How Many Women Do We Need In The Workplace?

I’ve had an interestingly female oriented few days. Firstly my nine year old daughter wanting a dress up outfit for an upcoming school event, then I had to brave the tube to get to a Friday morning event (Women In Technology) in the centre of London.

On Thursday I started to look for the dress up outfit. With two sons who want to be Avengers (or occasionally Superman) most of the time – I anticipated finding an Avengers “Black Widow” costume for her would be simple. 

However, it seems that in the UK even the Superman (girl) outfits are pink with tutu’s. NOT what she was looking for. Eventually I had to get one from the US, which she’s very proud of – but for crying out loud, it shouldn’t be this hard should it? It appears as though even at her age it’s tough to level the playing field with the boys…. 

Then an early start on Friday to get to a breakfast event. I’ve been travelling into London for over 20 years, and it’s not unusual for me to struggle with my upbringing vs ‘modern’ cosmopolitan society. I cannot sit down if a lady is standing – I’ve tried, but it seems fundamentally wrong to me. 

There are many arguments I’ve tried over the years to persuade people to take my seat when they object,  the best I’ve found so far is “We’re on a moving vehicle and your heels are taller than mine, surely it’s more comfortable for me to stand than you”.

What I really want to say is “Please sit down, can I not offer some kindness without being labelled a sexist pig?” – but I’ve tried it in the past and it doesn’t go down to well.

Moving on……

The “Women In Technology” event last Friday morning was an excellent opportunity to hear some of the challenges that women face in the workplace, meet new people and gain other perspectives. 

Being responsible for guiding culture transformation, promotion of diversity is one of my critical factors for success, but it has to be influenced – not demanded. 

  • Shocker of the morning: The story in which whilst discussing pay increases for a mixed group of senior managers the woman was excluded as the men “had families to support”. (This undoubtedly caused the sharpest intake of breath I’ve ever heard at any conference)
  • Bravest statement of the morning: “It’s OK to focus on family at the expense of career for a while, if that’s what you want to do”
  • Divisive issue of the morning: Setting quota for number of female leaders in an organisation.
There were two clear schools of thought – that quota’s were essential for ensuring an increase in sexual diversity, and that women promoted under a quota system would always be stigmatised by it.

Let me be absolutely clear about my view – setting quota’s for diversity (sexual or otherwise) is a terrible idea. Measuring diversity is important – but in order to truly embrace the requirement for it, behaviour change is needed throughout any organisation.

I for one am fed up of hearing about sexual equality. It’s narrow minded and ridiculous to imagine that men and women are the same, or that any two people are the same. My Wife has many skills that I do not possess. I have a few that she doesn’t have.

If we start looking for equality then we are doomed to failure. By definition we are looking for diversity and that means recognising strengths that others bring – regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or age. Any successful partnership requires diversity of skills and opinion – so why is that so tough to accept in the workforce?

Studies have shown one very simple answer – managers tend to employ in their own image. People are generally more comfortable looking in the mirror than courting dissent.

Seeking different perspectives is critical in the workplace, the strongest leaders surround themselves with different viewpoints, different opinions and different personality types. A lack of diversity in those working for you is generally illustrative of narrow minded, insular thinking. 

So why not set that quota? Simple. Any woman, no matter how brilliant, skilled and qualified for a role will always be stigmatised with being a ‘statistic’ rather than an asset, and that perpetuates the problem. 

How do you perceive Marissa Meyer, Meg Whitman and Sheryl Sandberg  (to name but three)? Brilliant businesswomen or statistically correct figureheads? I sincerely hope it’s the former – do you think any of these women were promoted to be statistical successes? 

Behaviour is governed by the targets you set – good and bad. So please be careful about setting a target without thinking through the consequences. Change is everyones responsibility – if you want to introduce greater diversity into the workplace, then that change starts with you.

Note: Much kudos to Montash (and in particular Vicky Jones) for hosting the event, and attracting three excellent panelist   Isobel Thomson (CIO HJ Heniz) and Mary LeBlanc (CIO Novartis Pharma) & Dana Deasy (CIO BP), with proceeds going to charity.

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