When considering strategies about how to close the leadership gender gap, I often think about this quote: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment, not the flower.”
I think about when a flower doesn’t bloom when I am asked to run events, leadership development or confidence building workshops for women. Don’t get me wrong, my purpose is to advance women and girls worldwide, but I baulk at strategies and tactics that only focus on ‘fixing women’.
The mindset that women aren’t confident, aren’t ambitious and don’t want leadership roles irritates me. Because my research and experience, with literally thousands of women around the world, tells me that the opposite is true. The evidence is strong.
If you are considering how to close your leadership gender gap and how to develop the capability and capacity of women in your workplace, then I encourage you to consider these questions:
- Are the women in your workplace really less confident?
- Are the women in your workplace perceived as less confident? By whom?
- What is the lived experience of women in your workplace?
- Which women in your workplace want the leadership limelight?
- Does your workplace work, for women?
When you have the answers to those questions, then I encourage you to ask yourself…“what am I doing about that?” Because, When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment, not the flower.
When Flowers Don’t Bloom
Have you read about the “Heidi/Howard” experiment? In 2003, students at Harvard Business School were presented with a case study of a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist. They told half of the class the entrepreneur’s name was Heidi, and they told the other half it was Howard. Then they asked students how they felt about Heidi and Howard and discovered a number of things:
- Students rated them both as competent and worthy of respect;
- Howard came across as a more appealing colleague;
- Heidi was seen as selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.”
Howard is a fictional character. Heidi, is an authentic go-getting, successful, wealthy and powerful woman and is not fictional. Heidi Roizen is a venture capitalist, corporate director, Stanford lecturer, recovering entrepreneur and Mom. She is a woman who has boldly stepped into the leadership limelight.
Heidi is everything that stubborn gender stereotypes tell us that ‘great guys’ are and that ‘nice girls’ are not. Students in both 2003 and 2013, when the experiment was repeated, show that being an authentic, honest, decisive female leader is underpinning the global leadership gender gap. Those perceptions are also fuelling the exodus of highly qualified females from the workforce, commonly called the ‘opt out revolution’.
Put simply, we all hold mindsets about the role of women and men in life, leadership and society. Paying attention to yours and your organisational leaders mindsets about women in leadership is critical if you want to close your leadership gender gap.. ..and having this focus means that you’re likely to have stopped fixing women and started fixing the environment.
Women May Choose to Wait (or not)
Likability, mindsets and gendered stereotypes mean that women may choose to wait (in your workplace) for the right time, the right boss, the right role. Women may choose to wait for the right environment so they can be authentically themselves, use their skills and reach their full potential.
However, increasingly, women choose not to wait for the workplace environment to improve. Women are choosing to walk. Walk, or run, towards workplaces that meet their needs. They want workplaces that work for them. Workplaces that are inclusive and where they can be their authentic selves. Women want workplaces where they belong, especially in leadership roles.
Good Advice for Leaders
WGEA advice is clear. In order to attract, engage, retain and advance women in your workplace, you must follow this 10-step recipe. Best practice companies have followed these steps so as to get more women into leadership:
1. Build a strong case for change
2. Role-model a commitment to diversity, including with business partners (suppliers, clients)
3. Redesign roles and work to enable flexible work and normalise uptake across levels and genders
4. Actively sponsor rising women
5. Set a clear diversity aspiration, backed up by accountability
6. Support talent through life transitions
7. Ensure the infrastructure is in place to support a more inclusive and flexible workplace
8. Challenge traditional views of merit in recruitment and evaluation
9. Invest in frontline leader capabilities to drive cultural change
10. Develop rising women and ensure experience in key roles
What Environment Are You (really) Leading?
Martin Parkinson the former Head of Treasury was interviewed by Catherine Fox for her book Stop Fixing Women. Parkinson had commissioned an external review of Treasury to understand why women were not advancing in the organisation and under-represented in leadership. The output of the review was poor and Parkinson was quoted as saying ‘we are not leading the organisation we thought we were.’
Perhaps leaders in that organisation, like many others, had not been paying as much attention to talent management as they had to other key metrics? Perhaps leaders had delegated the responsibility for a gender balanced and inclusive workplace to others? Perhaps leaders were unaware at how risky it is to not pay attention to the lived experience of women in their workplace?
This article is your leadership call to action to examine your workplace culture. It is a call to action to pay attention to the environment you are creating and fostering. It is a call to action to not JUST assess the capability of the women when you consider how to close your leadership gender gap. Because:
When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment, not the flower.
This is your leadership call to action to step up and be the change you want see in your organisation and in society. Because there are many many many women who DO want you to fix the environment, not them.
For a confidential, no obligation conversation about how to move gender diversity from conversation to action in your workplace, please contact Michelle.