My research and practice contribute to the field of women’s careers and how organisations can adapt to be more inclusive of women (and other underrepresented groups). If women are to take their proper place in businesses, current attrition levels of mid-career women need to be stemmed and more women must be promoted to senior positions, including those with P&L responsibility as well as in support functions where women traditionally have gravitated. Initially it was hoped to meet this need by simply promoting more women, but the underlying issues have proved more complex, requiring not so much that women step up but that organisations adapt their cultures and practices to be more appealing to them. Companies are now awash with initiatives to help develop and retain women in the workplace. My research and work with women has identified core areas for consideration in change projects and women’s development programmes. In summary these are:
women express feelings of isolation in workplaces where trust is low;
women feel marginalised for many reasons including: they have fewer female colleagues the more senior they become and they often believe they have less in common with their male colleagues; they feel they have been overlooked in some way because of their gender; the workplace culture serves to exclude them; or they do not have access to powerful networks within their organisations. On top of that, the gender pay gap data have also shown that they are underpaid for what they are doing.
women often feel that they need to adapt their behaviours in order to succeed within their organisations, sometimes in ways which do not meet their values, for example by aggressive self-promotion or by being forced to work hours which are not conducive to other home commitments.
Traditionally there has been a lack of trust in initiatives established to help women succeed, such as through extended/shared parental leave and schemes which slow down women’s promotion rates when they take advantage of maternity breaks. New initiatives need to take on board the issues of trust and confidence that need to be at their heart if they are to succeed. In particular:
Organisations need to understand the particular diversity landscape in their organisation by collecting data and talking to their female and minority group employees. Valuable conversations cannot be had where trust is not present and it may be that external consultants need to be used to initiate these conversations. Buy-in from the CEO and senior managmeent for the need to change can help promote trust that the process will deliver real results.
Building a culture that promotes positive relationships (mentoring/coaching and other support) across difference (for example between men and women or across racial or cultural difference) within organisations is key to enabling honest, productive communication and mutual understanding in an atmosphere of trust. This will form the foundation of positive cultural change.
Relational dynamics of connection, trust, empathy and openness to learning lie at the heart of the best mentoring and other supportive relationships. These are traits that are frequently not seen to be valued in organisations and organisations need to reinvest in them, from the very top.
Positive relationships at work can be used to challenge entrenched hierarchical models (so for example the mentor approaches a mentoring relationship as a learner/recipient as well). Greater fluidity in the relationship enhances communication and learning on both sides, with resulting benefits for the organisation.
Companies must commit at the highest level to act on the learning that flows from what women and minority groups tell them. Even small steps initially are crucial to build the trust for long-term progress and lasting change.
This is only a brief background summary of my practice. Please contact me if you would like to discuss things in more detail.