She Belongs

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The Best Teams Communicate, Are Focused, Are Diverse

“Just treat me the same. No better, no worse.” – Lt. Jordan O’Neil, “G.I. Jane,” Caravan Pictures, 1997

In recent years, diversity and equality – gender and race – have become a worthy and elusive goal of the tech and M&E (media & entertainment) industries.

Five years ago, Facebook COO Sherly Sandberg wrote “Lean In” which at the time, was meant to be a guide to help females take their rightful place in the predominantly male-dominated business world.

Following the untimely death of her husband, she wrote Option B acknowledging she didn’t quite have the complete picture at the time. She said women who want to grow professionally have it tough when they have to balance a home/personal life with the challenges of business.

“Lean In,” “Mentor Her” and the #MeToo focused everyone’s attention on the problem(s) but the solution remains elusive–especially when the traditional leadership model is so deeply rooted in our global society.

To achieve more equality and inclusion in the workplace, we have to challenge patriarchy. We have to recognize and challenge implicit bias.

The bias?

We unconsciously assume good leaders in the U.S. are male.

He’s six feet-plus tall, has a deep voice, good posture, touch of grey in his thick, lustrous hair and a fit body. Oh yes, and he’s white!

Pretty tough for a woman to nail that image, at least in the U.S.

Women leading Fortune 500 companies grew to 6.4 percent last year, up from 2.6 percent a decade earlier.

Negative Growth – According to the Fortune 500 study of Fortune 500 senior management, the number of female leaders has declined; which is a bad sign for all business and governmental institutions.

This year, the number has already declined 25 percent and the year isn’t even half over.

Twelve left their jobs and only four joined the list.

The decline is big because the pool of female executives is so small.

Hampered – Even today unconscious biases keep women and minorities from achieving their full potential in organizations. The best way to move forward is to acknowledge and address the prejudices to correct the situation for the best of the firm and the economy.

Yes, there’s this thing called the glass ceiling, but we recently learned something more alarming. There’s this thing called a glass cliff – women and racial/ethnic minorities were more likely to be given the reins of a poorly performing firm than a tall, chiseled white dude.

The number of female executives is falling because even though men and women start their careers fairly equal; at each level, they disappear.

Equal But – Even though males and females may start their careers on an equal footing, men move forward financially and with increased responsibility compared to women. The same problem occurs for other minorities who face growth obstacles. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it disappear.

We were talking with the president of a company recently about this and how they were addressing the situation. She said someone recently pointed out to her that two of her most recent senior manager hires were female.

We asked if they were the most qualified for the job (wrong thing to ask) and she said emphatically, “Yes!”

Enough said.

While the UN celebrated International Women’s Day last year by setting a firm goal – Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality – but institutions and industries (especially technology) have shown little improvement over the past two years.

Steady She Goes – The gender imbalance isn’t limited to a single country or single industry. Female representation (at all levels) remains lower than males in almost every country. What’s worse, it has been remarkably stable (30 percent) for a number of years. Progress isn’t being made.

While the UN has a goal of 2030, LeanIn/McKinsey offered a more depressing goal.

They’re targeting gender – racial is an entirely different issue – equality in 100 years!

According to McKinsey, it’s not as simple as the “mommy issue” because men are parents too.

Still, women are left with the burden of balancing work-home life (admittedly, that was the case in our family).

So, they use company policies more – limited after-hours work, flexibility of when/where work is done, parental leave, part-time work or move to less-demanding company positions.

Guys with family obligations get a modified free pass.

No one asks, “Hey should you be working so late?” or “How you do it climbing the corporate ladder and having a family?”

Men and women have similar business skills and talents to achieve their goals; but at some level, gender bias still exists. But perhaps – just perhaps – it is as simple as developing/promoting more female leaders by having managers receive bonuses contingent on promoting women, consciously hiring and promoting more women (and minorities)

Or, it could be as radical as this year’s Davos World Economic Forum that was chaired entirely by women.

Definite Shift – Responding to the outcry of male domination on important programs/initiatives, Davos World Economic Forum made a dramatic shift this year by having women head every session to ensure the global leaders did more than simply give lip service to the problem. The challenge is moving the recommendations and actions forward.

Okay, Davos was a determined effort by the management committee to make a positive statement.

Just as Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff is committed to closing the firm’s gender pay gap.

During a “60 Minutes” TV interview he explained that it was impossible that a gap existed within the firm because it just wasn’t part of the company’s operating philosophy…until he was shown it existed.

Adjustments were made but he said, “We’re going to have to do this continuously … constantly monitor and keep track of that … But that’s easy today. We run our company the same way every company is run with computers and technology and software. CEOs with one button on one computer can pay every man and every woman equally. We have the data.”

But pay equality is only part of the solution.

We would be foolish to recommend what women should do to climb the corporate/organizational ladder. After all, there are a ton of very good (and bad) professional self-help books out there.

But professional (and position) growth is an ever-changing, learning process and we would venture that most women want to be perfect in what they do and speaking from personal experience, that’s pretty hard to achieve.

Personally, we’ve always admired Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.

She reportedly faked the successful operation of the first mainframe that was being tested for the Navy, discovered a moth in one of the relays and debugging came to be. She also invented one of the first compiler-related tools and popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages.

Despite the rigid structure of the military, we thought her famous quote best expressed her approach to her team’s work and hers – “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

With today’s flatter organizational charts, management doesn’t have the luxury of a five-year strategic plan; strategy is made by constant evaluation, reevaluation, adjustment; and the ability to be nimble and sensitive.

The team is increasingly mobile and multigenerational.

They need to develop a high correlation between employee engagement and productivity and management has to ensure everyone on the team – regardless of age, gender or nationality – has career-advancing opportunities, strong team collaboration and a sense of meaning, purpose in their work.

And management needs a team of active, independent-minded stakeholders.

In other words, management needs more soft skills that enable and encourage team members to make independent, reliable decisions; people who understand how the company, suppliers and customers work together in an integrated manner.

Whether male or female, the “softer” attributes become more important than macho command-and-control leadership.

Better Return – Interestingly, organizations with a greater proportion of female executives appear to do better than those with more male executives. That might be because some traits may be more valuable in producing positive results that every executive should strive for.

Does it work better?

It’s not a man’s world. It’s not a woman’s world. It’s not a Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, or any nationality world.

It’s a world that relies on effective leadership by example. One that can communicate in an open, transparent manner and bring out the best in others.

There are enough external issues and crises that organizations must navigate through in the years ahead without addressing them internally and externally.

Communication, goal establishment/achievement must be achieved by the best leaders and team in a transparent, collaborative manner.

If it is best done by a woman, let’s get over it and keep moving forward.

Shareholders only care about results and they agree with Master Chief John Urgayle, “Remember, there are no bad crews, only bad leaders.”

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