Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a successful leader. What does that leader look like, dress like and sound like?
Think about it!
Did you imagine a black woman? A short or overweight man with a beard? A person under the age of 27 years? Or did you imagine a tall white man, with a good head of greying hair, wearing a dark suit, shirt and tie? Our unconscious biases fool us into believing things that just simply are not true. One such belief for many people is that leaders look like a certain type of person and that they have a particular gender.
If I had used the word ‘gender’ in the title of this post more than likely you would have still assumed this piece was about women; if I had used the word race then you would have thought black people. Why? because these words have strong sticky unconscious associations. Gender = Women and Race = Ethnic minorities of colour. Allow me to clarify, this is in fact a post about women and leadership in the changing workplace and that we can no longer be trusted not to notice and not to care that the workplace has inequalities. These inequalities are not because men don’t want women to succeed. Rather, it’s due to the unconscious tendency most people have to favour those who are most like themselves and to create and maintain structures that support the majority. Until recent times the more you differed from those in power or authority the less likely you were to benefit from the phenomenon. However, gender equality and gender leadership has gained a lot of attention recently in boardrooms in the developed economies across the world. The topic has rarely been out of the business press for the past 12months
Within developed economies since the 1950s the number of women in the labour force has been increasing such that women now, on average, form around 48% of employees in developed economies and about 66% of women, compared to 80% of men, are economically active. (RBS Group 2013). Not long ago, the issue of diversity was compliance-based and the domain of HR departments. However, the increase in delivery of business within global world markets and the challenging recession has driven a strategic interest in diversity and inclusion. Business analysts are now closely watching the economic influence of women. ‘Growth trends indicate women as a global group will eventually represent a market larger than India and China combined. According to The Boston Consulting Group, ‘men currently generate income of about US$25 trillion worldwide, which is more than twice the total for women. But income growth over the near term is expected to be dominated by women, who already control more than 65 per cent of the worldwide total.’ Following a review of Boardrooms across the UK in 2011, by Lord Davies. He stated that ‘the boardroom is where strategic decisions are made, governance applied and risk overseen. It is therefore imperative that boards are made up of competent high calibre individuals who together offer a mix of skills, experiences and backgrounds.’ He set a target for the boards of FTSE 100 companies, that they aim for a minimum of 25% female representation by 2015. With growth trends and national government recommendations in mind, women can no longer be trusted not to feel more empowered and optimistic about changes that are occurring in the workplace. Although women have always been as ambitious as men you cannot trust women to sit quietly by and wait to be noticed, to accept lower pay for doing the same work as a male colleague and to wait to be invited into leadership positions. There is a quiet revolution and emerging tipping point occurring across organisations and it’s taking the form of a cultural shift, and the National Diversity Awards are playing a part in influencing that debate by showcasing and promoting successful diverse talent.
Diversity and Inclusion can be a powerful and competitive business advantage since it equips companies to think about their products and services as well as innovate for their diverse customer base. Diversity and inclusion has been proven to help increase creativity, innovation and productivity. Groups with a differing range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Evidence is emerging that strongly suggests that companies with women CEOs and gender mixed boards often outperform sector peers operating results and stock price gains. Put more simply – Gender diversity and inclusion is good for business and therefore good for the economy and the communities within which we live.
Managing Director, Sage Blue
Nominator of great Talent for the National Diversity Awards