It’s Time to Stand Up for the ‘F’ Word
Posted by: Nicky Garcea, as part of Capp’s Female Leaders Month (June 2012)
My grandmother, Joy, is 89. She is a fierce advocate of women voting; she also believes you should never tell your husband who you voted for. She remembers the suffragettes, she remembers women starving and dying for the vote, she is not afraid to call herself a feminist.
Today, things have come a long way from the early years of what my grandmother remembers. Personally, it wasn’t until I took my first consulting role that I started to notice that there were fewer women in the organisations I visited. One Sunday evening in the business class lounge at Charles de Gaulle it dawned on me, ‘I am the only woman, other than air stewardess, boarding this flight’.
I can’t accept any more that things are the same for women in business as they are for men. I am committed to shamelessly supporting and nurturing female talent. The following blog, published in Training Journal, asks whether it is time for more of us to stand up for the ‘F’ word.
When Annie Lennox addressed business leaders on the centenary of international women day on 8 March 2011, she asked all the feminists to stand. The room’s response was stillness, few women stood and supported ‘feminism’. Despite the support for feminism growing internationally at a political level, it is something which UK female business leaders seek to disassociate themselves from.
Frequently, women are apprehensive when offered female specific development, reluctant at the thought of attending a programme that might label them as ‘different’ or that would single them out. So there is a growing tension in organisations between wanting to develop women and support their progression, while at the same time not doing it in a way that is overtly ‘feminine’ or ‘feminist’.
The danger of not developing emerging female talent is that nothing will change and the workforce will not evolve. In Karren Brady’s autobiography Strong Woman, Brady references how on International Women’s Day each year, she attends an event hosted at Downing Street and typically she sees the same faces year on year.
This happens in business, and is something we see time and time again. In Capp’s Female Leaders Programme, we have a ‘Learn from the Leader’ speaker slot, and in most organisations where this is run, there are only one or two senior females who can fill this slot!
So what can we do? How can we change this?
Firstly, I think we have to know the facts. Male employees are still leading the way in personal development and career progression, while little support is given to younger women to advance the career ladder. Despite more women graduating with MBA’s, far fewer actually make it into work. And, with many companies and public sector organisations currently re-organising, it is the female talent pipeline being hit the hardest.
In difficult economic times, budgets to support female talent development are either non-existent or are being significantly squeezed, but this shouldn’t be a business’ excuse for doing nothing. A combination of well-informed leaders and managers and strengths-based self-support for emerging female leaders can be a successful development fusion.
In our view, three groups of people can champion female talent development:
Specifically set out to sponsor the development of several of the emerging female leaders in your organisation. Be aware of the women around you that would benefit from your mentorship or sponsorship. Let them know why you will sponsor them and what they can expect from you.
Recent research by Harvard University found that women consistently seek out mentors and sponsors of less power and status than their male colleagues, instantly limiting their access to the most senior individuals in an organisation. So the more senior you are, the lower you might consider reaching down into your talent pipeline; it will have the longest sustainable impact.
Be aware that women will typically behave differently than their male colleagues when it comes to approaching their development. Research conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management on senior leaders, found that half of women surveyed experienced feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31 per cent of men reported the same. The research also revealed that women tend not to put themselves forward for promotion: 20 per cent of men said they would apply for a role despite only partially meeting its job description, compared to only 14 per cent of women. Couple this with studies from Aston University which highlight that women are more apologetic in meetings and that managers have a critical role to play in developing women’s confidence and offering regular feedback on influencing styles and profile.
Know your strengths and power.
Early in our careers we often can get bogged down ‘gap filling’, focusing on weaknesses. Although critical areas for development shouldn’t be ignored, this shouldn’t be to the detriment of excelling the development of strengths.
Be aware that investing in developing your strengths will impact your confidence, self-esteem and capacity to achieve your goals. Similarly, studies have also shown that when women understand their different power bases, they are better able to use them than their male colleagues.
This ultimately will mean that although business is more competitive, strengths and power base development offer you a winning combination for success.