Challenging the Status Quo
“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady
If you do not follow Sheryl Sandberg and her work of heart (the LeanIn initiative), you may have missed results of this year’s Women in the Workplace survey conducted by McKinsey & Company. The results, as Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas recently conveyed in an article for the Wall Street Journal, reflect the “tyranny of low expectations” and the reality that for many women in leadership, it remains lonely at the top.
As the 2017 report shows, women remain significantly underrepresented among senior management despite the perception of progress: “a surprising number of men think women are ‘well represented’ when just 1 in 10 executives is female.” While relatively insignificant gains in representation seem positive, the pace of engagement is actually slowing and stalling despite the report showing women experience no more attrition than their male counterparts.
If perception is positively skewed, but results are under-attained, how do we challenge these blind-spots, buy into the power of diversity, and advance women in the workplace?
Gender diversity doesn’t mean “just” getting a seat at the table– it’s about smart, dynamic business values and outcomes. Organizations that do not sponsor gender diversity in leadership undercut themselves by dismissing contributions that could aid overall effectiveness, including a higher return on equity, higher operating results, and strong stock prices growth.
Correlated research results inspired by LeanIn’s efforts show women offer their employers critical, high demand skills, including the ability to take initiative, drive results, and champion change. Women are particularly adept as holistic problem solvers, leveraging their ability to build relationships, engaging and developing people while creating collaborative working environments. Unfortunately, these qualities are often undervalued according to Forbes.
At BCforward, our culture is actively diverse, giving all employees the opportunity to be engaged with broad perspectives so we can achieve focus on desired outcomes. High levels of participation bring energy to a team, facilitating innovative thinking and dynamic exchanges. Challenging our perceptions and assumptions in everything we do, including “why” we do it – is just the start.
How to Advance Women in the Workplace
Gender parity brings balance to an organization. When our leadership team advises interns visiting us for the summer, professionals in our organization, and members of our community through our expanded leadership roles in organizations like the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) or Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA), we focus on the following pillars of engagement and action:
What do you want to master? Who can you learn from? Your search for a mentor starts with these questions. Actively seeking mentorship through role models with strong presentation skills, long lists of accomplishments and upward mobility seems like a recipe for success, but establishing a relationship that facilitates feedback and support is ultimately what you need – both within your organization and externally.
Research has shown that women are often given guidance to focus on their interpersonal strengths, but the real career ladder opportunities arise when they learn to pair these strengths with deep knowledge of their business. If you’ve not watched Susan Colantuono’s TEDx talk, “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get”, you may be surprised that most women are missing an essential piece of the larger picture when it comes to advancement: “developing and demonstrating the skills we have that show that we’re people who understand our businesses, where they’re headed, and our role in taking it there.”
Who better to help you break new ground than someone already in leadership with the ability to influence? Despite results of the 2017 report, we cannot forget that a large group of our male peers in the workplace disagree that gender parity results have been achieved, and lines of thought converge more closely between women and men in younger demographics in the workforce.
In our own experience, our male counterparts and supervisors have been great sponsors and supporters in helping us achieve our career growth and ambitions. My road into leadership with BCforward started with a supervisor who sponsored me taking on responsibilities within an undefined leadership role. My journey has continued to be enriched by sponsors who have challenged me while championing what I contribute to the broader organization.
Sponsors who are open-minded, well-respected, and value gender parity have the ability to back ideas genuinely, provide feedback, and will stretch a team or organization in a way that seems effortless, providing an avenue for ideas and contributions to be demonstrated and celebrated within an impactful audience.
Build a Safe Environment.
Interestingly, while the path to leadership may vary for men and women, from direct to more of an evolution, the foundation is similar: family support. The commonality among women leaders is hopeful because it can be developed from a young age. “Every single one of them [women interviewed] talked about finding their voices and their confidence at dinner-table conversations with their families,” with fathers who encouraged critical thinking and mothers who demonstrated leadership at home.
As role models in our community and our home, it is critical we reflect this sponsorship into building a safe environment for our youth to develop. I recently shared on social media that I owed so much of my drive and persistence to my father – a member of what I consider the “original LeanIn generation”. If you have children at home, focus on the art of the possible – for both young girls and boys. If you have a supportive partner, champion the qualities they possess as an advocate and champion for your success and growth. By modeling these behaviors, we can build a better future where both our sons and daughters will demand nothing less than sponsorship and advocacy from their peers and leaders.
Change the conversation.
Conducting workshops and team building exercises focused on understanding and calibrating personality styles and behaviors gives participants the chance to see commonalities while celebrating the unique attributes that form teams. After all, men and women can both be data-driven and/or passionate–these characteristics are individual. Appreciating the diversity around us allows us to welcome multiple perspectives without fear or judgment. These efforts also help us right-match the gifts of our team members with the needs of the broader organization – enhancing our pool of candidates for leadership opportunities and strategic individual contributor roles that provide career growth.
These efforts are taken to achieve self-awareness and how we can champion the strengths of others point us toward how to best engage. Communicating effectively changes the playing field by giving our teams the tools to find their voice and identify advocates who will act as champions.
Be an advocate.
Serving as a mentor is a way to share knowledge, give back, learn and develop your own capabilities. In addition to stepping up to mentor others, women in business need to recognize the power of advocacy for everyone, including their ability to advocate for their female peers.
Adam Galinsky delivered an empowering Ted Talk that focuses on tactics to promote advocacy as a tool for negotiation. He explains: “There’s one situation where women get the same outcomes as men and are just as ambitious. That’s when they advocate for others. When they advocate for others, they discover their own range and expand it in their own mind. They become more assertive.”
When we advocate for others, we diminish authority over an individual position and force a discussion with a broader audience and implication. If our core strengths have taught us anything to this point, our ability to build relationships and network is something we should not only carry on as we pursue our quest into leadership, it’s something we should celebrate by challenging status quo when we arrive in positions of influence for the right reasons. Paving the way for others – female and male – to achieve growth through our teams strengthens the ability of the organization to reflect its diversity agenda in action. As we model advocacy from our highest levels of influence, we build trust, community, and effective engagement for a rich culture.
BCforward takes an empathetic approach to IT and a holistic view of how a company can function more effectively by aligning technology, business processes, and people. Contact us to learn how our expertise can help transform your business.