International Women’s Day (IWD) started in the early 1900’s, and has grown to become a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The original aim – to achieve full gender equality for women across the world – has still not been realised. The World Economic Forum predicts it will take another 170 years for the gender gap to close entirely. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is worse than that of men.
Last year, organisations and individuals around the world supported the #PledgeForParity campaign and committed to help women and girls achieve their ambitions. This year we are being asked to #BeBoldForChange by taking ground-breaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women.
So when we recently developed a leadership development programme and were asked by the organisation to include a specific workshop and coaching element for their female executives, we boldly said ‘no’.
Improving gender diversity is a top ten priority for many organisations due to the growing awareness that having more women in leadership positions is linked to better financial performance. Female specific leadership development programmes and female executive coaching are often provided to support women to navigate the glass labyrinth of female leadership.
Creating women-friendly or people-friendly organisations?
But rather than just providing women with gender-specific leadership coaching to enable diversity in the workplace, we believe we should in fact focus on how to create working conditions that are beneficial for both genders – people-friendly organisations that harness each gender’s and individual’s strengths by contributing to the creation of enabling environments.
Would it not be better to shift the focus from the binary distinction of male versus female and redirect our attention to individuals, taking into account their personal strengths, weaknesses, desires, and preferences? Instead of trying to accommodate women into male-oriented organisational structures, however extensively modified, perhaps we should instead build organisations that are universally people-friendly and in which each individual can be his or her best. Surely such organisations would be more likely to foster gender parity and develop into thriving organisations as different strengths and perspectives can be drawn on?
The conscious and unconscious processes that influence organisational cultures
If we focus solely on equal opportunity measures in the workplace, we might be addressing only the symptoms rather than the underlying causes of the gender divide. It should be relatively easy to redress a structural imbalance within an organisation notionally by decreeing that there be equal opportunities for both sexes (pay, promotion, leadership development opportunities, and so on). But it is far more difficult to establish a culture within the organisation that is sufficiently gender-blind (i.e. no existence of second generation bias, equal networking opportunities, equal sponsoring) to ensure that such opportunities really are available to all equally.
Creating the organisation of the future
Clearly, people-friendly organisations do not spring up overnight. Organisations may have to go through a number of stages before reaching this goal. However, many societies are seeing a trend toward more people-friendly workplaces. In today’s working environment the command/control model should no longer be the automatic default structure. Competition for talent coupled with the power of the internet means that individuals now enter the marketplace feeling more at home in organisations characterised by interaction, information and innovation. They prefer flatter, networked organisations over hierarchy—exactly the type of organisation where women feel more at ease.
In encouraging current and future leaders to pursue organisational cultures that accept a multitude of approaches to leadership practices, leadership development has an important role to play. Therefore, our pledge on International Women’s Day to #BeBoldForChange is to continue to coach and develop people-friendly organisations, ensuring our clients send an equal number of men and women on leadership development programmes, rather than designing specific sessions just for female executives.
Want to know more?
Oriane Kets de Vries, Managing Director of KDVI will be speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival, which takes place in Oxford on Saturday 1st April 2017 at 18:00 in the Oxford Martin School lecture theatre. The topic is: Too Feminine or Not Feminine Enough? How Authenticity can Get Women to the Top
‘Coach and Couch’ by Manfred Kets de Vries, for a detailed account on coaching practices to support female executives and on creating people-friendly organisations.
Caroline Rook, KDVI Research Lab, 2017