In the past few weeks I have attended over 15 women's leadership events and witnessed over 5,000 leaders (women and a few brave men) talking collectively about how to advance women. Big name companies such as The Coca-Cola Company and Walmart at the Network of Executive Women Leadership Summit, GM at Power: Opening Doors for Women -Detroit and Diageo, National Life Group and Amdocs at private corporate sessions. I have even keynoted at Women in Titanium, (yes this group exists and they are amazing). I have talked to countless CEO's, senior leaders and middle managers.
The burning question is specifically, "what do organizations need to do today to recruit, develop, retain and advance women?" This is no longer a conceptual conversation. These companies and their leaders understand the compelling business case and now at progressive companies the conversation is changing to taking action.
To win with women in the marketplace and workplace takes four simple, but very hard actions. To advance women organizations must:
- Have the Will to Change
These first three actions come from the Male Champions of Change, 15 Male CEO's in Australia who have outlined exactly what men (i.e. still 85% of senior leaders) need to do to drive long-term systemic change for women in their organizations.
The fourth action is my own epiphany and comes from a series of dialogues with senior leaders from a host of companies. The will to change is the single most daunting task for organizations...and the one most organizations are not prepared to do. These four actions are best executed in a sequential manner to drive truly meaningful change. Over the course of this blog series I will explore these action steps.
Genuinely listening to employee issues and concerns is challenging today. Relentless deadlines, constant e-mails and endless meetings are absolutely strangling productivity and engagement. But one thing I have learned that is never talked about in most companies is this,
Men and women are having significantly different experiences in the workplace.
Both genders are working hard, but women are working significantly harder as they are constantly having to deal with being 'one of a few' in the room. This came out loud and clear at the Diversity Women's Business Leadership Conference. Women (and minorities) are always counting. This happens when you are the only one (or two in the room). This is something that rarely experienced by men. Typically in leadership meetings we are always the majority, and as such, we make the rules.
Counting is not intentional by women and minorities, it's just a by-product of always being the fewest in number and knowing you think, act and look different. This is one of the reasons I encourage men to attend women's leadership conferences. My male colleagues always look like a deer in headlights as they walk into a room of 900 women. For many this is the first time they have not been in the majority and it is eye opening. Nothing convinces male senior leader quicker than an immersion activity. When I ask they if they are a little uncomfortable and they answer yes, I always add, "That's how women and minorities feel everyday". They get it immediately. And then they want to know more.
That's when I encourage them to engage a trusted female colleague to have an honest conversation regarding their experiences in the workplace and your company specifically. If you don't believe men and women are having different experiences in the workplace do this one simple exercise. Take a woman you know and trust to lunch and ask one simple question
Do you believe men and women are having different experiences at the company?
Then be quiet and genuinely listen. Don't interrupt, don't be defensive or justify company policies, just shut-up and listen. After ten minutes, ask a second time
What else don't I know?
Genuinely listen intently for another ten minutes and ask a third (and final) time
And what else?
In that last 10 minutes you will hear root cause issues that you have never heard or imagined existed in your company. Differences that women (and other minorities) are experiencing every day. These factors have a direct correlation to work, performance, retention and advancement.
Once you Listen and have heard about the root cause issues you can start to take corrective action. This is the Learning action step and will explored further in Part 2.
Jeffery Tobias Halter is the country's leading male expert on advancing women and engaging men. He is the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women's leadership issues. Jeffery is a TEDx speaker, Huffington Post Blogger and the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women. Keep in touch @YWomen.
Image credit: Bigstock - andres