In the McKinsey Quarterly published this week, I was impressed by an article entitled The Global Gender Agenda. I couldn't resist a letter to the editor, as I felt we need to vamp up the discussion of diversity in relation to women at the top.
The authors encourage committed leaders to take on four priorities:1. Treat gender diversity like any other strategic business initiative, with a goal and a plan that your company monitors and follows up at the highest levels over many years.
2. Ask for—and talk about—the data, sliced and diced to identify ‘pain points’ in the pipeline by business, geography, and function.
3. Establish a culture of sponsorship, encouraging each top executive to sponsor two to three future leaders, including women.
4. Raise awareness of what a diverse work environment looks like, celebrating successes to reinforce the mind-set shifts you desire.
I would like to include diverse diversity in the conversation. Diversity looks at difference, how we are all somehow oddballs, even those of us that the others think are ‘the norm’. We are all men, or women, sometimes in bodies that match our gender, sometimes not. But we are more than that. We are richly layered personalities and each of us is good at something irrespective of the visible outer casing we come with.
So far, the discussion on gender in business has concentrated on women being given the space to grow and develop. The four excellent tips in this article similarly look at how to promote a greater possibility of women at the top through promoting women in the pipeline. There is nothing wrong with this. However, one major behavior remains unaddressed: the culture of standing aside is not being developed.
A culture of standing aside would seem counter-productive to a business seeking success. If there are people who ‘naturally’ rise, why would a company go out of its way to invite them to stand aside and give their place to someone equally valuable to the organization and with a different style, different skill sets? It doesn’t make sense, right. And it doesn’t make sense all down the line. It doesn’t make sense for the parents of naturally inquisitive and expressive little boys who recklessly experiment and who seem set for surviving in life, to say “Now, dear, why don’t you stop bashing up that box and give it to the little girl so she can make a bed for her dolly”. At school, where teachers are committed to providing kids of all sorts with a great education, we will be hard pressed to see a teacher teach boys to stand aside and give girls the space to develop a different style of leadership. Yet what will make a difference in future boardrooms is developing a culture of respect, and giving space, to diversity in the classroom.
Without a culture of standing aside we will get more, lots more, of the traditional male approach and we will continue to struggle to include otherness in our business culture.
This is where diversity training becomes a tool in gender mainstreaming. Where gender mainstreaming as a concept is based on human rights principles, diversity management is based on noticing that difference is what is missing, and difference makes the difference. Competitive advantage is never based on everyone having the same product based on the same knowledge and the same capacities in staff. Competitive advantage, as Porter (1980) argued, is based on uniqueness. Bringing companies to the next level will depend on harnessing diversity. With that, our communities will have to learn to value the differences in girls and boys and make sure that boys and girls learn to give each other space in the classroom.
At the core of Lin McDevitt-Pugh's work is a passion for freedom, exploration and respect for all people. Lin is the Director of NETSHEILA, a company she founded three years ago to provide management expertise in connecting organisations to the most valuable resource they have: the people they know or could know.