In one news program this week, there was more news about women at work than about anything else. Germany is requiring companies to have women represent 30% of board members. Japan’s Prime Minister announced a goal of having women fill 30% of leadership positions. And Sheryl Sandberg is urging men to “Lean In.” With so much news coverage, could we being reaching a tipping point in people’s awareness of the business value of gender diversity?
Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant make some pretty obvious points in the first of their four-part New York Times series on women at work. Their punchline is that raising awareness of gender stereotypes and bias is not enough. Only by expressing disapproval of the biases and resulting barriers facing women can we change the facts on gender diversity in leadership. I express disapproval. Now let’s change those facts!
Men in my workshops used to hesitate to claim feminine strengths, perhaps concerned they would be called a “sissy.” In my book and workshops, I use prototypes for masculine and feminine – Max and Fran. Men in our workshops seem comfortable acknowledging their “Fran” strengths. Maybe it is because more of them understand the value of gender diversity. Some may be convinced, e.g., by the work of McKinsey & Co. and John Gerzema, that leadership must include feminine as well as masculine perspectives. Valuing feminine strengths personally enables authenticity, effectiveness and health. Valuing feminine strengths in others contributes to inclusivity, which drives engagement and results.
Unconscious and invisible “mind-sets” explain the obstacles for women aspiring to business leadership. They explain why we still do not have gender diversity at the top. Unconscious mental images of how leaders look and act can create barriers for those who do not “look the part.” Leaders who are aware of this natural tendency can stop automatic thinking and look at a person’s results rather than whether they fit the image. Those affected by unconscious images can avoid violating norms of appearance at work; be sure the boss knows their skills and results; and collaborate with others to talk about successes.
Why do I focus on a specific form of diversity (gender or generational differences at work) rather than more broadly on diversity and inclusion? I take an inductive approach, believing that awareness of the value of one form of difference can be applied to other forms of difference. Why not start with the largest group under-represented at leadership levels (women)? As a white woman, I have more credibility on the issue of women in business than on race or sexual orientation. We have lots of opportunity to practice on gender differences. I want both masculine and feminine strengths applied to solving the big issues facing the world; having a balance of men and women makes that more likely. That’s why.