Prove it? You have to be kidding!         If companies really wanted it, there could be many more women in senior roles   ...
Opportunity LostIn economic terms, this lack of openness and the absence of transparent dialogue would be tagged as asigni...
Success will come from “being” the leader that both values and leverages diversity of thought to meetthe challenges of a d...
Shirley Knight is an independent consultant with more than 30 years experience in banking and insurance andspecializing in...
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Prove It You Have To Be Kidding

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If companies really wanted it, there could be many more women in senior roles

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Prove It You Have To Be Kidding

  1. 1. Prove it? You have to be kidding! If companies really wanted it, there could be many more women in senior roles By Shirley Knight and Gerry PurcellThe advancement of women has been a focus of corporations for over 25 years, yet the number ofwomen in top jobs is less now than in 2002. The absence of gender balance and other diversity at seniorlevels in Canadian corporations is not a “women’s issue” but rather a competitive disadvantage thatshould be a concern for all Canadians – whether they are aware of this imbalance or not.Canadian companies must remain competitive in a constantly changing global marketplace – this is ourfuture. Our sustainability and growth will require companies to harness the energies of their entiretalent pool, including women and men of all stripes and this requires Leadership. Research shows thatthe most successful companies are the most agile i.e. those able to create both positive value andopportunity from what others call “uncertainty” or “surprises”. They do this by encouraging andincorporating multiple and diverse points of view – not by relying on habitual thinking developed insome other context. Management teams who welcome diversity of thought in times of change createadvantage for their companies. In business this means breaking out of the mold of homogeneousleadership.What has been going on all these years? – Why counting women, of course!There has been a recent spate of articles about women in business – or more to the point, about womennot in the business of leading business. It is well documented that senior management roles and boardpositions continue to go to men across all industries.Although women comprise 48% of the workforce, they fall off the ladder very quickly. Specifically, only36.5% of lower level managers are women; less than 18% are top executives; less than 14% on boardsand a mere 6% of North American CEOs. Board positions going to women have increased a rousing .2%in the last three years. As Catalyst points out, at this rate of change in senior management and boardroles, we will have full parity by the end of this century. How nice for our great, great, great, greatgranddaughters!On the one hand, the data clearly proves that, notwithstanding claims to the contrary, women have notprogressed in the last while. So there is no need to waste our time on circular and useless argumentsabout “even playing fields” and “equal opportunities for women”. On the other hand, however, thistrend is very disturbing and reflects an almost stereotypic resistance to change. For the last 20 yearscorporate leaders and boards have been busy “counting women” and gathering “proof” instead ofopening their senior teams to more diverse input and innovation. If innovation is truly the goal, thesestalling tactics can be easily considered dangerous. In fact, this endless dialogue about the businessvalue of increasing the participation and advancement of women in our organizations at all levels is itselfa significant barrier to advancement. It is hard to believe that as a society we are not well past thenotion that somehow men are more intelligent and capable than women. 1
  2. 2. Opportunity LostIn economic terms, this lack of openness and the absence of transparent dialogue would be tagged as asignificant opportunity cost. By focusing on the “way we have always run this company” boards andexecutives reinforce mediocrity and leave significant performance potential on the table because, as ithappens, diversity is a money maker. The profitability of companies with gender-balanced senior teamsoutperforms their industry average by over 34%, according to McKinsey. Catalyst has uncovered similarfindings, as have many others.In knowledge-based companies (versus industrial manufacturing) cultures with collaborative andinclusive leadership styles have been credited with consistent superior performance and innovation.That women excel at this leadership style is well-documented and undisputed. Further, at present thereare more women than men graduating from university, and thus the talent pool of competent women isricher than ever and the pool of talent potentially excluded is also larger than ever.So what’s the problem?To be really honest, we thought we were done with this issue. Like most of our friends and colleagues,we were blissfully unaware that women remained blocked in achieving senior roles. In 1995, a CanadianBank ran a program for gender awareness in the Investment and Corporate Banking Groups. While theystrove for gender-balanced workshops, they ran out of senior women after the first two so had toimprovise pretty quickly because there were still over 100 senior managers/VPs left to engage! It isreally hard to believe, but true, that almost 20 years later hardly anything has changed.As with any complex, systemic problem, the contributing factors are many and varied. Does lack ofopportunity for women in senior roles stem from an underlying and unspoken corporate bias,particularly at the executive and board level? Yes. Is it because women opt out? Yes. Is it becausepromotional practices blatantly favour men? Yes. Is it because women don’t ask for what they want andexpect less? Yes. Is it because no one is accountable for change at the senior level? Yes – all of theabove** and a bit more. It is also about cultural change and transparency that is not only timeconsuming but also requires strong leadership and tenacity. ** These statements are each supported by independent and documented researchOur Solution:For leaders, board members and executives who want to uncover more opportunity, be more profitableand secure the best talent available to sustain the company’s future, cracking this cultural log-jam canbring significant advantage. As with any such achievements, this one will take focus, will and capability –corporately and individually- but as companies who have met this challenge know, the end result is wellworth the effort.The critical success factor for this change is Leadership and even more to the point, Leadership of“Being” rather than “Doing”. This is Leadership that does not relegate cultural change to the HRdepartment or pursue inconsequential tactics to buy time but rather enacts the change it wants to see. 2
  3. 3. Success will come from “being” the leader that both values and leverages diversity of thought to meetthe challenges of a dynamic marketplace. In short, a role model for the future.Five Critical PrinciplesTo overcome history and create the groundwork for a more productive future, there are five principlesfor a concerned leader to follow: 1. Change starts with you but understand that to impact the culture and create lasting change, there must also be learning and change at all three levels: organizational, team and individual 2. Don’t let culture eat your strategy: Uncover embedded and unspoken organizational biases – what are the perceptions, fears and aspirations within the current culture? Where is the most resistance and why? What are you going to do about them? 3. Be transparent, it is your most powerful tool: Be clear and open about what you want; make promotional processes and developmental opportunities fully transparent. What does it take to get on the Senior Team? Or the High Potential List? What is the criteria for someone to be eligible for a promotion and why? How can I be selected for developmental opportunities? 4. “Be” rather than “Do: Hold the senior team accountable for more than tactics. All management teams will ultimately be impacted, however, creating a culture that seeks and values diversity starts - not ends - with the most senior team. Set goals and raise expectations; this is the board’s role. 5. Enable and strengthen women and make them aware of the challenge: The reality is that under the current culture the playing field is not level, thus women need more confidence and capability than do men for the same achievements. Conferences, networks and mentors are clearly ineffective. Instead, help women be systematic and deliberate about activating their potential and overcoming the subtle, unspoken blocks they encounter as they seek or take on more senior roles.Summary:As Einstein said, the definition of insanity is “doing the same things over and over again and expectingdifferent results”. After 25 years of trying and not doing, it really is time for boards and leaders tochange their approach to this ongoing dilemma of stability versus innovation. Yes, we need stability inour companies and institutions but in the face of massive global change, this overused strength caneasily become our greatest weakness.The ultimate winners will be the countries and companies who tap into all of the talent, innovation andideas available to them. Let us position ourselves to be one of them. 3
  4. 4. Shirley Knight is an independent consultant with more than 30 years experience in banking and insurance andspecializing in strategic planning, leadership and organizational development. Before becoming a consultant, shewas a Senior Vice President of Strategy and Organizational Development at an Ontario-based private insurancecompany. In addition to a senior role in Executive and Leadership Development at a Canadian bank, Shirleysbusiness experience also includes sales and management in retail banking, account and relationship managementin corporate banking, and an executive change management role in investment banking. Shirley holds an ExecutiveMBA from Queens University in Ontario.Gerry Purcell is a dynamic consultant, leader and visionary who has managed and advised organizations in theprivate, public and not-for-profit sectors all over the world for over 20 years. He increases the "value" of clientorganizations by assisting them to better conceive, manage and operationalize change. A global practitioner andalumnus of the Boston Consulting Group and A.T. Kearney, Gerry has worked in North and South America, Europe,Asia and the Middle East as both a consultant and business executive.About the Team: Shirley and Gerry crossed paths a number of years ago and discovered a shared passion forsustaining Canada’s global advantage through innovation, of which the advancement of women is a subset. Theirteam represents a unique dynamic and brings perspective to the issue that is both thought-provoking andrefreshing. Their work involves helping leaders and organizations to develop insight and tangible actions that canoptimize the organization’s embedded intellectual capital to create competitive advantage. 4

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