understand their customers, they also need to be able to differentiate themselves from any other company that is providing a similar service or product. As competition increases, companies cannot afford not to fully empathise and connect with their customers. Brand loyalty is a thing of the past and may not even exist in the new emerging middle classes. To satisfy a fickle client-base, teams and leader must work harder, first to attract an employee base that reflects this nuanced and diverse demand and then to retain and harness its value.

In order to do that, companies will require teams of people who reflect the diversity of their customer base. They will need to be closely connected to the customer and understand the nuances of individualised demands of millions of customers in order to deliver the requisite customer experience.

In addition, these teams will need to improve their empathy skills in order to better understand what customers want and how they want to be treated. As empathy is the main component of an inclusive environment, and inclusive team and leader will be better placed to take advantage of the diversity existing in that team and of those demanding sophisticated customers with highly individualised requirements.

  1. Innovation and Creativity

Innovation is the name of the game for any company. In fact, of 1500 CEOs surveyed in recent years, 75% put innovation as a top 3 priority for their business. Irrespective of the nature of your business, keeping up and staying ahead might be the difference between a company that survives and a company that doesn’t.

It will come as no surprise that the best way to innovate and create is to draw from a very diverse base. The wider you cast your net for new ideas, the better your chances for breakthrough innovation. Inviting and encouraging diverse thinking in your team is fundamental to any organisation that aims to garner new ideas. Leaders will need to become more self-aware in order to guard against groupthink in their midst and to ensure they aren’t blindsided by something that a more diverse environment would have identified as a risk or an opportunity.  Those who understand the greater benefits of being supported by a diverse range of thinkers (and the sacrifices that one’s ego must make in order to tolerate and, in fact, welcome dissent) stand to gain the most. A team that is diverse and is routinely freely speaking its mind will be better placed to spot those rare opportunities, develop new ideas and prevent poorly thought-through decisions.

  1. Change in Demographics and Talent

The world is becoming older, better educated and easier to transverse. In addition, the way people work and what they expect in return in terms of future opportunities, respect for life outside work and where and when they work has been undergoing a seismic shift.

The world’s change in demographic is unprecedent and is on our doorstep. According to a number of sources that monitor and routinely predict demographics, by 2020 (at the latest), those older than 65 will outnumber those under the age of 5. In fact, it is predicted that, by 2050, the world’s population of those over 65 will represent 15.6% of the global population (up from 10% today) and those under the age of 5 only 7.2%.  This will impact our workforce.

In addition, higher education in developing countries is becoming more accessible, generating a highly-educated, highly mobile educated workers, looking for opportunities elsewhere.

By way of example, it is estimated that, by 2030, China will generate more university graduates that the entire US workforce.  By 2020, India is predicted to produce four times as many graduates as the United States. Given where the educated workforce will be coming from, companies will need to be able to attract a vastly different person – from every perspective – and demonstrate and ability to retain them.

And when it comes to workplace expectations, the so-called Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1996) have a thing or two to say about this. Expected to represent 50% of the workforce in the UK (and 35% of the global workforce) by 2020, any business that chooses to ignore the demands of this generation does so at its perils.

SONY DSC

What are those demands, you ask? Generally speaking, Millennials have been seen to be the one generation that isn’t afraid to vote with their feet. An average stay for a Millennial at any given job is 18 months. Why do they leave? For better opportunities. Millennials, more so than other generations represented in the workforce find it ‘extremely important’ to have opportunities to learn and grow, to have good leaders and managers (defined by their own criteria including transparency, coaching, motivation and purpose), having an interest in the role and the type of work. They are not, necessarily, motivated by money alone.

These massive shifts in demographics and attitude require a very different approach to harnessing talent. Being mindful of diversity and how to attract and retain it plays a major role in a company’s ability to win or lose the ‘war on talent’.

The question for you is, do you have the right team to tackle these changes and succeed as a business? Do you have the diversity that you need to embrace the changes and opportunities or does your team look predominantly like you and is therefore at risk of being blindsided? If you don't have the requisite diversity on your team, ask yourself what’s missing and how you can attract and retain it. If you’re willing and able to make a change to prepare your team and company, the time to act is now!

Your company’s Inclusion Score: Comparing Lyndales’ culture to our Inclusion Criteria

At Voice At The Table, we’ve been working on developing inclusive cultures for some time now: identifying the starting point, describing the look and feel of an inclusive workplace, and supporting our clients in designing and developing their own inclusive and diverse teams.

In this new series of posts, we will be scoring organisations on their attitude to diversity and inclusion.  Assessing companies’ culture relative to our own Inclusion Criteria, we give them an Inclusion Mark, gauging where they are on the journey towards a strong inclusive culture that nurtures diverse thinking and garners its many benefits.

Our 7 Inclusion Marks describe the various stages of that journey:

  • Don’t Get It! – organisation doesn’t see any benefit from Diversity & Inclusion
  • Window Dressing – organisation understands the need to be seen as valuing D&I
  • Let’s Fix It! – organisation sees lack of diversity as a problem.
  • Seeing The Opportunity – organisation understands the strategic importance of D&I
  • Building the Foundation – organisation is actively building a foundation for D&I
  • Growing & Nurturing – organisation is starting to reap the benefits of D&I and continues to embed them into the business
  • Immersed & Fully Benefiting - organisation has established a successful inclusive culture that benefits from the full value of its diverse workforce

This time we look at Lyndales Solicitors, a boutique firm.  With a practice that ranges from civil litigation to family law to commercial property to private clients to company commercial, this firm punches above its weight.

But how well does it fair in diversity and inclusion terms?

The first thing one notices when looking at the team of solicitors at Lyndales is how diverse it is.  The Lyndales team is small and perfectly formed, gender-balanced at 50-50, with representatives of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.  Granted, at partner level the firm is striving towards diversity (with only 1 of 5 partners being a woman), but if we judge by appearance only, it would seem the firm is keen to address this nuance. And, while the team of lawyers is relatively small, it also spans a number of generations (the youngest member being in their 20s whereas the oldest in his late 60s), adding to the mix of views, experiences and opinions of the group.

Having interviewed one of their senior solicitors, Noga Kogman, I quickly reached the conclusion that the firm is aware of the benefits of diversity and inclusion as a business proposition and is shaping its work environment to attract and retain a diverse mix of people.

How do Lyndales measure up to our Inclusion Criteria?

  1. Working Culture

Noga moved to London from Israel and, as a mother of a young child who is ambitious and career-minded, Noga wanted to work at a firm that can offer her an intellectually-stimulating role and also let her be a mother on her own terms.  Lyndales offered her just that.  Working a full 5-day week, Noga usually works from home once a week and on another day leaves the office at 4pm to pick up her son.  Noga is also free to make other arrangements needed to accommodate her role as a parent and a commercial transaction lawyer.   Noga doesn’t have to hide that she’s leaving to look after her son and doesn’t feel judged because of it.  She feels fully respected and valued by all her colleagues and is therefore able to be fully herself in the office.

In fact, one third of the lawyers work from home one day a week (including a male member of the team) and one of the solicitors also works a shorter week in addition to one of her work days being from home.  In other words, the firm accommodates agile working for everyone who wants it.

Noga describes the culture at Lyndales as healthy and open-minded.   The partners trust their colleagues to be professionals and don’t second-guess how or where they get the job done.  Performance is measured by output and everyone’s targets and progress is openly discussed at team meetings.  People are engaged, committed and happy to be at work – a testament to a tolerant, respecting culture.

Noga feels that there is a genuine interest in diversity at the firm, beyond it being a requirement imposed by the SRA.  The firm has an open-minded approach to candidates and views CVs without regard to a person’s background, name or gender.  The firm is genuinely interested in attracting people from various backgrounds (reflected in the composition of the legal team).

Interviews are conducted by a wide group of people to ensure a lack of bias and a good personality fit with all.  It is therefore not uncommon that lateral hires come from bigger City firms to find a home that respects their varied backgrounds and values their technical skills.

When asked about the firm’s leadership style, Noga explained that the partners are inclusive and considerate.  Noga and her colleagues are routinely engaged in most decisions that affect them directly, from office moves to new hires.  Partners consult with their colleagues regularly and listen and act on feedback.   Partners can be described as balanced in their attitude, open-minded and professional and the tone for the firm’s culture and business is set by its managing partner.

  1. Retention, Development and Promotion

In terms of retention, Lyndales story is strong.  Most lawyers stay for a long time, with hardly any turn-over of legal staff.  The two longest serving partners are the founders, each with 40 years under his respective belt. The firm recently expanded with 3 lateral hires and a newly-qualified solicitor who trained with the firm.  The female partner at the firm returned from maternity leave to work flexibly, working 4 days per week, one of which is from home.

Lyndales do not offer special arrangements for parenting, such as maternity coaching or specific policies around maternity, although one might argue that, with an open attitude towards accommodating most flexible working requests and a friendly open-minded environment, such support services aren’t strictly necessary.  The firm’s maternity leave is comparable to that of any bigger firm and it encourages fathers to play their role in child care.

The firm encourages lawyers to maintain their personal development, supporting their individual training initiatives.  As a small firm, it doesn’t have a central training department yet encourages each person to think about their own growth.

As with most other law firms, the path to equity partnership isn’t entirely transparent, but according to Noga, the partners are aware of this and are keen to address it.  The managing partner has taken it upon himself to ensure the partnership track is transparent and is actively working on making it so.

  1. Diversity as a Market Force

The drive for a diverse and inclusive culture in this case is not coming from the outside world.  While it would be fair to say that clients do think about diversity and prefer to work with diverse and able teams (and, as a result, benefit from their more creative and insightful solutions), in the case of Lyndales the firm culture is naturally inclusive and is designed to give lawyers independence, responsibility and accountability.  As a result, the firm benefits from the diversity of its people by allowing them to bring their whole selves to work and tap into their diverse backgrounds and experiences.

  1. External Evidence of Commitment

In terms of the gender pay gap, the firm is too small to have to report on it, but internal sources suggest that there is a gender pay gap at the firm (currently not quantified), as a function of the fact that, at partnership level, there are more men than women.

The firm is not a signatory to any diversity charters (including the legal diversity and inclusion charter) and is too small to need Employee Resource Groups or networks.

This short overview of the firm’s culture against our criteria leads us to award Lyndales Solicitors an Inclusion Mark of Growing and Nurturing their existing inclusive and diverse culture.  This puts the firm in a prominent position in the legal industry, proving that D&I is not something that pertains only to bigger organisations.  As a diverse and inclusive culture is something that can be nurtured from the outset, the size of the business doesn’t matter. Small businesses like Lyndales stand to benefit from an inclusive environment as much as (if not more than) any bigger organisation that puts D&I front and centre to its growth strategy. Congratulations, Lyndales! You’ve accomplished a remarkable feat without trying too hard!

If you would like us to review your organisation’s diversity and Inclusion Mark, please email info@voiceatthetable.com

 

Do you feel out of it? by Joanna Gaudoin*

How are you feeling about your career? Do you feel you are progressing as you want to? Importantly, do you enjoy the environment you work in?

There can be lots of things that prevent the answers to those questions being positive but one core reason is rife in workplaces - office politics.

The simple fact is where you have people with different values, goals and assumptions, office politics will be there, so that will be everywhere then!

Research shows that at its worst negative office politics is one of the biggest causes of stress at work. As well as a negative impact on individuals, it can be highly detrimental to organisational performance. A lack of trust, high levels of conflict and lack of faith in top management lead to poor and inefficient decision making and ultimately lack of action and productivity. If you experience all of these in your organisation then the political climate is likely to be extremely negative. Some of these will be present in most organisations.

Another key indicator that office politics is in a negative state is rumblings of people "just wanting to do the day job and not wanting to get involved in other stuff". This state of mind frequently leads to people not progressing in their careers and in many cases the loss of valuable talent. Research also shows that women typically have less time for negative politics and are more likely to try to avoid it, which can affect career progression

However, politics can be positive, it can be turned around. Once people understand what politics is, why it happens, their current behavioural profile and the effect their own behaviour can have on the overall environment, progress can be made.

As a licensed practitioner with the Academy for Political Intelligence (http://www.tafpi.com/), and an associate of Voice at the Table, I run diagnostic profiling with groups and individuals, so they understand their current behaviour and understand that of others. This is looked at in the context of the organisation, it is not simply a personality test. This is supported by looking at the behaviours that need to be focused on going forwards at an individual, tailored level to influence the overall political environment and the progression of individuals in their careers.

Imagine the impact better decision making, increased action taking and a more trusting office environment could have on the performance of your organisation and the career progression of those in it?

What could it mean to your organisation to have improved morale, increased knowledge sharing and productivity, together with increased retention rates?

As an individual, imagine if you knew the key things to focus on to progress in your career and manage the challenges of how you work with others with less stress?

Testimonial from one of my recent one-day workshops on positive organisational politics:

“We were hoping for an off-site event at which our Business Services team leaders would pick up useful skills and insights to help them deal with the increasing pressures of a demanding ‘high touch’ professional services environment.  Joanna exceeded our expectations.  She won the confidence of the group from the outset and proved an open, insightful and action-oriented facilitator.  Our group came away energised by Joanna’s skills exercises and universally positive about Joanna’s impact on the group.”

Director of Business Services, Leading Global Law Firm

*Joanna is Founder of Inside Out Image - Personal Impact & Influence Consultancy

If you'd like to understand more about how this works at an individual or group level, contact us to find out more. This is not something that is taught in business schools and very rarely on training courses. Typically, progress can be made in this area in a day with a group or 4 short sessions with an individual.

The top 3 trademarks of an Inclusive Leader

At Voice At The Table, we know that companies with inclusive cultures benefit from the diversity of their workforce.  We also know that a more diverse workforce achieves greater business success.  A key driver of business success, therefore, is having an inclusive culture.

In our view, an inclusive culture is an environment in which every individual feels welcomed and valued.  It is the ideal setting in which to cultivate engagement,  tap into authentic contribution, breed accountability and independent thinking and encourage learning and development.  It is within this type of culture that the benefits of diversity can be fully harnessed and lead to the discovery of new markets and products, introduce innovation in processes across the entire business, attract and retain the talent of the future and develop a distinguished and sustainable competitive edge.  In other words, inclusive cultures encourage diversity of thought and directly contribute to the growth of the business.

In order to create an inclusive environment that leads to the benefits described above, we first need to ‘create’ inclusive leaders that make inclusive cultures within their own teams a reality.

So what are the key ingredients of a leader who values the contribution of each team member, knows how to motivate them, and makes them feel welcome?

Here are our top 3 trademarks of an Inclusive Leader:

  1. Empathy

Empathy is described as the ability to understand another’s feelings as though they were your own.  In other words, it’s the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another.

An empathetic person doesn’t just have the benefit of understanding why others say and do things, he or she will always strive to understand another, especially when their behaviour or statements aren’t obvious.  This is a key attribute for inclusive leadership because understanding the team members’ motivation, background, preferences and behaviour traits allows the team leader to utilise team members to the best of their abilities.  In doing so, the inclusive leader will not only benefit from each member’s strengths, he or she will have the benefit of engaging team members by appealing to their preferences.

Empathetic leaders will also gain the team’s trust by being able to relate to the team and by understanding how to develop and mentor them.

  1. Listening Skills

Listening has been described is one of the most important skills of great leadership.  In an excellent article for Forbes magazine, Mike Myatt expresses as follows what we hold to be true:

Great leaders are great listeners, and therefore my message today is a simple one - talk less and listen more. The best leaders are proactive, strategic, and intuitive listeners. They recognize knowledge and wisdom are not gained by talking, but by listening… The best leaders possess the uncanny ability to understand what is not said, witnessed, or heard. … astute leaders know there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by dominating it…. In this age of instant communication everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind, they fail to realize the value of everything that can be gleaned from the minds of others.

Read the rest of the article here.

In her book Are you listening or just waiting to speak? my good friend, coach and advisor Jane Adshead-Grant points out that hearing and listening are two very different processes.  Hearing what’s being said doesn’t necessarily make a connection with the other person, whereas when one listens, the listener has committed his or her perception to what’s going on with the listener beyond what’s being said.  This is called ‘active listening’ and requires the use of all senses.

In the context of building inclusive cultures, listening is critical.  A leader who listens creates trust and commitment, and shows team members that he or she cares about them. A leader who is an active listener will also read between the lines and hear what’s not being said – a crucial skill for anyone who seeks to influence, motivate and galvanise people into action.

  1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness can be described as the ability to understand who you are, to have a clear perception of your personality - your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Being self-aware allows a better understanding of others, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in the moment.

Becoming self-aware is the first crucial step to developing emotional intelligence, and emotionally intelligent people are not only successful in their own right, they are excellent communicators, leaders, thought leaders and philosophers.  Becoming self-aware allows a person to take charge of their emotions and thoughts and change them.

Self-aware leaders will naturally be more inclusive leaders.  They will be more aware of their innate biases, be more inclined to question their actions, thoughts and feelings, and allow diversity of thought to thrive.  Being self-aware also makes it easier to retain newly-developed skills, such as listening, empathy and others, in times of turbulence or high stress.  It’s during those difficult times that our leadership styles, personalities and preferences are tested and tend to revert to a more ingrained foundation.  Emotional Intelligence can help navigate those tricky waters and sustain a more calm and rational approach.  This, in turn, helps us to remain healthy, balanced and in control of our own emotions.  Naturally, in the context of inclusive leadership, being self-aware and emotionally intelligent helps sustain the trust that we have worked to instil and lead the team calmly through periods of uncertainty, change and challenge.

So, in our view, an inclusive leader will be a master of many more leadership skills and traits, but the above 3 are the cornerstones of any leader who wants to create a culture that benefits from the valuable contribution of each person in his or her team.  At Voice At The Table we understand not only the significance of this culture for the success and growth of a business, but we are also equipped to help leaders and their teams to attain an inclusive environment in which every person thrives and, as a result, delivers their best.

If you’d like to learn more about how we do this, please email us.

Changing the Rules of the Game: When is the right time?

guard-changing-ceremony-1564817-639x852A recent HBR article Women, Find Your Voice! talks about the struggle many executive women face in making an impact in senior meetings.  The article went on to list a number of ways in which women can alter their communications style in order to achieve this.  But in a short ‘throw-away’ comment, the authors make reference to the fact that, while it would be better to change the culture in those meetings so that women wouldn’t need to adapt their communications style, until power is granted to those who want to change the rules, changing the culture of those meetings is rather unrealistic.  So, the comment concludes, while women are operating in a male environment, women are encouraged to alter their behaviours until they have succeeded to gain enough authority to change this.

This struck me as an interesting proposition:  play by the existing rules, play well and win, and then change them.

Get to the top, then change the rules.

This is of course also what Sheryl Sandberg advocates in her Lean In advice.  Yes, she says, we ultimately want to get to the point when we can operate in an environment that is natural to the way women tend to behave; an environment that is characterised by the presence of strong emotional intelligence, collaboration, transparency and empathy (but is also strong, direct and decisive).   But until we can be the architects of such corporate culture, i.e. until women have enough support and/or influence to shape meetings to allow women to be women (and others to be themselves) without paying a price, until then we should adapt and attain credibility and influence by taking things less personally, speaking more assertively and concisely and in general become better conversant in the language and demeanour of current influencers.

But why change the women?  Why not change the men?

I often hear senior women say to me: “I’m tired of being asked to change the women in our company, why not start changing the men/male culture?”

While I acknowledge the sentiment, it isn’t a realistic ask!  People don’t change unless they have a vested interest in that change and for the majority of senior executives and politicians, Diversity & Inclusion is still not enough of a vested interest in order to embark on a journey of transformation.

So is the answer then as Sheryl Sandberg says?  Do we have to try to learn how to play and win by the existing rules until we, like her, get into positions of power and change them?  Maybe so.  Maybe workshops on ‘personal branding’, presence and gravitas’ and ‘how to make your voice heard in meetings’ do still have their place!  And yes, maybe they do appear to advocate changing women, but the way I see it, they simply equip women to succeed so that they can be powerful and fully conversant in any culture, so that they can be ‘multi-linguists’, speaking fluently with others of similar nature and behaviours as well as with those of a different persuasion.

In the end, if we are able to exceed that magic 30% gender representation figure at the top – and maybe even get to 50% - it will have been worth it!  For us, and for our employers!

In the wake of IWD2016 – what are we really saying?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last week's international woman's day seems to have been the most popular we've had in a long time. Every company, organisation and network seems to have put on a celebration or event to mark the occasion.  Much has been written about it and pledges have been undertaken to change the balance between men and women at work and in the economy.

But what strikes me most of all is how much talk there is about women being the solution for the upcoming future. By this I mean that there is much research and insight to point to the fact that organisations that don't take gender balance seriously are said to be walking on thin ice; organisations that are refusing to change will see others who will be prepared for the future pass them by.  In other words, it is no longer the right thing to do or the nice thing to do for your business; ensuring that teams work on inclusive insights and that our leaders either possess many feminine leadership traits or are indeed women with those traits now appears to be a strategic priority.

Much is written directly about the influence and the impact of feminine leadership on business in the future.  Take for example John Gerzema’s and Michael D'Antonio book “The Athena Doctrine”, which is based on research and surveys of 64,000 individuals.  Published in 2013, the authors show that innovation and creativity can only be driven if one embraces feminine traits and values.  Having tried hard to resist talking in terms of gender, John and Michael succumbed to the overwhelming evidence that makes a strong case in favour of gender balance.  The book makes it clear that the different way men and women think and behave (in general) cannot be disregarded and that society’s values are changing to reflect those that are traditionally female.  John and Michael talk about a new operating system that includes as many feminine traits as it does masculine.

Much is also written about the leadership styles of the future that - although not directly referencing feminine traits, talks about them as central to the success of any future business.  Take for example the fact that millennials today don’t want to work for companies the sole mission of which is to increase shareholder returns.  They care about the world as much as they do about their jobs. They no longer want to perform a task that contributes only to lining their own pockets.  They care about legacy; they care about the environment; they care about social solutions to existing problems, all of which requires a different type of thinking. So what we read and hear about is how to work in teams and collaborate; how big decisions should bubble up from the surface rather than being pushed down from the top; we read about motivating and encouraging each other to perform the best we can and about valuing the differences that we each bring as individuals in the name of creativity and innovation.  Name them as such or not, these are the so-called ‘feminine’ traits:  collaboration, motivation, valuing others’ point of view, supporting each other and nurturing – these are the things that women tend to do more naturally than men.  And now it seems that these behaviours are becoming a central point of a successful business; they are no longer the ‘nice to have’s’ for a pleasant working culture; they are the central machination of a successful working team.  A company that embraces these traits and values is more likely to succeed in the future than one that doesn't.

But it is not just the survival of a business that makes this new operating system so relevant.  This operating system also allows companies to utilise these attitudes as a competitive advantage.  Creativity, innovation and diversity of thought are the cornerstones of ideas that lead to the discovery of new markets, the design of new products and the launch of new services.  This new operating system allows companies to experience the world in a way that their customers might do and they might not.  Once we learn to experience our surroundings from the point of view of another we start seeing things and solutions that weren't apparent before.  This new mindset that opens our eyes to things we haven't seen before is what's going to make the difference between the company that survives and the company that thrives.

I have always believed in gender diversity - in its very basic form - diversity of thought and the value of the individual as a strategic priority for any business.  It now seems that those who share my views are becoming more outspoken.  If you are a business that wants to see itself thrive in the future then I suggest you start listening to those outspoken voices.

Rina Goldenberg Lynch