A friend of mine works for an organisation that professes to support ambitious female managers. She gets amazing performance reviews and they tell her she’s indispensable. Yet she can’t get promoted. Never mind the glass ceiling. To her, it feels more like there’s a concrete layer between her and the upper echelons of the business.
In many ways, women in the workforce have come a long way. There’s increasing commitment to gender diversity, more efforts to get more women on boards and gender pay reporting is gaining ground.
Yet, as my friend has discovered, progress can be slow. According to McKinsey’s 2018 ‘Women in Work report’, only 1 in 5 women make it to the C-Suite and there are crucial gaps in the talent pipeline. Some organisations are even beginning to deprioritise gender diversity.
What’s Getting In The Way?
Caroline Gosling, Director of Culture and Engagement at Rubica, thinks that organisational culture may be a crucial factor that’s hindering women’s progress.
“All too often, diversity training, quotas and development programs for women don’t lead to the step change organisations are looking for,” she explains. “That’s because the existing company culture, which is often unconscious, is putting the brakes on any moves towards greater gender balance.”
“If we want to change our behaviour, we first need to understand the beliefs and assumptions in our company culture that underpin that behaviour. Then we can change our work practices so they support a different way of doing things.”
5 Questions To Kick Start Culture Change
To start bringing about meaningful change in gender balance, Caroline recommends asking these questions.
- Are all leaders vocal supporters of gender balance in business?Do all senior leaders talk about the benefits of gender balance for organisational performance? And do reports show how gender disparities impact on KPIs?
- What are the underlying beliefs about gender in your organisation?Are there unspoken beliefs that women are less ambitious or more likely to have issues with work/life balance? You don’t need to attach blame, but you do need to uncover these assumptions through debate, conversations and techniques like appreciative inquiry.
- Do you encourage people to talk about gender at work?It’s vital for organisations to talk openly about potentially uncomfortable subjects related to gender, rather than simply mentioning the issue once a year in a report. Set up discussion programs, get single and mixed gender groups involved, and ask people to come up with solutions together.
- How do you define and reward good leadership?Is the definition of a ‘good’ leader in your organisation heavily weighted towards more traditionally ‘masculine’ attributes, such as valuing competition over co-operation? (People of all genders will appear somewhere on the spectrum, as defined by Hofstede.) Evaluate how you define good leadership and investigate whether you need to expand your criteria for leaders.
- Are you reinforcing the idea that it’s just women who need ‘fixing’?There is certainly a place for women’s leadership programs and training initiatives, but if there is nothing specifically for male leaders, you’re giving the impression that men are fine while women need ‘extra help’. One alternative is to offer gender-based programs that highlight the value of both masculine and feminine traits, and support all leaders to develop strengths in the areas that will help the organisation to be more successful.