“I don’t care if my boss is a man or a woman … What I do care about is how inclusive they are”. Says Richard Chapman-Harris of Race for Opportunity in the Guardian yesterday. I don’t care either . I also agree that a dynamic leader is the name of the game: but a fair one but most importantly an insightful and interventionist one too. And of course he is right that we should not judge people on their biological characteristics… but unfortunately, that is where we are today in 2013 and something has to be done now, If a senior team is over 70 or 80% male or more then it seems to me that someone has selected on characteristics which fundamentally, although possibly not consciously, based on biological characteristics.
It all goes back way further doesn’t it? As far as when a graduate, second jobber or apprentice starts a job and after six months or so the men may be given higher profile roles, a chance to ‘shine’ because they have pushed for the roles. The women stay in more supportive roles, because possibly the women have hesitated, taking time to think through their own skills match with the job. The male dominated business world, unused to female thoughtfulness, gives the opportunity to the ‘brightest’ and first off the starting block and the chance is gone.
Well, the argument goes, women make choices not to push themselves forward, so have to live with that choice. Also, so it is said, if people don’t push themselves forward then obviously they haven’t got what it takes anyway. So business, so cultural. But culturally speaking in the UK, it may well be that women need reassurance that it is OK to push and to develop that thick skin and self assurance which you need in most business arenas. Otherwise we often (but not always) see that men push forward and the women prefer a less high profile trajectory.
If a leader is inclusive then he or she will spot that and be activist and interventionist. She or he will ensure that the confidence of the women on the team is built…but you don’t do that by ignoring them or taking the advice of HR who tell you to send them on a confidence building course. What you do is say: “I believe in you. I know that you have the skills to do this job and I am going to be right behind you. If you need to chat anything through, I am there… now go and do this high profile job”.
I suspect then that a lot of managers will be surprised at the sudden ‘flowering’ of their otherwise less obviously striving staff member and how level the playing starts to appear.