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Women and Leadership: What is Your Culture Mirroring?

Women and Leadership: What is Your Culture Mirroring?

You wouldn’t think of going out on the town without at least a cursory glance at the mirror.  If you’ve been blind-sided by broccoli in the teeth, you know the importance of a quick check.  So it is with your organization’s culture.  The month of March brings many topics around International Women’s Day and it is a great time for leaders everywhere to take a thoughtful look in the mirror and ask the question: do we look the way we want to in terms of women’s opportunities in our company, or is something wrong?

In 2015, ManpowerGroup decided to take a long, hard look in our own mirror.  Since 2001, we have been on an intentional, focused journey of Conscious Inclusion, building out a leadership pipeline of women at all levels of the organization.  We’ve stopped for a quick mirror check on numerous occasions, but we really needed to go deeper.  We reached out to women and men at all levels of leadership, across multiple geographies and generations, and asked some hard questions:

  • What do our own employees and other global leaders see as obstacles to closing the gender gap?
  • What’s needed to overcome them? How do we move from talk to action?

Can we count on Millennials to be the answer? Is this the generation that really will make the difference?

The goal was to uncover the obstacles to closing the gender gap.  Here’s what the mirror played back to us:  The differences between gender, generations and geographies are stark. Overall, leaders believe it will take an average of 17 years to level the playing field – still another generation away, even for Millennials. Progress is happening but at a glacial rate. Entrenched male culture is identified as the key obstacle – even established male leaders agree.

I have written a lot about where organizations go sideways in advancing women into the leadership ranks – from unintentional exclusion,  to not paying attention to what women say is important to language and culture that seems to exclude women. The common denominator is the need to get intentional about why accelerating women into leadership roles is important, and what you are going to do about it.

Here are some very practical ways to start:

  1. Change yourself first – Believe it or don’t bother. Change must be authentic. If not, people see it as a fad that’s here today, gone tomorrow.
  2. Leadership has to own it – The CEO needs to own the issue. Gender parity cannot be delegated to HR. For commitment to be authentic and aligned with business strategy, change must flow from the top.
  3. Ask “why not?” – Succession planning must be bolder. Instead of saying, “she doesn’t have the experience,” ask, “what do we need to make it work?”
  4. Hire people who value people – They will figure out how to optimize all human potential, including women. They will be open to strategies that further work-home balance and measure success on performance and quality of output, not presenteeism.
  5. Promote a culture of Conscious Inclusion -- Programs don’t change behaviors and don’t improve the numbers. They can even breed complacency, rewarding activity not the results. Accountability lies with senior leadership to promote a culture of Conscious Inclusion.
  6. Be explicit – Looking at macro numbers tends to produce “pink ghettos” – women over-represented in HR, communications and support roles instead of P&L and staff roles. Women and men must be represented at all levels and in every business unit.
  7. Be accountable – Business is about outcomes and what you want to achieve. Articulate a talent legacy that spells out how things will change and what it will look like by when. Plan as if it were a strategic business priority or investment—because it is.

Nobody’s perfect and every organization can get better at building a culture of diversity that embraces and elevates talent into leadership roles regardless of gender, ethnicity or age.  ManpowerGroup’s white paper –7 Steps to Conscious Inclusion – provides more insight into the particular issues facing women in this quest and how companies can take meaningful action.

About the Author

Rebekah Kowalski is Vice President of Manufacturing Solutions at ManpowerGroup North America, where she develops innovative solutions that help organizations and leaders deal with the implications of both the shortage of rightly skilled workers and the rapid evolution of roles and skills across multiple sectors. Rebekah has extensive experience in working with global clients to architect strategic workforce models that optimize cost, flexibility, and preparedness for emerging needs. She is also passionate about education and the future of work and has served on various boards and committees related to these topics. As a recognized expert in the field of digital manufacturing & design Rebekah led the ManpowerGroup team who worked with MxD to define the evolution of the workforce that will power both digital manufacturing and protect it from cybersecurity threats. She is the author of several articles and reports on workforce trends and challenges, such as America’s Hottest Jobs, The Changing Face of Manufacturing, and Quality’s Bright and Bold Future.

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