Category Archives: Women and Board level positions

5 types of senior women who don’t care about the talent pipeline

Why should we expect women at the top to care?

Why should we expect women at the top to care?

Over recent years we have seen untold column inches and broadcasting minutes given over to the lack of women at a senior level in almost all organizations. But organizations are pyramids and the number of openings at the top of the pile is limited, leaving competition tight for men and women alike.

Only 18 women running Fortune 500 companies, 3.4% of the roles and only a further 19 head up the Fortune 1000 to reach the giddy heights of 3.8% of roles. This overall and much publicized discrepancy suggests an abysmally poor number in relation to the other 48% of women in the workplace.
So why are we so pre-occupied with these numbers?

According to Ilene H. Lang, President of Catalyst “Women in corporate leadership can also send a critical message to people entering the workforce. Women leaders are role models to early and mid-career women and, simply by being there at the top, encourage pipeline women to aspire to senior positions. They see that their skills will be valued and rewarded”.


But what happens when these senior women are not interested in the women in the pipeline? How do we evaluate the impact of that particular critical message on their juniors? Not all women who reach those elevated heights are treated correctly just because they are senior. We saw this very clearly last year with Virginia Rometty being excluded from the Augusta Golf Club. Nor are they necessarily interested in taking a stance either for women in the pipeline or crusading for women in general, just because of shared gender.

Look at Marissa Meyer. Back at the office before we could say “post partem” after the birth of her baby and now cutting tele-commuting at Yahoo. Many women are dependent on the benefits of workplace flexibility and will be seriously dismayed at this development. But Meyer is there to get Yahoo back in the game and gender repercussions are not on her agenda. Besides she has her own private nursery in the C-Suite which is her own work/flex benefit.

So truthfully, gender balance changes can be introduced just as successfully by men, as they can be catastrophically up-ended by women.  I can’t help but wonder why we focus so much energy on women achieving these point positions. Could it be that this energy is mis-directed and more focus is needed for the women in the metaphoric trenches?

At the risk of seeming frivolous I’ve identified profiles of women at the top who don’t  seem to care about the women below them.

  • Alpha bitches: these women, not through any particular ill-will, just think that women need to suck it up and get on with it and believe the contribution they make trail blazing and paving the way for others is sufficient on its own. They believe the women below them should be grateful. Their modus operandi is “step up or shut up”. They are just simply not interested in what goes on in the ranks in gender terms. Men or women just need to get the job done. End of!
  •  Business first brigade: these women are corporate bodies to their cores and although they may champion gender balance policies, this is only if they don’t interfere with bottom line imperatives. Virginia Rometty, turned the other cheek (even joked about it) when she was snubbed by the Augusta Golf Club in April 2012. IBM’s overall business interests seem to come before striking a blow for women, or even presenting the mildest reaction to a very public slight. If she made any comment then I have not seen it. Was she taking a hit for the team? Possibly. But then she was appointed Chairman in October 2012. So we’ll never know if it was vested personal interest or corporate acumen!
  • Men in Skirts: these women are the only women in the room and are OK that way. Unlike the alpha bitches, they are pretty oblivious to their female colleagues and have been completely absorbed and accepted into male corporate culture. They don’t feel they have done anything special because of their gender. They are not averse to other women being there as long as they fit in.
  •  Mascara Mafia: they are at the top of the pile and like it there. They have clawed their way to the top with their French manicures and are not letting anyone else in. Unlike the Men in Skirts they enjoy being in the minority and actively want to protect their patch.  This is the famously quoted “Queen Bee Syndrome.”  Dr. Sharon Eden British psychologist told me this is rooted, even today, in women being genetically hardwired for child-bearing reasons to keep the best men for themselves. It’s old fashioned protection of the species! In a 21st century corporate environment the “best men” are found at the top of the organogram.
  • Genuinely Oblivious Gang : they have never encountered any gender issues in their own careers, they are completely mystified and have no idea what all the fuss is about. A sort of raised global eyebrow “que?” or “quoi?” about it all. “What gender issues?” they ask. “So 1970s!  Hasn’t that  all been taken care of?”

So are the demands we make on our women leaders to expect them to care about the women coming through the ranks simply unrealistic? Is this another reason to let them get on with it and shift our focus to the pipeline?

What do you think?

Why I’m bored with boards

Missed point
It seems that every time I  pick up a newspaper, click on a link or read a blog there something to be read about women and boards.  And I’m getting bored.  Now this may seem a little hypocritical coming from someone like me, as I have been very vocal over the years in advocating for women in their pursuit of senior roles and do indeed write about it myself.  Despite what you might be thinking,   my position actually remains unchanged. There is a wealth of senior female talent which organisations and global economies fail to tap into, in my view to their detriment. So those initiatives should clearly continue.

However, when you look at the overall scheme of things, whether applied to men or women, organisations are pyramids and there are very few open positions at the top – for anyone at all.  But sometimes it is important not to miss the core issue. The primary danger zone for women professionally, lies much further downstream where the numbers are much higher . The real support and mentoring that women need, is in those more junior, hazy, grey areas, 7-12 years into their careers.  It’s about the maths.

Bad stats
Whichever statistics we use, the numbers don’t look good. 60% of European women are graduates and yet the number occupying senior positions hovers depressingly around 14% depending on the country being cited, and if you venture into Germany, a grim 3%. Somewhere in between C-Suite and entry-level, the corporate drop- out rate soars and highly qualified women, find themselves making critical career decisions, very often without any long-term strategy. They leave, or give in and accept their fates consigned to the margins of the organogram. Very often they experience the “Mommy Penalty” earning lower salaries than their male counterparts.  Women with MBAs are one of the hardest hit demographics.  They find themselves in the double bind of having to negotiate their role and manage expectations,   not just in the workplace, but also within their own relationship and families.

The new dad
Interestingly there is now some research which suggests that change is perhaps on the horizon, as a result of shifting expectations from men as well.  A Fatherhood Study carried out by Boston College tells us “According to a study by the National Study of the Changing Workforce, for the first time since 1992, young women and young men do not differ in terms of their desire for jobs with greater responsibility (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008). As a result, young women may be less prone to be the “accommodating spouse” in two-career couples, placing their career aspirations second to that of their male spouses”.

The study suggests that men also have different expectations. “Their wives are likely to be at least as well if not better educated, just as ambitious as they are, and make more money than they do. More importantly, these men feel that being a father is not about being a hands-off economic provider

Cultural changes
It would seem that although the expectations of both men and women are changing, organisations (perhaps still run by Baby Boomers, raised in father centric households) are not adapting fast enough to the cultural shifts in the societies around them. Developing economies need not just an increased birth rate vital to support a rapidly aging population, but for women to actively contribute to economic growth, not when they are older, but now, today. The economy of the euro zone for example has been predicted to grow 16 per cent if women were in formal employment as much as men.

Additionally, a new generation of both men and women are looking for better work/life balance and no longer sees the default leadership setting as male and the female setting as “atypical”.  So perhaps the business model for corporate culture, which not just creates a gender divide but actually relies on it,  needs to be re-examined rather than emulated.

The most demanding issue is not only about getting women onto boards, surely a symptom and result of what is happening lower down the scale, it’s also about combining organisational imperatives with the needs of both men and women in the early stages of their career, as they cope with the natural demands life makes on them.

It’s time to refocus and reframe.

This post first appeared in Jump Blog in September 2011.  Check out details of the 2012 Forum on April 26th in Brussels where I’m running a fun and informative workshop “What’s a USP and how does someone like me get one? ” Hope to see you there!

A great divide: planned parenthood and corporate planning

Corporate plans in place for a terrorist attack or natural disaster, but not maternity leave

Stereotypical thinking
I have just taken a flight across Europe. For 2 hours and 20 minutes straight, a new-born baby screamed without taking a breath the entire trip. The parent (male) and steward (male) did their level best to soothe the poor mite – but to no avail. It was a totally natural scene and possibly apart from being thankful it wasn’t their child, no one on that aeroplane gave the matter a second thought and especially not the gender of the 2 care givers

Perpetuating stereotypes
Which made me think of the Forbes Power Women List which came out last week. I’m not a fan and generally believe it leans towards bull rather than buzz, although I will admit this year’s list is an improvement on 2010, despite Christine Lagarde only coming in at #9. I also think perhaps somewhat contentiously that it promotes stereotypical thinking, just as much and perhaps more so, as it tries to debunk it.

A vital statistic that stood out for me in this year’s promotional roll call, in that slightly breathless, condescending, incredulous, ” didn’t they do well” tone, is that 88% of the women on the list have children. They are mothers. What’s particularly interesting about this information, is that it is even mentioned. I assume most of the Forbes powerful men list are fathers. Does anyone ever comment about that? Exactly!

Planned parenthood
One of the greatest historical changes to impact the lives of couples and women in particular in recent times (perhaps ever) in the developed world, is the wide availability of sophisticated birth control and contraception.The Economist (December 31, 1999) called oral contraceptives ” the greatest science and technology advance in the twentieth century

This has given both women and men (let’s not forget these are not immaculate conceptions) in developed economies, the opportunity to plan with the military precision of a space mission, not just the number of children they have, but also the timing of each pregnancy. Diets are adjusted, alcohol intake modified, exercise increased, temperatures taken, ovulation cycles monitored, sperm counts checked, baby rooms prepared, ante natal classes attended, showers held, mother and baby classes subscribed to. Books are bought, family are alerted, dad-to-be helps with all the heavy breathing, romper suits arrive by the dozen. Buggies, bouncers and baby chairs are ordered. Names are chosen, christenings or similar naming ceremonies are planned. Plan Bs hover in the background , with frozen eggs and sperm on hand just in case mother nature doesn’t oblige.

Strategic planning
So it would seem, notwithstanding the odd surprise, that having a baby has to be one of the most orderly and thought out processes that many men and women undertake in their lives. So I ask myself (and you too!) why does the planning seem to stop there? If employees are planning their families, why can organisations not plan to the same degree? Instead the careers of women in their 30s becomes a major elephant in the sitting room, that people hope will amble away on its own. And women do – in their droves.

Female workforce
Janine is a Client Services Director for a well-known financial services company based near Brighton, UK. She manages a team of 120, of which 90 are women. 80% of that number are between the ages 18 and 40. “ If all my team became pregnant at the same time, I’d have a problem!” she told me smiling. “As their manager I’m not allowed to ask my employees what their plans or intentions are with regard to having a family. Their supervisors are close to their staff in an informal way and have ideas about who we would move where and to cover which gaps and skill sets. But there is no official succession planning policy to cover maternity leave, although we do have an emergency plan in the event of a terrorist attack or other natural disaster! ”

Terrorist threat
Now I’m sure there could well be any number of subversive, underground, terrorist cells plotting to target financial organisations near Brighton, but I wonder how these threats, including a meteorological catastrophe, would stack up against the likelihood of any of those female staff becoming pregnant. There is a plan to cope with both of the former, but not the latter. Does that strike anyone as a little incongruous? I also find it frustrating than women are not expected to plan beyond the start of their maternity leave and although having a baby is discombobulating on many levels, it doesn’t close down brain functionality completely. They are having a baby, not a lobotomy.

The father factor
A Fatherhood Study carried out by Boston College tells us “ According to a study by the National Study of the Changing Workforce, for the first time since 1992, young women and young men do not differ in terms of their desire for jobs with greater responsibility (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008). As a result, young women may be less prone to be the “accommodating spouse” in two-career couples, placing their career aspirations second to that of their male spouses”.

In fact the study also suggests that men also have different expectations. “Their wives are likely to be at least as well if not better educated, just as ambitious as they are, and make more money than they do. More importantly, these men feel that being a father is not about being a hands-off economic provider

Cultural changes
It would seem that although the expectations of both men and women are changing, organisations are not adapting fast enough to the cultural shifts in the societies around them. Economies need to counteract a declining birth rate and stimulate economic growth. The economy of the euro zone for example has been predicted to grow 16 per cent if women were in formal employment as much as men. Both men and women are looking for better work/life balance, not just women, and the business model for corporate culture, which creates a gender divide needs to be re-examined rather than emulated.

Lists such as the Forbes list with messages which portray women with successful careers as mothers are actually perpetuating stereotypical thinking rather than knocking it on the head.

Men get married and are fathers too.

Playing without the Queens.

Women and talent management: economic common sense

This post originally appeared in Lead Swag in January 2011 as a guest post as part of Women’s Leadership Month. I am pleased to see that in just 4 weeks it seems that populaces are indeed screaming for change.

For many it takes a small, personal, micro situation or relationship to highlight underlying macro, philosophical issues. Mine was nothing to do with any immediate connections, childhood experiences or friends.

It was by interacting with total strangers in one of the most impersonal spaces – an airport.

Recently, I was stranded at the departure gate of a regional British airport, waiting for a flight which was seriously delayed. Passengers got twitchy, as somewhat worryingly, engineers crawled over the open hood of the engine of the plane clearly clutching what bore more than a passing resemblance to maintenance manuals.

Just like the movies, in consternation, small crisis support groups were formed. In my group, in addition to myself, were a teacher and very happily a pilot and an aeronautical engineer. All women. This is a true story!

Crisis Management
With their inside knowledge, backgrounds and expertise the pilot and engineer stepped up. They told us we were not going to get on any plane where the engineers were looking at manuals. And guess what? If they weren’t, neither were we. Passes were duly flashed and these professionals very competently dealt with the airline and airport authorities, their leadership /management, hitherto visible only by their complete absence. These women obviously succeeded in coming between the passengers and a night spent on a hard airport lounge floor.

The teacher and I sat suitably impressed. Did we care if the achievements of these ladies followed John C Maxwell’s maxim “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way” or Drucker’s manager “ doing things right”? No we didn’t.

An individual story
While the other two women became paragon leaders and/or managers, whichever view you take, somewhat superfluous to the task in hand the teacher and I talked about her daily life. She lives in a deprived industrial area, with high levels of up to fourth generation unemployment. Her primary (elementary) school services a number of “sink level” housing estates, where most children live below what would be considered to be the poverty line. Many of the mothers are single parents with addictions issues and many are victims of abuse. The children are exposed to every type of heart-breaking deprivation that you and I can think of – too many to list here.

The teacher had created fun segments just to teach basic life skills that the children had never encountered before, like holding a knife and fork, or saying “thank you.” The only meals some of the kids ever eat are in school, so she set up breakfast, lunch and snack programmes. She talked about these small victories in the face of budget and staffing cuts: Holding fundraisers, persuading local shops and organisations to make donations of products and materials (quite often food) and even paying for some things out of her own pocket. Her greatest achievements were the children who had been through her programme and had eventually gained university places, one recently entering Cambridge.

A real leader
She is obviously creative, innovative, has vision and could have certainly pursued a career in education management and policy; but had stayed where she was “for the sake of the children.” About 1500 children have passed through her programme over the years. This is surely the John Quincy Adams type of leader: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”I would have been delighted to have named her, but this special lady wanted to stay completely anonymous. So although there are no extravagant trappings or perks of corporate life, I saw in the space of a few hours three skilled, competent and inspirational ladies who simply stepped up and led.

Aren’t those qualities ones we should look for in leaders?

Time for change
The root of my problem is that together with many others, I’m starting to question the value we assign to certain specific leadership qualities which are considered to be significant in our organisations and culture. I ask myself if the characteristics we seem to look for in our top leaders are no longer what we need in today’s world. Should we be focusing on constructing different leadership models instead?

If women make up more than 50% of the workforce and 60% of graduates, yet less than 15% of senior positions, then the issue should not only be why is this demographic is not being tapped into and developed – but why the delay? Isn’t it time for our leaders to implement change, to establish what our communities and organisations need to succeed and to maximise the contribution of this massively under utilised demographic? This is no longer about gender and diversity – but about economic common sense.

Cave men
At one time in our cave dwelling days with all those lions, tigers and bears, men in their 30s, in the peak of physical condition became designated leaders. I can understand this. There were situations when brute strength, risk-taking and the odd club wielding skill were useful. The life expectancy of a Palaeolithic man, made him at 30 years old, a tribal elder. However, in the 21st century, in a knowledge-based economy, when a deft flick of an iPad might work just as well and life expectancy has more than doubled, those physiological qualities are no longer key. So times and requirements are a-changing and that gives us lots more flexibility to decide what leadership skills we need in our society. Never has this been more apparent than during the recent global recession and the attempts at reconstruction.

One example was what we saw with the financial services wunderkind Fabulous Fabrice Tourre . Was I the only one thinking: What is wrong with this picture? His gender is actually irrelevant, but what seemed critical to me was why was a graduate from the class of 2001, seemingly left unsupervised, to run amok in the sand box, taking incredible financial risks? Was it because we admired and valued his skills? Or just because he made some people a lot of money before he bankrupted them? If so, perhaps we should be identifying different types of skills worthy of admiration.

Plus ça change
I watched post holiday commercials enticing us to take out quick, “no credit check “ loans with A.P.R.s in excess of 2500%, for those “much needed luxuries.” I see bailed out bankers rewarding themselves with bonuses in the billions and economic gurus telling us that it is “back to business as usual.” I wonder why our leadership is so resistant to change. The word bank is commonly recognised as being derived from the word “banca”, or bench when medieval Italian money lenders set up business on benches in the market place. When a banker failed, the populace broke his bench – hence our word bankrupt. Not today it would seem. So truthfully, I am at the point where I actually wonder if we seem to have lost the collective plot.

Vicious cycles
If doing what we’ve always done gives us what we always had, then why is the populace not screaming for change, rather than simply whimpering from the side lines? It’s clear that long-term talent management strategies need to be evaluated and reconstructed in many sectors for our organisations to flourish. Leadership is supposed to be about people, innovation, challenging the status quo, inspiring trust and seeing the big picture. Even The World Economic Forum analysis of global skill set shortages only fleetingly suggests the development of women as part of any strategic solution.

There seems to be a basic need for change. But if leaders are failing to innovate and lack long-term vision then using their own criteria, are they really leaders?

As Georgia Fieste said to me on Twitter ” you can’t have a royal flush without a queen” – so why do our organisations think differently?

Re-thinking our think tanks

Is this the best our brighest can come up with?

Women an untapped resource
Earlier last year the World Economic Forum issued a report indicating long-term talent management issues were actually being concealed by high levels of unemployment.
In today’s global and fast-changing business environment, access to highly skilled people – not just top talent, but also people who possess essential expertise – is crucial to succeed and grow,” Hans-Paul Bürkner, Global Chief Executive Officer and President of The Boston Consulting Group, Germany commented. “Some industries, such as business services, IT and construction, are likely to experience significant skills gaps, regardless of geography. At the same time, certain countries, such as Japan, Russia and Germany, will face shortages of highly skilled employees in many industries.”

The report calls for increased geographic mobility among countries as part of the solution. Anyone involved in executive search or recruitment will be familiar with the complex issues involved in enticing potential candidates to be internationally, regionally or even locally mobile. There are many factors in the frame: cultural issues, language and education system considerations, commuting times, childcare support and custody matters, dual career families – to name but a few.

However, the report suggests that the talent crisis will start much sooner than anticipated. With an aging population of hitherto unrecorded levels, the 60 + demographic is projected to exceed the under 15 demographic , for the first time ever in history by 2050. It is anticipated that in order to sustain the economic growth of the past 20 years, the United States, for example, will need to add 26 million workers to its talent pool by 2030. Most developing countries can expect large skill deficits in a range of categories. The report calls for a number of eminently sensible strategic measures to extend the talent pool by developing the skills of migrant workers, tapping into 2nd and 3rd tier universities and encouraging companies to extend the reach and creativity of their recruitment practises.

So far so thoughtful.

A gem
Imagine my surprise therefore when this little gem drifted onto my screen a few weeks ago. Another think tank report from The World Economic Forum report on 5th January 2011, Global Talent Risk analysing projected talent shortages in 25 countries, 13 industries and 9 occupational clusters between 2020 -2030. If you peer hard and long enough, one of the reports suggestions, last at number 7 is “Extend the pool by tapping women, older professionals, the disadvantaged and immigrants

So despite the fact that women comprise a significant global economic demographic, they are for some reason grouped with other seemingly marginalised categories. Is this the best our brightest can do? Fewer than a fifth of leaders present last year at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2010 were women. This year efforts are being made to increase the number of women representatives at the 2011 conference, by insisting on attendance quotas for women. This is possibly designed to revamp the Forum’s alpha male image. But will that be enough?

Women represent 60% of today’s graduates and therefore a major segment of a top talent pool. I am always astounded why our leaders seem so resistant to reviewing our current talent management strategies to maximise their contribution to the workplace, to the point where governments are talking about a need to impose quotas. It has to make economic sense to maximise the potential of our workforces. Yet this significant qualified and skilled demographic, is lumped together with the “disadvantaged and immigrants” ( whoever you are, I’m sure you are very nice indeed and no offence intended at all) by some of the supposedly leading intellects and the brightest and most creative brains in our global economies. It’s hardly surprising that we find ourselves in this situation.

So perhaps before we start uprooting and whizzing people around the globe to fill these gaps, one approach might be to ask how can we tap into the talent we have on our doorsteps? What do organisations need to do to maximise the potential of this key sector of the talent pool sitting there in the wings?

Now is the time to reinvent, rather than react. Perhaps we also need to re-think our think thanks.

10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers!

Citibank’s career advice for women! ( updated September 15th 2010)

My good friend Silvana Delatte sent me this link from Business Insider about a laminated sheet supposedly issued by the HR department of Citibank on how women sabotage their careers. If this is not a spoof (which I suspect it might be) then it makes interesting, if not incredible (as in unbelievable) reading.

Nowhere does it mention doing a bad job, so perhaps good performance isn’t necessary to advance a career in Citibank! This list would be infinitely less risible if the almost all male board had not been part of a group of testosterone driven mis- managers which brought global economies grinding to a halt. The subsequent government bail out was at great cost to the tax payer and impacted the lives of millions. Perhaps some of that money could be used to invest in constructive gender based management training, clearly sorely needed. I can make any number of excellent recommendations, so please contact me Citibank!

So let’s look at this list and analyse it!

  •  Women tend to speak softly – you are not heard. Anyone speaking softly isn’t heard, especially in the company of people who talk too much and don’t listen! Good managers listen! Being heard is also not about the volume of the voice but the pitch. Women could be advised to reduce the pitch of their voices by half a semi-tone.
  •  Women groom in public – it emphasizes your femininity, de-emphasizes your capability: Grooming in public is a no no – for anyone. That’s why companies have bathrooms!
  • Women sit demurely – the power position when seated at a table is forearms resting on a table and resting forward. Good posture in business meetings accompanied by positive body language and facial expressions with head tilted to one side, indicating engagement is a given. Nowhere, even in AskMen, have I seen any suggestions that leaning forward and appearing aggressive is a bonus.
  • Speak last in meetings – early speakers are seen as more assertive and knowledgeable than late speakers. Thinking before speaking and measured contribution is never to be under estimated. This is probably because the people who are making this judgement are poor listeners and have the attention span of pre-schoolers.
  • Women ask permission – children are taught to ask permission. Men don’t ask permission, they inform. I actually agree with this one. However polite deference is not to be confused with approval seeking and definitely preferable to arrogant bamboozling.
  •  Apologize – women apologize for the smallest error which erodes your self-confidence. Men tend to move into problem solving mode. I agree with this one too. But having said that for many the word “sorry” is missing from their vocabulary. Problem solving is not the same as admitting a mistake and dealing with it. Problem solving can be aka covering up. and /or reactive management.
  •  Women tend to smile inappropriately when delivering a message, therefore you are not getting taken seriously Well I did some quick research on this little gem and would be interested to see the metrics on that. Women do smile more than men, mainly to soften situations that is true. Smiling would only be inappropriate when delivering extremely bad news. I seriously doubt if a woman would do that unless she really disliked the person. Then she might well do.
  •  Play fair – women tend to be more naive. A women might assume the rules have to be obeyed whereas a man will figure out a way to stretch the rules and not be punished. So is the message here ladies, playing dirty is fine? May I suggest that stretching the rules was what got Citibank into its little pickle. There is surely no substitute for professional integrity. Besides the activities of the mascara mafia have been well documented. Women can and do play dirty, but target mainly other women.
  •  Being invisible – women tend to operate behind the scenes and end up handing credit over to the competitor. This is a fair point – women have to stop waiting for recognition and step up. But then whoever is stealing their thunder should have a little more professional integrity (see above). Good managers recognise and reward.
  • Offer a limp handshake – one good pump and a concise greeting combined with solid eye contact will do the trick. Agree with this too except this isn’t an arm wrestling contest. I would suggest that firm contact would be infinitely preferable to “one good pump” which implies a potential dislocated shoulder.

So ladies, what advice would you give the gentlemen of Citibank?

Apart from ” Do try not to bankrupt anyone today, darling.”

Written with a smile! Please see also follow up post “Trapped! Women and the Smiling Myth

September 15th 2010 -Update! An interesting post came across my screen today, which now makes some sense of the aforementioned problem-causing laminated sheet issued by Citibank. It isn’t a spoof , although it seemed that way. I was right to apply some cynicism.

Writing for The Thin Pink Line Blog, Lois Frankel says that this sheet has taken points from her book ” Nice girls don’t get the corner office ” completely out of context  and she tries to set the record straight in her post .

I did read the book some time ago and will have to revisit it. Condensed to bumper-sticker style homilies these points seem dated and Lois was right, taken at face value they don’t make a lot of sense, so they need to be evaluated in context, which I will certainly do. On her own admission the title including the term “nice” was forced upon her by her publisher. Some of the most successful people ( corner office holders) I know have been simply all around “nice” ( male and female).

That sheet certainly aroused a good discussion!

A case for gender related management training

Mars and Venus


This post was originally written as a guest post for Tanveer Naseer, a business coach who works with small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop new strategies for growth and development

Let’s stop being trapped by political correctness. Do men and women need different types of management training? I think so

A number of spin off issues came from my recent research on bullying by women in the workpalce – but several were particularly interesting.

Workplace Mars and Venus
One of them was that both men and women alike, shared the need for management and organisational training with a specifically gender related thread. A sort of Mars / Venus for work place skills. This wasn’t specifically just about sexual harassment, but basic communication,conflict resolution and managing expectations. This flies in the face of the common corporate gender-neutral, one-size-fits all management training, that exists in most organisations today.

Many would view this as a backward step. But is it really?

Jane Gunn, The Corporate Peacemaker author of the book “How to Beat Bedlam in the Boardroom And Boredom in the Bedroom suggests that “ difference is the starting point for adding or creating value. What is needed most is to understand the value that each gender brings to the workplace and how each gender can learn from, rather than feel threatened by, the other”.

Differences are not negative. They’re just different.
Shouldn’t we just be acknowledging the existence of gender differences and recognise that we all need training on how to deal with them, rather than assuming as we do now, that we can all slip into business (gender) neutral on our own.

Or worse, assume that the traditional training methods found most successfully in male dominated environments work one hundred percent across the board, when all evidence indicates to the contrary. This is amusingly and somewhat extremely illustrated by a bemused Professor Higgins in the song , A Hymn to Him, when gender differences were clearly not perceived as positive!

Historical perspective
It would seem from the people who contacted me at least, that there are indeed issues in all gender combinations in the work place, except almost predictably, in male dominated environments ( men managing and being managed by men). This actually shouldn’t surprise me. Men have had centuries of experience. Outside a domestic situation, all male teams and organisations were historically and culturally the norm : military, sports, male clubs, politics etc, where clearly defined structured hierarchies were in place and communication lines were usually prescribed and evident.

In a historical perspective, it was only comparatively recently that women have either been included or allowed full access to most business environments. So it’s hardly surprising that no one is used to dealing with women in these situations. And as they join the corporate world in ever increasing numbers, equally women are not used to dealing with each other either! There simply is very little historical precedent to call upon. In brief, men and women lack practise in dealing with each other at work which is intensified as women climb the career ladder and assume positions of responsibility .

Blurred expectations
So when I think about it, it’s almost to be expected that there should be some blurring of both expectations and behaviour within organisations. Perhaps the real surprise should be that any of it comes right at all, given this real lack of experience in the overall scheme of things.

Both men and women enter the workplace with their academic and professional qualifications and experience, but also with engrained behaviour patterns and expectations derived from their separate chromosomes, personality types and relationship role models developed in lives and interaction outside a work situation.

Many women claimed that men needed special training relating to them in a business neutral way, believing that men are used to dealing with women as mothers, sisters, partners, daughters and less often as business peers and even less frequently as superiors. But conversely the same was said by the men about women! Jane Gunn also amplifies “Almost every instance of conflict or dispute at work is the catalyst for, or is mirrored by, conflict at home. In the same way relationships at home have a dramatic impact on our ability to create a productive and harmonious work life.”

Real issues
The real issue is perhaps how do we all let go our socialized gender stereotypical behaviour and communicate in a business neutral way when we enter organisational life, when they can be so removed for many from the roles we play in other areas of our daily lives? The answer seems to be with difficulty. Every indication would also suggest that support in coping with this dichotomy would be useful. But recognising differences doesn’t mean unequal treatment as it once did.

Other differences
Much is written about dealing with other types of differences in an organisational setting: cross cultural, personality ( extrovert vs introvert) high achievers for example. So why is it now de rigeur, or worse still, politically incorrect, to acknowledge that gender differences require special attention in an organisational context?

Ashanti A, Change Manager in the Hi-Tech sector in Los Angeles, shared this ” As a female manager the biggest challenge in managing men is gaining the same respect and willingness to be a direct report that would be given to a male manager. As basic as it sounds- by nature no man wants to be told what to do by a woman ”

Ashanti also suggests that women need to be mindful not to fall into the “subordinate female co- worker role”. So women instinctively pour coffee, arrange parties, bring cakes and act as the “carer / facilitator/plactor” Ashanti elaborates. “Oftentimes because these statements aren’t aggressive or sexual in nature, they’re not deemed offensive or inappropriate- yet I would argue the latter

For me,as women enter organisational life in greater numbers than ever before, there is a clear need for a reveiw of current training practises.

What do you think?
Selected by Wally Bock for Top Independent Business Blogs ” Dorothy Dalton is one of the best writers on the web when it comes to raising and analyzing gender issues in the workplace. Don’t read this post to find an answer. Read it to gather ideas for the answer you will develop for yourself“.

Women and networking: strategic or simply social?

 Another hornet’s nest 
Last week was a busy week for women!  It started off with Katherine Bigelow  winning an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker,  followed swiftly  by International Women’s  Day.  Much was written about women’s roles, the progress  they have made and the steps they could make in the future. Then the wives of the UK party leaders were launched into the pre-election build up as the political “hidden weapons”.  Finally,  sneaking in at the end of the week was an article in Times Online  ”  Why women are such bad networkers”  by Antonia Senior.

Initially, I read it  with disbelief and then truthfully with some  irritation!  Of course women are good at networking! What was she thinking when she said  “women are not natural networkers”? This statement was key to her premise that women are less prevalent in board room positions because of  their lack of “social capital”  (connections ) meaning that they are less likely to be head hunted  for senior positions,  because they seemingly know fewer people.   Other serious and more meaningful issues were glossed over  a little dismissively   as a ” range of complicated factors“. 

But then I thought about the wider implications.

Women network all day,  every day,  in all their roles , whether professionally, as parents,  as neighbours, as partners or socially. Do we really think that their failure to have a corner board room office is because of their reluctance to sip warm bubbly,  nibble inferior canapés  and exchange card ?  If it was so simple,  wouldn’t women  be sending in their RSVPs to the nearest cocktail party quicker than the preparation of an  “amuse bouche ” ?  

You would have thought so – but  seemingly they don’t. Why is that?

Naturally social
Women are generally natural communicators.  We are social. We keep in touch. We build relationships. We have address books packed with names.  We share information and make referrals willingly. We are active in all sorts of areas. But An de Jonghe, Managing Partner at  Women on Board ,  a Belgian initiative to facilitate women’s advancement to directorship roles in local enterprises,   says  ” … women are social  rather than strategic networkers and very often network, not for their own purposes,  but for the benefit of  other peopleMen network to meet their own professional goals.  Today,  it’s still a man’s world and we have to do everything we can to give ourselves an edge,  to raise our visibility , even if it means attending receptions we don’t want to go to”  

Social Media
Social media networking is perfect for women because it gives them the flexibility they need to combine key networking with other priorities and allows them to manage their ROR (Return on Relationships) and ROE ( Return on Energy) more  effectively.   The claim  that they have not embraced social media  for networking purposes to the same extent as men,  flies in the face of the latest research figures released by Nielsen Wire . Using mobile usage as a litmus test,  women’s on-line networking contact  is 10% greater than their male counterparts.   53% American women use social media with Facebook being the primary network of choice.  Twitter users are not required to register their gender,  but research has shown that women also lead the field in this sector too.  23 million women a year write, read and comment on blogs – the top of the social media pyramid.

Real questions
But once again these figures have a US bias rather than a European one.   In Europe, LinkedIn and Twitter penetration is lower than the US for example,  so there,  both male and female usage  alike,  is not as high   But millions of  women  globally use social media  for business purposes and anyone who is active on these platforms knows that!  Forbes and Technorati  have produced  lists  of women to follow in social media!  Penny Power of Ecademy,   Carrie Wilkerson – Barefoot Executive,   and Sarah Brown – just to name  a few more ladies who make intelligent use of social media.  Some of the most aggressive marketeers on social media I think are actually women!  

But de Jonghe  suggests that these women are unfortunately only the visible tip of the iceberg . She firmly believes that the vast majority of women use social media  for social reasons  and not necessarily for professional advancement.

Cyanide Hours
So why are  women absent  from  male orientated networking events ?    The after work cocktails, boxes at soccer games  or golf outings?   After work receptions are frequently held in what I used to call affectionately the “cyanide hours”  ( dinner, homework, bath, bed). The pressures on women not to attend these functions are huge.  But  they are also making choices on how to spend their time.   De Jonghe  feels that women need to take responsibility for sharing child care arrangements with their partners,   so they are able to attend such functions. But with the rise of single parent families with the mother as the primary care giver,  this is not always easy.  Networking is time-consuming and women with families are  simply not able to give up whole days to  participate in  the type of activities  that Mark Twain suggests  “spoil a good walk. ” 

Perhaps this is why women’s networking groups are proliferating  globally to connect with each other at various stages in their careers .  In Belgium  Jump has had a significant impact as well as the huge numbers of women’s networking groups in the UK, US and throughout the world  – too many to mention here. 

Effective Leverage
Another  issue  is whether women are  more likely to leverage an emergency babysitter or  a  reliable  plumber from their network,  rather than a leg up the corporate ladder to a C – suite position?  De Jonghe comments ”  Women tend to sit quietly and do a good job and hope to be recognised and discovered. They are reluctant to take the initiative in the way that men do”

 But networking is a two-way street.  If the thesis is that women are not networking with CEOs ( male)  then the converse is also true. It also means that head hunters are not being creative  and  in the pursuit of  “copy and paste” search methodologies,  are not opening up their own networks to female candidates.     With precious few women  hovering under board level,  the female talent pool is not huge and it would seem to be in everyone’s interest for that to happen.

The male way
However,   De Jonghe  makes  a further point that  “while the guys sit cosily in their Board level positions, they are more than happy that women are absent. They have no reason to change the system. The old-boy network works fine for them” 

So  will the ladies have to play the networking game by male rules to make any steps forward? De Jonghe believes so.     “Once they get those  Clevel appointments ” De Jonghe says  ” women can change the system – but until then , they  have to play the male game.”

In the meantime, while the status quo prevails, it would seem  that we  women have to be strategic and not just social in our networking efforts. Even if it involves being subjected to warm champagne .  

What do you think?