Fear, Accountability and More Women in the Board Room.

The latest CMI report on pay equality between the sexes is now out and although there is a very small change from the results compiled last year, there is still a huge gulf between what male and female managers are paid to do the same job across all business sectors. http://www.managers.org.uk/news/female-junior-execs-break-down-gender-pay-barrier

The findings do indicate that change is on its way though, through the decisions made at lower levels, but it will still be a very long time before real equality is achieved.  Like many women today, I feel that the quickest way is for more women to branch out into business on their own.  As I have said before current corporate organisations will lose out if they do not realise what they are missing out on, and that the inequality brought about by lack of change or failure to change causes damage to our economy and society as a whole.

Another cautionary note I have to share however is that of just putting a female at the head of an organisation in an effort to show that ‘we are an equality conscious organisation’ can be a doomed move.   This has been done by a few organisations with disastrous results, which have been detrimental for the organisations, its staff and members and to the whole cause and discussion on equality in the board room.  This results in creating a feeling of fear in those who make such decisions and reinforces their belief that women are not suited to the boardroom.

Tokenism is a very lazy approach and is lazy thinking.  Organisations should take a long term developmental approach to the employment, positioning and development of all of their employees, including those on the board or at the head.  All management teams have a responsibility for all of their staff and if staff fail, it can be as much the cause the organisation as that of the individual.  Without clear guidance any individual, male or female, left to their devises is bound to lose their way.  In those organisations that succeed you will find that they ensure both support and accountability. It is my experience and belief that the higher an individual goes within an organisation the great is their need for support, coaching and to be held accountable.

A well known quote by Lord John Dalberg-Acton, in his letter to Mary Gladstone (24 April 1881)  states

Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

The main issue for women is that they are different from men and most senior roles are given to men by men; men naturally are more comfortable with the company of other men; therefore women who behave like men are more likely to get the job.  However, if this is the case, then women who behalf like men bring no new perspective to the table than that of another man.  When this strategy is used, as it is in too many cases and the appointment fails (this approach fails) then all women are tarnished and the resistance to bringing capable ‘female-women’ to top level jobs continues.

So how can we counteract this cycle of failure and frustration?

  1. It is important that organisations develop and plan an overall strategy for the management of all of their staff members and hold themselves and the individual staff member, female or male, whatever their position within the organisation accountable. We all are accountable to someone else in our roles, whether they are our clients and customers, our trustees, or other stakeholders. Management and leadership with openness and accountability will not only provide support for the individuals responsible to carry out their roles and responsibilities on behalf of the organisation, but can also provide opportunities to hear and receive ideas and input and a means of collective leadership when required; an environment within which everyone is given a voice which has equal value.
  2. For those organisations in which the predominant ‘male in charge’ structure and culture exists; I believe mainly due to the feelings of uneasiness experienced by having strong female-women around; I would suggest creating groups and project teams made of both genders, but of women who have an opinion as well as being skilled, knowledgeable and experience. In this environment, where information, ideas, are shared, both will learn to work together and in doing so acquire the skills needed to work together at higher levels.  But more importantly, in this environment everyone should become and be treated as at the same level. Each is heard and given the opportunity to voice their view and where a good suggestion is made and proves successful, it is traced back to its original sources and that person male or female credited.
  3. Opportunities should be created where those who do not hold superior positions within the organisation are encourage to lead, chair and take charge, and who are supported by a mentor or coach who is outside of this group and at a senior level of authority within the organisation themselves.
  4. CEO, Directors and other senior post holders should see themselves as having responsibility to nurture and develop the next generation of female and male managers. This should not be optional. Each senior manager should be responsible to mentor at least two individuals, one female and one male. Their mentoring skills and success should also be measured.

Surely the result of changing our approach will work for the benefit of both male and female staff at all levels within our organisations.  This will create better development of all of our staff and prepare our organisations to better face the challenges of the future, with the best that both genders have to five.  Our organisations should be places where people are developed, learn how to communicate directly with people in senior roles and are given the power of having their voice heard.

This in my view will provide a more equal forum for male and female managers at all levels who will in turn become more accustomed to their approaches and their true differences.  Difference is good and beneficial for all of us. It is not something to be afraid of but to embrace in all of our lives.  Difference brings creativity, innovation, improvement and change.

Until equality in its true sense is given a real and honest place within the structure, management and leadership of our organisations and businesses, the decisions made with regard to who is given a seat at boardroom and senior management levels, will continue to those based on fear, inappropriate needs for safety and personal comfort instead of what is necessary in order to achieve what is right and necessary to create greater achievements in flexible, innovative, creative and success; making our organisations the best places within which to work.


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