Eye of the Elephant -- Part II

Co-authored by Sheila Repeta

In our last post, we explored the gap in leadership between men and women in both the government and businesses here in the U.S. In order for organizations to tackle this issue, we suggested that organizations explore their People Dimension: environment, culture, development, and rewards. While we addressed environment previously, today we will look at culture, development and rewards.

Culture is the talk of your organization and how people within your organization walk said talk. It goes beyond the stated mission, vision and values and extends into the informal ways work gets done. It includes what is or is not said during and after meetings. It is the conversations by the water cooler. It is the informal communication channels used throughout the day. It is the accepted norms of behavior.

In many organizations (including our government) - the "old boy's club" mentality still exists. In order to rise to the top, women frequently shed their own modus operandi to get work done, and behave in a way that is similar to their male counterparts. This approach leads the leadership culture in both American organizations and the government to be very masculine (characterized by independence, power, control, self-sufficiency).

Stories and anecdotes are abundant - women who play "like men" can be successful and rise to the top. These women are often portrayed as playing tough, playing rough, and are often described as "ball busters". They are the few who trickle through the supposed cracked ceiling. This conforming to the masculine culture by a very few number of women does not lead to cultural change.

The underlying cultural message is clear - women who conform to masculine cultures can be successful - but at what cost? Forbes recently tackled this issue and reported that organizations with a balance of women and men in leadership perform better on both qualitative and financial measures. The Forbes argument (which we happen to agree with) is leadership teams with a balanced level of men and women in their numbers are inclusive, and inclusivity is indicative of engagement. Forbes explains: "a culture that values and leverages feminine as well as masculine approaches will have higher engagement and retention of women- resulting in and sustaining gender diversity at upper levels."

Why? The argument goes - inclusive cultures get better results because they have better engagement. Organizations that build a culture where women can thrive approach their leadership styles and cultures in a way that recognize, appreciate and integrate both masculine and feminine leadership styles. It appears that successful organizations are merely not creating a culture of neutrality, but one of equality in terms of embracing both masculine and feminine leadership styles.

Even seemingly simple rules and policies can add to a culture that inhibits women from growth opportunities. Recently it was reported that a number of Congressional offices have policies prohibiting a female employee from meeting with their male supervisors in any one-on-one capacity (meetings, events, etc.). While this policy may protect male superiors from unwanted stories in the rumor mill, female employees have reported being put at a disadvantage in getting critical information needed to do their jobs and limiting their potential in job promotions due to a lack of visibility.

In the People Dimension framework, development is considered where employees end up in the future. It considers not just bringing in great talent, but ensuring that there is ample growth opportunity, training, and a vision of the future with access to said future to engage people to stay committed to the organization.

Looking at the leading top female CEO's in the US, a picture emerges of the development pipeline some organizations have taken in order to secure strong women leaders. In the list of women CEO's for Fortune 500 companies (updated April 2015), there were 23. Of those 23, nearly 60% were developed internally (meaning they spent at least 10 years in their current organization being developed and/or groomed for the CEO role). These organizations made a concerted effort to grow these women leaders rather than draw them in from other organizations. What does it mean to develop women for leadership? In a dichotomous world where men still control the ultimate leadership positions and decisions, organizations need to consider how to accommodate career paths for women.

According to the April 2015 Bureau of Labor Statics report, 70% of women who are either actively working or looking to work have children under the age of 18. While the landscape is shifting to a more gender-neutral responsibility for managing children and their care, women are still heavily responsible for this. According to a 2013 Pew Research study, in dual-income families, women are spending nearly double the hours doing non-paid work care for the family and home, and spending 25% less time at work. Spending fewer hours working or at the office further compounds the challenge of women finding time to spend on development.

Does your organization carve out intentional time to develop women in the workplace? Are development opportunities built into organizational and personal goals in your performance management and strategic workforce planning efforts? Organizations need to offer ample training and skill for competency development for women in the workplace. Leveraging programs such as mentoring or coaching for high potential women leaders and building them as performance goals to be achieved, rather than a luxury to be experienced, will better connect women leaders to development opportunities.

Rewards are the WIIFM ("what's in it for me") for employees. Rewards start with basic compensation and extend to the benefits offered to employees. As a starting point, a discrepancy in pay has existed between men and women and has been documented for a very long time. According to a recent White House study, the gap in compensation gets worse the higher the level of education that is achieved, and the gap expands at higher levels of compensation.

Overall, research shows that female CEO's make approximately 13% less than their male counterparts. Many Fortune 500 companies have gotten savvy to this discrepancy and have shifted pay practices to actually pay their female CEO's more than their male counterparts in order to retain them. A USA Today report with a majority of Standard & Poor's 500 women CEO's reporting their average compensation was around $18.8 million. This exceeded the average $12.7 million salary paid to the remaining male executives for the same 2014 reporting period. These organizations have opted to pay a premium to retain their female leaders and demonstrate their value quite literally.

Other organizations are currently taking an approach to change policies to neutralize the reasons wage gaps exist. Some studies have indicated that the remaining wage gap occurs due to women being unwilling or uncomfortable to negotiate their salary. In fact, NPR recently reported on a study that showed that men are four times more likely to negotiate their pay. The same research also found that women who did negotiate their salaries received negative reactions.

To combat this cycle, some companies have gone as far as establishing policies to eliminate it. Reddit recently received significant scrutiny for their new policy to eliminate salary negotiations to try and limit the discrepancy that comes from salary negotiations. Others organizations are relying on salary transparency to help level the negotiating playing field so all new hires or those being promoted have access to the information and can make informed negotiations.

While some organizations may not want to be as progressive in salary negotiations and transparency, there are other opportunities within the realm of rewards to help encourage women in leadership. Organizations can take a close look at the other benefits offered to women in the workplace. For example, data shows that women are somewhat limited or constrained in their careers by childcare. A recent study indicates that about one-third of parents would turn down a higher paying job or give up a pay raise in return for reliable childcare. Nearly a quarter would give up a health benefit and about 45% of working parents would give up a week of paid vacation for dependable childcare.

It is time for organizations to look at the array of benefits offered and consider how adjusting their offering to be tailored towards the needs of women in the workplace could help with retention and development of women leaders. Other areas to consider: flexible work environments and/or hours, on-site childcare, sick childcare options, phase-back hours for care after caring for a loved one (child, aging parent, etc.), etc. Offering benefits that help bridge the challenges for women leaders will help open up the pipeline to the top.

Without a presence and a seat at the table, women lack a voice. It's a vicious cycle that has existed for far too long. While change has taken place, and will continue to do so over time, organizations can leverage their People Dimension practices to open up the pipeline for women to develop the skills, knowledge, and gain experience needed to not just lead, but to lead excellently. The benefits of a diverse, well-represented leadership team will transform the landscape how business is done and how this country is run.

Jim Finkelstein is the President and CEO of FutureSense, Inc. Jim is a student of people and is constantly searching for ways to help understand their uniqueness. He has dedicated his career to helping organizations improve their effectiveness through strategy and execution of simple and proven solutions. He believes in getting stuff done.www.futuresense.com. Jim is the author of Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace (Greenleaf Book Group, 2011). He is an Adjunct Faculty member at Sonoma State University in their Executive MBA program. You can follow him on Twitter @futuresense

Sheila Repeta is a Senior Consultant at FutureSense, Inc. Sheila joined FutureSense in January of 2011. She earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Communication from the University of Illinois. She has worked with several Fortune 500 companies working in HR and Training and Development. In addition to that work, she has taught communication and organizational development in various colleges and universities for nearly 10 years. Helping organizations align their business strategy with their people and processes, spending time with her 3 sons, and running melts her butter every day.