Not too long ago, I read a new book on gender equality in the workplace. I’ve read many of these types of books but this one was from a different perspective. Rania Anderson’s company, The Way WoMen Work, is specifically geared toward helping male business leaders obtain the skills and perspectives needed to intentionally advance women.
Rania realized long ago that many men want to support women at work but don’t know the best way to do so.
In your book, you mention that, while at companies working with women, men were often stopping you to ask for help. Many men want to know how to work more effectively with women. Given the many years of focus on diversity, did this surprise you?
It did. After I was approached a few times, I recognized that many men are ready to transform their workplaces and the way they work and lead with women.
Some are motivated by talent shortages. Others are under pressure to innovate and understand the changing needs of consumers, many of whom are women. They recognize that they cannot win by continuing to rely on half the talent pool.
Yet others want to have flexibility in their work environment and recognize that the changes that women want in the workplace would also benefit them.
The motivations of the men that spoke to me were varied, but what they were asking for was the same – to no longer be left out of the conversation and to be invited to be part of the solution.
“Just as companies measure return on equity, there’s also a demonstrated return on equality.” -Rania Anderson
Give us an update about your research and work since writing the last book, Break Your Own Rules. What have you been up to and learning?
We conducted original research to help us understand why women were so turned off by office politics and how we could help. We surveyed 134 senior executives in leading organizations, and the results revealed that women and men fundamentally disagree on the overall objective of politics. Women said they use the tools of politics to “manage relationships,” whereas men use them to “win.” Women were far more likely to mention “creating impact and ideas,” while men were more than twice as likely to describe “carving a one-time advantage.”
Women are judged more harshly than men when engaging in office politics, and our lack of access to sponsors puts us at a disadvantage.
Also, women and men have differing approaches to power and influence. It’s collaboration vs. competition.
Study: Women are judged more harshly than men when engaging in office politics.
For those who aren’t up to date on the latest research, tell us why gender balance is good for organizations. What’s the case for gender diversity?
Hardwiring in the brain is different for men and women. The physical differences are associated with natural tendencies in thinking, communicating, and problem solving that are all needed in business. Men and women demonstrate these traits in varying degrees. Organizations that have traits from both genders will get the best questioning, debate, and idea generation resulting in healthier strategies and increased performance over those who don’t. Those are the organizations that will create the best products and services for their customers.
Fact: Public companies with more than 1 woman on the Board have higher returns.
I don’t believe people resist it. I believe leaders don’t know what to do to change it. That’s the biggest reason I wrote the book – to provide some actionable advice as to what leaders can do to effect change. Others have brought awareness and that’s a good first step. Now we need to start doing the things that will lead to more gender diversity in leadership positions.
Study: Companies with no gender balance on the board have lower market capitalization.
You say that you wrote the book mainly for men in power because they can change the ratio. And then you say some “get it” and some “think about it.” What’s the difference?
I wrote the book mainly for people in positions of power – anyone who is in a senior leadership role can effect change faster. At this time, the vast majority of those people are men. Of the male leaders I interviewed, I found that there are two main groups: those who “get it” and have been taking steps for several years to have more women in leadership, and those who are “thinking about it” – that is, they acknowledge that women are important to their business but are struggling to find ways to have more of them in senior leadership. The biggest difference between these two groups of leaders is that those who have greater gender balance in their organizations have taken some very deliberate steps to get them there. They take more time to seek candidates and they reach outside their known network to find female candidates. They tend to take more risks on up-and-coming talent within their organizations as well.
Reasons Companies Fail to Keep Women
It’s not only recruiting but also retention that is important to changing the ratio. What are some of the reasons organizations fail to keep women?
Some organizations still refuse to implement the flexibility it takes to keep female talent. They still view creating flexibility as making exceptions rather than viewing it as a competitive advantage. They are busy counting hours instead of measuring results. Those that continue to think that way will fall behind in the war for the best talent.
What’s unconscious gender bias and how do you recognize and deal with it?
Unconscious gender bias is continuing to hire people who are just like us (male or female) and not even thinking about the ramifications of doing so. Little to no thought is being given to examining the gender balance of the team or organization when this continues to happen. The only way for it to change is for the top leader to set the tone and lead by example. Everyone follows the lead of the CEO or President, which in itself is far more important than implementing awareness initiatives.
In many companies, women are not advancing. This is despite the extensive research showing that more women in leadership positions equals higher company profits and a more competitive organization. At each level of an organization, women dwindle in numbers, leading to a lack of gender balance on top leadership teams.
If women make up less than 25% of an applicant pool, they are more likely to be negatively evaluated.
Howard J. Morgan and Joelle K. Jay, PhD, of the Leadership Research Institute (LRI) are co-authors of THE NEW ADVANTAGE: How Women in Leadership Can Create Win-Wins for Their Companies and Themselves (Praeger / 2016). LRI is a global consulting firm specializing in leadership and organizational development. Morgan has worked with over 1,000 CEO and executive team members of the world’s largest organizations on improving corporate and executive performance. Jay is an executive coach and keynote speaker and specializes in the advancement of executive women.
The Unique Problems Women Face in Leaders
What are some of the problems women uniquely face in the workforce?
We have worked with some of the largest organizations in the world. Based on our experience, and several major reports, companies with the highest representation of women in senior management positions are shown to perform the best. Research reports that companies with more women:
Are more profitable (18-69%)
Are more competitive (25%)
Are more effective because they demographically reflect the market (83%).
In balanced leadership teams of men and women, women tend to bring fresh perspectives and ideas, talent and experience, and that leads to better decision-making.
The problem is despite all of those advantages, we found they are persistently underrepresented in senior levels of leadership. Women currently hold only 4.0% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, according to the Catalyst research organization Catalyst.
Research: Companies with women are up to 69% more profitable.
What are some of the advantages companies experience when more women are represented in leadership?
Companies that attract and develop executive women gain amazing benefits related to profitability, productivity and performance. Some areas include increased revenues, greater innovation, increased employee engagement, higher productivity, better financial performance, global competitive advantage, and stronger leadership.
Companies benefit from the increased financial performance associated with a balanced leadership team, beating their competition by up to a third.
Research: Companies with a balanced leadership team beat the competition by up to a third.
The women we’ve spoken with and worked with report a wide range of issues. Perhaps the biggest barrier is a lack of awareness on the part of their companies about what stops women from advancing and how to increase the number of women in senior level and executive leadership positions.
There are a number of obstacles that have prevented the integration of women into the highest levels of leadership. First, change takes time. Second, few role models exist for women at the top. Third, we are still learning about the barriers that prevent women from breaking into C-level leadership. Two of the biggest breakthroughs in recent research for the advancement of women to leadership positions are executive presence and sponsorship. These have only become prevalent topics of research in recent years. And in reality, until recently the business culture has evolved around a predominance of men as leaders, and characteristics associated with successful leadership are still aligned with more masculine traits.
“Women who want to succeed to higher levels of leadership have to take the lead.” –Morgan & Jay