The burden of increasing female representation in senior positions needs to stop being a women-only agenda – in the same manner that topics affecting minority groups are erroneously assigned to individuals from those groups instead of the majority groups that are in a position of influence.
In business, the main decision-making power still primarily rests with men. Research shows that less than 5% of businesses globally are led by women, and women fill less than 25% of senior leadership positions. That means the views and decision-making at the top remain biased towards one gender.
Merely empowering women to own the “women” agenda is not really helping anyone as those women are not in the position of influence needed to effect impactful change. Worse, in the instances where there is that one woman who has managed to break through the supposed glass ceiling, she is burdened with the responsibility of carrying the women agenda for everyone else and taking on the responsibility of mentoring and coaching all the women below her, even though men are just as capable of carrying this burden.
This is unfair in many ways, and we have to start shifting our thinking on this women agenda. As the primary decision-makers, it is the men in the boardrooms who need to be tasked with this responsibility – not the outlier executive already overburdened with the high volume of responsibility placed on her by the women looking up to her.
Instead of putting her in a tough position where she has to mentor as many women as she can, why not let the men carry the weight? After all, they, too, have wisdom on how to make it to the top.
Men quite easily take on mentoring other men. They identify the guys they like, spend quality time with them, sponsor them and position them in line for the next promotion. They seldom do this for women. There are many reasons for this, including the awkwardness that comes with giving female employees special attention – all kinds of gossip and misinterpretations can follow on from that. Men would rather have drinks or a meal with a male colleague, at which most of the mentoring happens, than risk being seen doing the same with a female colleague.
This indirectly leads to the exclusion of women, intentionally or not. Men need to think about how to effectively change their views on this, even if it starts with proactively giving women the same mentorship-type attention that they do with men. That way, no one is excluded merely on the basis of gender.
Men should also proactively take responsibility for encouraging those who look up to them to remain their authentic selves as they grow into leadership positions, otherwise we will end up with a situation where the women successfully move up, only to arrive at the top and realise they have been pretending to be men the whole time.
Human beings see and do. Women see mostly male leaders and unconsciously decide that this must be the way of leading. It is often not. We all have our own unique ways of leading that make us effective.
The male leaders in the majority should be encouraging women to appreciate and thrive from that which makes them unique.
One day, when we get a seat at the table, we will have a female perspective in the room. Then we can start reaping the benefits of gender diversity in senior leadership positions.
Studies show that companies with female representation in leadership, however minimal it may be, outperform those that do not. This occurs because these women bring a new, refreshing voice into the room. That is how you get quality and better position your organisation to outperform its peers.
The women representation agenda is one for which we are all responsible, especially those of us who are in leadership positions and have the power and influence needed to change the numbers at the top.
We should not be doing this just because it makes sense for equality – it also makes simple business sense. Diverse teams are far more effective than homogeneous teams.
This article was first published in the Business Times on 2017-08-06