Women and leadership: A cultural change is essential
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Women and leadership: A cultural change is essential

Future of Work

Women and leadership: A cultural change is essential

October 30, 2017 Corinne Bidallier

More than 75% of US CEOs say that gender equality is among the top 10 business priorities. However, as a joint study by McKinsey and LeanIn.org recently demonstrated, women continue to be under-represented at all levels of the company hierarchy accounting for only 37% of management and 19% of senior management positions.

This gender gap, however, is not due to the inability of women to hold positions of high responsibility. In fact, the Catalyst association calculated that Fortune 500 companies with female board directors had a significantly higher rate of return (+53%), higher turnover (+42%) and a higher return on investment than those with all male board directors. A recent report by Deloitte highlighted cultural issues as the problem. To put it simply, most organisations do not offer a suitable environment for diversity or, do not encourage employees to aspire to higher positions.

This lack of support causes a low confidence culture to spread across the office, making it much more difficult for women to apply for leadership positions. So, instead of viewing the problem as a gender equality issue, companies must work to create an inclusive culture, favouring diversity in general, and encouraging all employees towards that direction. The same study by Deloitte also showed that organisations with a strong culture of leadership development are also those with the highest degree of diversity.

In light of this, here are four practical tips that will help encourage a supportive corporate culture for the professional development of women in your company, based on a new study by Deloitte, titled: Addressing the Female Leader Paradox: Four Practices for Building a Supportive Culture.

  1. Teach employees about diversity, conflict and prejudice

A strong corporate culture, starts with training. Provide courses and resources to teach staff how to deal with issues such as diversity, conflict and prejudice. Encourage discussions on these often-controversial issues to help raise awareness about unconscious biases and discrimination in the workplace. Provide the necessary tools to alter their behaviour and encourage a positive change within the organisation.

Eileen Scully, founder of  The Rising Tides, a consulting firm specialising in supporting women in the workplace, is convinced that training and development opportunities can have a powerful impact on a woman’s work. However, she advises managers to avoid presumptions about the influence of a person's private life on his or her professional ambitions:

“Work intensely with your hiring and promoting managers to negate the internal dialogues that may prohibit women from advancing, such as, 'she just got married,' or 'she's going to have a baby soon,' so let's invest in someone else," Scully says.

  1. Listen to your employees’ career concerns and aspirations

After training, the next step to build an open and proactive corporate culture is listening. Create a dialogue so that your employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns and aspirations about their careers; this information can then be used to redefine the paths leading to management positions.

Katerina Trajchevska, CEO of Adeva, a technology start-up that helps companies recruit and retain talent, believes that women are generally treated equally when they are able to make their voices heard. She says, "instead of creating a supportive culture for just women's leadership, it is better to support leadership in general and encourage employees to speak and take the lead. This creates an environment in which women are treated equally, where they can face challenges and improve."

  1. Create an inclusive culture

An inclusive corporate culture promotes integrity and collaboration, encouraging everyone to realise their potential. One way to do this is to create mentoring programmes that allow for advice exchanges, opportunities and suggestions that HR cannot always deliver.

Eileen Scully, for example, recommends encouraging the "elders", who have more than 10 years of experience, to identify and encourage "rising stars". If the staff are young, you can rely on external resources, connecting internal talent with external mentors.

  1. Define and measure diversity and integration goals

Create diversity and integration goals that can be easily measured. According to the study by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, although most organisations keep track of the representation of women in certain management positions, only 44% set diversity targets and even fewer define objectives for promotion and external recruitment. Indicators to be considered include female representation in external candidacies or differences in salaries for similar positions.

By creating clear objectives, it makes it easy to track progress and ensure that efforts are rewarded. It is also important to communicate results and ensure that decision-makers are committed to creating plans to achieve the company’s goals. Remember that there is no universal recipe when it comes to setting goals. Experiment, test, try and try again until you find the one that best suits the reality of your business.

Finally, we must address the issue around paternity leave in the company. Do not forget that the inequality that weighs on women tends to worsen when it comes to maternity leave. In particular, discrimination against mothers is often indirectly due to the shorter period granted for paternity leave. The number of days planned for a father’s paternity leave is rather limited and working mothers generally have to be absent from work for a longer period of time. The implementation of extended paternity leave is essential, as it improves not only gender equality in the workplace but also the upbringing of children.

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