Monday, 20 October 2014

How Can We Get More Women To The Top In Organisations?

I've been thinking a lot about HeForShe recently and what equality between the sexes means. Today I want to explore what it means for people in a professional setting, as I watched a TED Talk recently that put some things in perspective.

In her September 2014 TED Talk (see below), Susan Colantuono starts off by saying that "women represent 50% of middle management positions". Here we have an example of gender equality in the workplace, but only if you're in middle management.

Susan then asks "why are there so many women mired in the middle and what has to happen to take them to the top." We could argue that we don't see women in top management positions due to sexism in the workplace. However, if 50% of all middle management positions are held by women, surely this means that women are not being penalised due to their sex?

According to Susan, there are different elements of leadership, however only certain of these elements are communicated because some of the other elements are "a given" and are assumed to be known. Generally, what is communicated to people rising up the ladder is that they need to be able to successfully engage with people in order to inspire others and themselves to reach the goals set for them by the organisation. It is communicated that good leaders empower others, manage conflict well, are able to negotiate and are good communicators. 

For many middle management positions, that is all that is needed. However, to get to the top, there is some extra information that men take for granted and thus this is not communicated to women who are wanting to get to the top. It is taken for granted that the following concepts are already known to people (men and women) wanting to pursue top management positions. To use Susan's own words: 

"What about people who understand your business, where it's going, and their role in taking it there? And what about people who are able to scan the external environment, identify risks and opportunities, make strategy or make strategic recommendations? And what about people who are able to look at the financials of your business,understand the story that the financials tell, and either take appropriate action or make appropriate recommendations?"

For men, the above ideas are already a given. 

Later on in her talk, Susan mentions a comment by an executive who had mentored both a man and a woman, which sums up the above concepts perfectly. "I helped the woman build confidence, I helped the man learn the business, and I didn't realize that I was treating them any differently."

And so, to go back to my earlier point, when it comes to top management positions, women are held back, unintentionally, because they are not told about ALL* of the requirements that are needed in order to get to the top.

I think that the solution to this is to start opening up the communication channels and exploring what the women in top leadership positions are doing that allowed them to get to the top and sharing this knowledge with other people, men and women, so that in the course of their day to day jobs, both men and women can be aware of ALL* the requirements to get to the top.

* ALL in the context of Susan's talk

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