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What Women Want (in the workplace)

Towards the end of 2014 I was awarded a scholarship to attend WIN Conference in Berlin which as you know I was very proud about. The theme of the conference was a “Magnificent Leap of Change” and centred around global, authentic and feminine vision.

For 3 days we were involved in a series of plenary, workshop and networking session of varying degrees of relevance and it got me thinking that it’s really hard to articulate as a collective what women want/need in the workplace. So as I toyed with how to write up my report, I started to pick those items that I felt were most inspirational (or controversial) so here goes – I’d love to hear what you think!

Chiefly my observations centred around 4 areas where I believe we have most ability to impact the workplace and they are: –

  • Monitoring and Support
  • Creating Feminine Influence
  • Moving one stone at a time, and
  • Mindfulness

MONITORING AND SUPPORT

The key to success in women leaders is to lead – be convinced and convincing and I firmly believe in women being able to lead in a fair and equally earned way. 25% of that extra mile we all go to is down to who your boss is and how much we believe in them. Like in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ when the lawyer says “now imagine the child is white” we naturally think in business when we hear about a good leader that it’s a man. I’ve had a mix of male and female – it makes no difference as to their sex if you believe in them! Anita Pratap, journalist and author went as far as to say female monitoring is critical for developing future female leaders and I’m sure you agree.

On Day 2 a couple of brave male business leaders took to the stage but they could not have been further off the mark with their content and have given me the perfect example of how not to mentor women! We were told by one that to be a great leader you needed to remember soap – stamina, optimism, authenticity, perseverance– honestly if he’d said that to a male audience they’d have laughed him off the stage! The twitter conversation was pretty clear – we need the male perspective on what makes women good in the workforce, please don’t give us a business 101 lesson!

But what was crystal clear is that as females it is our responsibility to step up and monitor and support at all levels of the business. We are great at mid to low level roles but the real difference will be made by those C-level executives who make part of their role to identity and nurture the person that will take over from them as structured succession planning.

CREATE FEMININE INFLUENCE

We have the business temperament (and to be honest a duty) to create a space for people to be creative in, and by doing this you will get great results. Elisabeth Rasmusson, United Nations World Food Programme believes you create influence by understanding what others need.

The second day was all about how we can develop outstanding relationships across gender, generations, nationality and other differences, and what are the great business reasons for doing so.

So this is where I have a little bit of a rant. Why #genderbalance? As female (and male) leaders our role is to make sure women are armed to do the job. I am all for sisterhood and ‘bigging-up’ women at work but let’s get real – children, part-time, self-employed, career break is all an option (for all) but you still have to work well at your chosen profession – it’s not a given because you can claim it – you have to earn it.

What struck me as most bizarre was when Nia Joynson Romanzina, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, SwissRE started to ask the room about definitions of inclusion and diversity and the room just didn’t get it! If we can’t clearly articulate what inclusion is how on earth is the rest of the workforce going to? You’ve heard this before from me but it is a bee in my bonnet: Inclusion is not about redefining differences, we should embrace them. Being bossy is a strength (and should not be redefined ala Sheryl Sandberg – it’s about the only thing I disagree with her on!). We should address the unconscious bias, emotional for a man is ambitious so don’t make it negative when a female shows emotion – she is just ambitious. By not turning female traits into a negative we can then start to create more influence.

Melissa Fisher, lecturer, Columbia University reminded us that 20 years ago the first Wall Street women were change agents – we should all become agents of possibility. There is a new league of corporate feminists who we need to help to work their way through these stages: –

  1. Belief in meritocracy – cream always comes to the top
  2. Awakening, crisis and revelation
  3. Redirecting your life path to make a difference

I can firmly say personally I am at stage 3 which is why I took the step to start my own business. And the beauty is that you can get more radical, political and opinionated as you get older – awesome news for me as I’ve never been a shrinking violet!!!

MOVE ONE STONE AT A TIME

No-one said this better than Alison Goligher, ex-VP at Shell with her inspirational no-nonsense approach as a business leader. She reminded me clearly of an old boss of mine at IBM – Cheryl Shearer – don’t take any nonsense but don’t try to boil the ocean. Calm, reassuring and results orientated will have more impact than any other behaviour.

But you also need to pick where to spend your time. Somewhat ironic considering where we were, but Avi Wittenberg-Cox, CEO, 20-First really made me laugh as she was so on the mark – women networks – you believe they are important until you are 30 and then realise that they don’t work in isolation – we have to be inclusive and earn our swag at the table.

With this in mind, the last session of the conference uncovered something quite horrendous. We had to come up with topics to discuss that hadn’t been covered in the conference and one person suggested that we should drive parity here at the conference. From behind me, two women gasped and stated ‘oh god no’. Based on that outburst, I joined that workgroup and it was in actual fact the most un-inclusive session I was in. I decided to observe and watch what happened (yes I know that is unusual for me) and what it showed were the kind of obstacles we all face each and every day. It is a sad but true fact that not all women want to be inclusive and they make life harder when it’s really not necessary. There is no point to be made by excluding our male counterparts and when we come across behaviour like this we should move on and work with those that are receptive and unbiased! In the group there were 7 women and 3 men and guess what – the men took over and the women shrank back. One of the gentleman’s suggestions was (oh, wait for this one) ‘All you have to do is seduce us’. However one man stood out from the crowd throughout the entire conference – Alberto Platz, D&I Strategy, Swarovski. He was a true advocate of Heforshe – he joined every session with a true inclusive mindset, and to this particular discussion he brought the suggestions that each company that felt it was important to send their female leaders should also send key male positions, and to have male attendees like Alberto as advocates to the WIN movement to help drive parity. Hats off to you Alberto!

Josephine Van Zanten, senior Vice President, Royal DSM was very clear with her explanation of Inclusion which simply means ‘in’ ‘Circle’ so to state the obvious you are either in or out of the circle and it is your responsibility as Inclusion starts with ‘I’. If the above session had started with fair contribution we might have found a more robust consensus. The sad fact is, it’s a lot easier to think of an exclusive instance, and much harder to think of an inclusive one – this is not female specific but as compassionate women we have an ability to really make a difference here.

So, as progressive as we may be, we still can’t avoid some of the big differences in the workforce. Angelika Gifford, Vice President, HP also demonstrated how the tech industry still has a female shortage and that this starts early in education. As a female who has always been around technology we are always outnumbered and this makes no logical sense. The question is which stone can we turn to change future generations – professionally, voluntarily, to encourage more girls and women to follow the STEM path.

Men are from Mars and all that, and this might upset a few people but it does make sense. Over-generalising behaviour but I’m just trying to make a point – If a woman has the opportunity of a promotion – she will almost certainly over think it and talk herself out of the job down to practicalities before even completing any of the recruitment process. Whereas a bloke just says that’s awesome – more money, new career, new car. Equally men think in sound bites, women do detail so we need to condense what you are communicating and asking for. In short we need to think like a man if we are to arm ourselves to make the right impact to progress!

But for balance – if a man who goes off on 12 months maternity leave it would not be unheard of for teams to freak out wondering what he is doing. We all have choices and – we have to embrace all diversity to make an inclusive society.

So it’s time to reframe the debate – stop ‘fixing’ women and accept that we have choices which we need to make and address – one stone at a time.

MINDFULNESS

I had the pleasure of spending time with Faith Adiele, Associate Professor, California College of the Arts during the conference who is an incredible lady whose desire is to share her story and help others share theirs. Yes she admits that when things aren’t going right there is nothing better that chocolate (or in her case becoming a Buddhist monk) but her persuasion was simply that for every fear we overcome, a little more of us becomes free increasing our personal power and wisdom.

Similarly, the key to mindfulness is to “let go of your ego” says Regula Curti, independent business woman. And this thought led me into an amazing speaker on the last day.

For anyone who has attended WIN, you will feel an underlying calm and purpose of being there. Admittedly seven years ago that didn’t sit 100% right with me, but Geraldine Brown, Managing Director, Domino Perspectives gave a good old Northern explanation that I want to share with you here. Her opening gambit was spirituality is not “on the edge of insanity”! With aplomb Geraldine reminded us that we’re all ‘dealing with stuff’ so just get on with it. Through her presentation she raised some important observations – we have journeyed through a series of ages; the question is where you are on this journey?

  • Industrial Age
  • Information Age
  • Technological age
  • Knowledge-based age
  • Age of wisdom

And in terms of women in the workplace. The same question – where are you and more importantly do you yet aspire to be in a different place?

  • From equality – group, legislation
  • From diversity – valuing difference, uniqueness
  • To unity – where we are connecting as a whole

It’s a fact – in the business world, male or female, we don’t have balance, we have compromise and changing priorities and it’s how we adapt to this that will make us respected leaders. And when all this is said, a job is a job – spirituality – who you are and how you behave – is in you.

Many of today’s female professionals are also mothers and Riccarda Zezza, CEO, Piano C/ MAAM – Mother as a Master observed that an ideal leader is a mother. The skills obtained as a mother have a natural evolution of leadership which is a strength we need to encourage. I have met many women who are ‘only a mother’ and who even worry about their ability at being involved in the simplest tasks for the school’s parents association as they question their worth. We have a duty of care to be mindful of this as we encourage our women back into work should that be their ambition.

And finally, some excellent advice…

“Stop carrying the issues of the last years, readdress it now. Remember it but move on.” Amy Carroll, coach, trainer, speaker, Carroll Communication Coaching and Benedikte Leroy, Vice President EMEA Legal, Dell – “if you don’t agree with the culture of the company than get out”.

During the 3 days we were inspired and challenged to think differently and I hope this article has given you a quick insight into the event, and a summary of how I believe we can make an impact whether through mentoring, creating influence, prioritising the challenges or personal mindfulness.

And in the theme of being all inclusive, I will finish with SpiderMan “With great power comes great responsibility” – our place in the professional world has tremendous impact so let’s make it count!