More women leaders? Get real women to the top.

At a time when women outnumber men at university in most Western countries, I think it’s safe to say that lack of intelligence cannot be the reason why women still are lagging behind when it comes to occupying decision-making positions. Similarly, it’s been known for at least 30 years that more women at the top make for better results in business.

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Gender quota are set. Millions, if not billions are spent on diversity and inclusion programs. And yet, so little changes. How come?
Barbara Annis of Gender Intelligence Group and Richard Nesbitt of Global Risk Institute have an interesting suggestion. In their book Results at the Top (2017), they ask: ”What if programs designed for the promotion of diversity and the advancement of women into management positions were […] never designed to achieve stated goals, but only to give a good feeling of having done something?”
It is no secret that in some male dominated fields there is little enthusiasm to let women into the privileged circle. So yes, they probably only pretend to invite women in. But report after report finds also that women do not raise their hands in great numbers for the top jobs that are advertised.
Both phenomena are two sides of one coin. It’s all about differences.
Wherever men are in the majority, whether it’s a boardroom or a football team, women are perceived to be too different to fit in. Even if there is the token woman around the table, her input is often disregarded, write Annis and Nesbitt.
MacKinsey found that only if there are at least three women on a board of 10 are they no longer seen as the outsider, and are they able to bring in a new dynamic. The female approach leads to palpable change, like out-performance in return on equity, operating results and stock price growth. More women in top management leads to better customer satisfaction and sales, because, don’t forget: 70% of household purchases are made by women. Universally, however, people are reluctant to adopt change. Board rooms or executive teams are no exception.
And what about the women not coming forward? Is that fear of change as well?
Many women are discouraged from climbing the ladder because they feel incompatible with the model of a successful manager as described by their company. To me, this means that we’re still trying to turn women into pseudo-men. Not much has changed in that sense from a decade ago. Back then MacKinsey found that the male ”anytime, anywhere performance model”, which requires total commitment, availability and mobility, is incompatible with what the agency called women’s ”double-burden-syndrome”. That is the combination of work and domestic responsibilities like maternity, child-rearing, organising family life, cooking, care of the elderly and more.

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I would like to point out that taking care of these issues, or rather, people, is not a syndrome, but what makes our society liveable. Men often don’t want to do it, but women are ready to, and usually care about it too. If companies are serious about getting women on board they’d better take into account that these ”double-burden-things” need to be done and are important. So yes, that requires radical change in the way (top) jobs are defined, and in the common mindset.
This will already do a lot to boost women’s inner confidence and self-esteem, so they no longer hold back, but go for their potential. But, I can’t repeat it enough, something also has to change in the way women perceive themselves. Women need to let go of their reluctance to being proud of themselves, taking credit for their achievements and making themselves visible. Women need to take their rightful place, rather than wait until they’re given it.

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