Tuesday 24 May 2016

#ATD2016 #LeadLikeAGirl

One of my favourite sessions yesterday was with DDI’s CEO Tracy Byham on women in leadership.  As Tacy suggested, women in leadership is a business issue, not a women's issue.  However given the low number of attendees in the room it doesn't seem to stand out  as a men's issue - which might, of course, be part of the reason for the problem?  As Tacy suggested, this should be something which concerns mentors, leaders, fathers of this generation of women and the next.

We started with the #LikeAGirl video and then looked at some of the evidence for why this type of sterotyping is a problem in leadership as well.  Eg Barclays find that in the bottom 20% of businesses by financial performance just 19% of leaders are women.  In the top 20% 37% are women.  DDI and the Conference Board found that in the bottom 20% 16% of hi-pos are women.  In the top 20% 28% are women.  How re we going to populate the ranks of leadership if don’t change our high potential pools?  Companies receiving investments in the Shark Tank (the US Dragon's Den) do better when they're led by women rather than by men.  There's also the pay gap with the World Economic Forum suggesting it will take 118 years for the gap to be closed  -and we're currently receding from closing it.  (See my posts / TV interviews on this as well.)

Have we reached the turning point or is the glass ceiling a thing of the past? (loud 'no!' from audience).

In the Fortune500 just 5% of CEOs are women.  There are more CEOs named John than are women.  But there are a higher proportion of women than men in the general workforce, they're just not progressing up to the top.

We then moved onto skills with Tacy asking what women are better than men at… (a loud ‘everything!’ from the audience).  Or not - DDI's research suggests there are no differences in skills between men and women.  I'm not convinced by that.  There are certainly differences between men's and women's behaviours.  Perhaps that's what Tacy was getting at when she said there are differences in application - women are better at putting their heads down and focusing and men are better at throwing themselves into challenges which help them grow and develop. 

It's about confidence - men say they got a new job because they earned it, women will say it’s because they got lucky.  One stat Tacy shared with us was from Carnegie Mellon University and is that 57% of men but just 7% of women negotiate their first job salaries.  And the impact of this is going to ripple up through men's and women's careers.  There's also the findings from HP men apply for their next job when they have 60% of the required skills, women only when they have 100%

DDI's advice for women in correcting this imbalance is for women to:
  • Declare yourself
  • Radiate confidence
  • Fail forward
  • Super-power your network.

All good stuff though I'm still left with a slight concern, about like with Leaning In, that actually what we really need, from an organisational and societal perspective at least, is for business leaders to act more like women than the women to act like men.

Tacy suggested DDI's advice isn't about getting women to act like men, it's about how we all become the best version of ourselves - especially as the attributes of the best leaders  are about EQ not IQ - things which can be developed.

But it is.  If women start to think more like men, they'll start to act more like men as well.  And if more women start doing power poses and stop apologising it's not going to have a helpful impact on our organisations.  Businesses are already far too confident about their own futures.  We need more questioning, not less.

But the biggest issue for me is about 'We' and 'I'.  DDI want women to say 'I' rather than 'we' to make themselves more powerful.  But actually if we're serious about teaming and collaboration, we all need to get a lot more focused on 'we'.  Not the royal we that Brene Brown was suggesting people use to avoid accountability, but the real we that suggests we recognise our performance isn't solely informed through our own performance.  That recognises, as Simon Sinek suggested, that none of us are smarter than all of us.

That's not just about our words, but the words are an indication of our thinking.  And the thinking has to change.  See for example my post on 'what's in it for us?'.

It's a difficult one, and I'm not suggesting that women shouldn't follow DDI's suggestions.  I encourage my wife and daughters to use some of this and if I was working in an organisation I'd encourage my female colleagues to do so too.  I just don't think it's the end of the story.

It's a bit like HR's challenge in the business too - HR needs to act more like the rest of the business to gain credibility but a more important goal is to change the business, to be a bit more like HR (see my previous posts on Simon Sinek and Dan Pontefract for more explanation on this).

Women need to learn from how men progress in organisations.  But we need to make our organisations more adaptive to traditionally female behaviours as well.

See my post on the feminisation of work too.

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