3 ways to transform corporate culture to an inclusive environment

A group of fourteen people with different ethnic backgrounds sitting around a round, white table with different color social networking related icons on its surface. There is a gray and white floor beneath them.

Do you work in or manage an inclusive team?  Do you feel that you can bring your whole self to work and be accepted – even valued – for your individual insights?  Do you feel encouraged to share your views, insights and experiences at meetings?  Are you inspired by your leader and colleagues and encouraged to contribute beyond the job description?

If you answered yes to the above questions, congratulations!  It appears you’re working in an inclusive environment which is making the most of your individual talents and values.  Sadly, most of us probably don’t.

So what? You say.  Why is it so important to create a culture that’s inclusive?

The benefits of an inclusive corporate culture 

Let’s begin by defining the concept.  In my experience, an inclusive corporate culture is an environment that allows each individual to be him or herself, one that not only sees our individuality as our strength but also knows how to leverage it for a more successful and effective team.

It is the kind of environment that encourages every person to offer their freshest and diverse thinking.

Why is this important?  Because, in today’s fast-paced world, in order for companies to remain competitive, they need to harness the collective brainpower of all their people, not just of a small group of top managers.  To do that, leaders must create an environment that respects and values a wide variety of thinking styles, experiences and approaches.

Simply put, in order for a business to successfully leverage the full capacity of its people, it must operate an inclusive culture that encourages and values diverse thinking and contribution.

How do we create an inclusive culture?

There are many ways in which to create a culture that respects and values different opinions, styles of thinking and expression.  Here are three of mine:

  1. Capture the Creativity of Each Team Member

Stephen Covey famously said "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities."   This makes sense.  After all, what can we learn from someone who has the same views, upbringing and experiences as we do?  It may feel more comfortable to have a colleague confirm our decisions, but it doesn’t make that decision better.   Well-considered decisions are those that have been scrutinised from many perspectives.  Understanding what repercussions our decisions might have requires enquiry from every angle.

Start by inviting each person’s freshest thinking in meetings.  One of the ways to do so is to understand in advance what contribution you want from the team and set the agenda for the meeting with this in mind.  What is it that you want the team to accomplish?  Is it to come up with a new strategy?  To discuss the pipeline? To consider the financial results of the team to-date?  Whatever the aim, when setting the agenda, a team leader should ensure it is clear from the agenda what that objective is.

Also, set the agenda in the form of questions.  Framing each agenda item as a question will instantly engage the brain of each participant and signal the message that, not only are they requested to attend but they are also expected to discuss the questions at the meeting.

Inviting each team member to participate as a thinker and contributor will help overcome the customary meetings in which 70% of the talking is done by 30% of the participants, and help set the tone for inclusive meetings and culture.

  1. Learn to Listen

Ben Simonton, the author of Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed said: “Listening is absolutely critical to creating a work environment in which employees will decide on their own to become highly motivated, committed, fully-engaged, and in that kind of condition they’re going to literally love to come to work.”

Listening is about becoming a thinking partner.  A good listener conveys trust and commitment, and shows others that they care about them.  It’s only when we properly listen to individuals that we can tap into what’s driving them and their behaviours.   It’s also when we start noticing things about them that aren’t obvious, like their preferences, fears, external motivators.  Listening enables us to tap into what’s going on beneath the surface and bring out insights that we generally cannot expect to hear or see.

Although it sounds simple, genuine (active) listening takes practice.  Most of us aren’t great listeners – or at least didn’t start out that way.  The good news is that active listening is as much a skill as learning a language, a song or a dance routine.  The more you practice it, the better you get at it – and it’s an absolutely vital skill for any good leader.

  1. Switch on your Unconscious Bias Radar

Let’s face it:  we are all guilty of unconscious bias!  You knew that, right?  And while there is an enormous amount of Unconscious Bias training going on, the first thing we need to understand and accept is that it is perfectly natural and is in fact our brain’s way of protecting us.

Unconscious bias is the brain’s way to group similar facts and experiences and arrive at quick judgments without having to analyse afresh each factual scenario.  It is, in fact, part of learning.  For example:  if, as a child, you are bitten by a dog, chances are you will be avoiding dogs at all costs because your brain will surmise that all dogs bite and remember that you didn’t like that experience.  That’s unconscious bias at work.

Of course, most people who may have had a bad dog experience as children grow out of being afraid of them and in fact learn to love them.  So the good news is that we are able to teach our brain to discern between those dogs that may bite and those that won’t.  In other words, we have taught our brain to challenge our unconscious bias and, as a result, have reaped the benefits of having a loving and loyal pet and friend.

But how do we make that transition from being afraid of dogs who bite to loving them?

This is where the Unconscious Bias Radar comes in handy.  In the example above, it was probably a friend or a parent who helped us switch on our Unconscious Bias Radar.  And we learned to challenge our brain’s rash judgment that all dogs will bite.

When it comes to unconscious bias at work, however, it isn’t quite as simple.  Most of the time, we are unaware of our biases; we don’t tend to know when we judge others unconsciously.  So we must make a conscious effort to switch on our Unconscious Bias Radar and challenge our judgments in those situations when they are not welcome.

So next time you’re discounting someone because they’re dressed differently, ask yourself, does that matter? And if so, how?

Next time you assume that a woman with young children will not be interested in taking up a secondment overseas, ask yourself, am I judging her by my own standards or is there any objective evidence that helped me come to that conclusion?

Next time you meet a man who prefers to spend time with his family rather then hold a lofty corporate title, and you think something is wrong with that, ask yourself, what precisely is wrong with that?

Challenging our own judgment is the first step to overcoming unhelpful unconscious bias.  Switching on our Unconscious Bias Radar will ensure that we utilise our brains’ filters in the most effective way and reap the benefits of our diversity.

Want to learn more about how to create inclusive cultures?  Give me a call and see how we can support you.

And don’t forget to come to our Inclusion Conference: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Contributions on 21 June 2017.  Featuring speakers who are walking the walk, you will meet role models, be inspired by those who have found strength to share their hidden talents and learn how to encourage and nurture extraordinary contributions from colleagues and team members.  Meet the law firm partner who founded Inspiring Women – a mentoring charity with 20,000 female mentors.  Meet the athlete who, having reached the top of her own ambition, is now helping other retired athletes to integrate into ordinary life.  Meet the man who calls himself a feminist and who –as a senior management consultant partner - is using his influence to help professional women get ahead.  You will also meet some extraordinary charities – run by ordinary people – who are changing the world, one person at a time.   Join our speakers, charities and delegates, all of whom are creating and nurturing inclusive corporate cultures.


Bringing your ‘whole self’ to work: good idea or a can of worms?

We’ve all read the data that tells us that the so-called Millennials – those born between the mid-1980s and late 1990s/early 2000’s – are a different breed of people with very different demands from their work life and their career.  One such difference is that Millennials (on average) were raised to believe that who they are matters.  They also tend to stay with their employers for an average of 2 to 3 years, looking for organisations whose values align with their own and where they can contribute while remaining true to their identity.  These people are unlikely to bond with a company logo; they are much more likely to connect with an industry or a company that meets their needs to bring their whole person to work.

Companies who want to retain the workforce of the future will need to adapt to this radical change from ‘business as usual’ and find ways to not only let their employees be individuals but learn to leverage that as a competitive edge.

So what exactly is the current norm? 

Statistics show that many minorities, including women, feel that they cannot be fully themselves at work if they want to fit in.

A corporate culture that forces individuals to conform to one set standard is surely missing a trick!

When we feel that we don’t need to hide a part of who we are, we feel happier at work and, as a result, are more productive and effective.  We contribute with the benefit of our full experience and thinking, with richer ideas, solutions and enlightened innovation.

As Frederic Laloux says in his book  Reinventing Organizations:  “We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on.”

How can companies encourage a culture that invites the whole person to work?

Of course, it’s not easy to go from a culture that requires conformity to one that respects and values individuals.  Role-modelling an environment in which we can feel comfortable to be who we are is difficult, but that’s how it needs to start.

Our company leaders need to show us that sharing work life with our families and friends is acceptable; a manager whose office includes photos of his or her children, spouse, dog, etc.  is more likely to come across as a person who puts value on life outside work.

Managers who are gay should openly talk about their partners and make it clear that there is no stigma attached to one’s sexual orientation.

Supervisors of different racial backgrounds should openly talk about the various ethnic cultural traditions and celebrations in which they regularly participate and thereby show us how to appreciate the different backgrounds we all come from.

Senior women should exhibit and promote the additional values, behavioural preferences and soft skill that women tend to enjoy (like empathy, collaboration, transparency) as additional pre-requisites to routinely required technical abilities.

Every role model who allows himself or herself be vulnerable at work, who opens up about his or her life after the working day and who offers kindness to others at work invites us to behave similarly.  Gradually, small shifts in behaviours will have a big impact.

Want to learn more about how to encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work and how to benefit from that as a business?

Come to our Flagship Conference: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Contributions! on 21 June 2017.  Featuring speakers who are walking the walk, you will meet role models, be inspired by those who have found strength to share their hidden talents and learn how to encourage and nurture extraordinary contributions from colleagues and team members.  Meet the law firm partner who founded Inspiring Women – a mentoring charity with 20,000 female mentors.  Meet the athlete who, having reached the top of her own ambition, is now helping other retired athletes to integrate into ordinary life.  Meet the man who calls himself a feminist and who –as a senior management consultant partner - is using his influence to help professional women get ahead.  You will also meet some extraordinary charities – run by ordinary people – who are changing the world, one person at a time.

Join us for this and more!

Celebrating Ordinary People


28856194655-25336498-17I’ve always thought that there’s too much emphasis in the world on highly talented, intelligent and accomplished people.  Sure, it’s important to recognise and revere them – after all, these are the people who keep notching the progress dial forward for all of us.

But I’m also a great believer in the fact that each one of us is capable of incredible things and that we should all be encouraged and celebrated to do more.

Consider the following example:

Meet Sajda Mughal, MBE – a young Muslim woman who turned a dreadful experience into a force of good.  Sajda is a 7/7 attack survivor.  Setting out on an ordinary day at work, Sajda experienced her worst nightmare by being caught on one of the Underground trains at King’s Cross that was subject to the attacks on 7 July 2005.  Having survived and picked up the pieces, Sajda set out to use her experience to change the world.  She leads JAN Trust, a charity that aims to break down barriers to social inclusion for women, providing women from under-represented groups with a voice, combatting violence against women and providing young people the tools they may need to achieve their ambitions.

An ordinary woman who took matters into her own hands and is making a huge difference.

We all have it within us to accomplish extraordinary achievements.  How many people do you know who run marathons, trek to the North Pole, write blogs, bake incredible cakes, sing like an angel or play the piano like Liberace?  Ordinary people with extraordinary talents and achievements.  Imagine if all these people – like you - used these rare skills not only for their own enrichment but to contribute to their communities or professional organisations.  Imagine if companies learned how to tap into these hidden talent morsels and invite each one of us to contribute fully and authentically.  Both the contributors and the companies would benefit.

But how do we do that?  How do we as individuals channel our hidden talents into our professional lives? How do we as leaders empower colleagues to bring out what lingers behind the facade?  How do we nurture and celebrate ordinary people with extraordinary contributions?

Find out on 21 June 2017 at Voice At The Table’s Flagship Conference: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Contributions.  Featuring speakers who are walking the walk, you can be inspired by these role models who have found strength to share their hidden talents. You will learn how to encourage and nurture extraordinary contributions from colleagues and team members.  You will meet the law firm partner who founded Inspiring Women, the athlete who is now helping other retired athletes to integrate into ordinary life.  Find out how the man who calls himself a feminist is using his influence to help professional women get ahead and be moved by some extraordinary charities – run by ordinary people, like Sajda – who are changing the world, one person at a time.

Click here to find out how you can be a part of this movement!


My top 3 positive developments for women that took place in 2016

Reading an article on the Telegraph website about the amazing things that happened this year, I took their poll on whether I thought 2016 was the worst year in recent history.  I wasn’t at all surprised to see that, like me, 73% of those who took the poll thought that yes, 2016 was indeed the worst year in recent history.

So I thought some reflection might be appropriate.  What is it that made the year so bad?  And, more importantly, what are some of the highlights that I’d care to remember?  Having reflected on the many things that happened, here is my list of the top 3 things that progressed gender equality in 2016:

  1. Hillary Clinton was the first woman to win a major political party’s nomination to run for President of the United States. We all know how this contest ended; suffice it to say, Clinton made history not only by running but also by winning the popular vote by at least 2,000,000.
  2. The crackdown has begun on unrealistic beauty standards held up as the norm for women:
    • Award-Winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (famed also for her TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists”) will be the face of Boots’ makeup brand No.7! Who says feminist women can’t wear make-up?
    • Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, took a stand against the fashion industry by pledging to remove all ads from the Underground that pressure people to conform to unhealthy or unrealistic body standards. Finally, some political might wielded in the right direction.
    • A number of big brands such as Victoria Secret and Aerie have suspended their affinity with photoshop, showing models and actresses as they appear in real life instead of video games. Bravo!
    • Celebrities take a stance on fashion norms: Alicia Keys declared she won’t wear make-up on her face (as did Hillary Clinton after the election), and Rihanna took a stand against high heels (so bad for your feet!) by winning this year’s Shoe of the Year award for her collaboration with Puma in designing a fashionable alternative to heels.
  3. Male Gender Diversity Champion and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has impressed us in 2015 by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet and further solidified his status as a feminist when he spoke at a UN conference in March by saying “It’s simply saying that I believe in the equality of men and women and that we still have an awful lot of work to do to get there.” The best part: Trudeau talks the talk AND walks the walk of a feminist.  Case in point: he became a He For She ambassador and launched an inquiry into Canada’s thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women earlier this year.

These are just my top 3, but a short google search will unveil many more ‘greats’ that took place this year, helping restore hope and equilibrium.

What were your personal highlights in 2016?

The top 3 trademarks of an Inclusive Leader

At Voice At The Table, we know that companies with inclusive cultures benefit from the diversity of their workforce.  We also know that a more diverse workforce achieves greater business success.  A key driver of business success, therefore, is having an inclusive culture.

In our view, an inclusive culture is an environment in which every individual feels welcomed and valued.  It is the ideal setting in which to cultivate engagement,  tap into authentic contribution, breed accountability and independent thinking and encourage learning and development.  It is within this type of culture that the benefits of diversity can be fully harnessed and lead to the discovery of new markets and products, introduce innovation in processes across the entire business, attract and retain the talent of the future and develop a distinguished and sustainable competitive edge.  In other words, inclusive cultures encourage diversity of thought and directly contribute to the growth of the business.

In order to create an inclusive environment that leads to the benefits described above, we first need to ‘create’ inclusive leaders that make inclusive cultures within their own teams a reality.

So what are the key ingredients of a leader who values the contribution of each team member, knows how to motivate them, and makes them feel welcome?

Here are our top 3 trademarks of an Inclusive Leader:

  1. Empathy

Empathy is described as the ability to understand another’s feelings as though they were your own.  In other words, it’s the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another.

An empathetic person doesn’t just have the benefit of understanding why others say and do things, he or she will always strive to understand another, especially when their behaviour or statements aren’t obvious.  This is a key attribute for inclusive leadership because understanding the team members’ motivation, background, preferences and behaviour traits allows the team leader to utilise team members to the best of their abilities.  In doing so, the inclusive leader will not only benefit from each member’s strengths, he or she will have the benefit of engaging team members by appealing to their preferences.

Empathetic leaders will also gain the team’s trust by being able to relate to the team and by understanding how to develop and mentor them.

  1. Listening Skills

Listening has been described is one of the most important skills of great leadership.  In an excellent article for Forbes magazine, Mike Myatt expresses as follows what we hold to be true:

Great leaders are great listeners, and therefore my message today is a simple one - talk less and listen more. The best leaders are proactive, strategic, and intuitive listeners. They recognize knowledge and wisdom are not gained by talking, but by listening… The best leaders possess the uncanny ability to understand what is not said, witnessed, or heard. … astute leaders know there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by dominating it…. In this age of instant communication everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind, they fail to realize the value of everything that can be gleaned from the minds of others.

Read the rest of the article here.

In her book Are you listening or just waiting to speak? my good friend, coach and advisor Jane Adshead-Grant points out that hearing and listening are two very different processes.  Hearing what’s being said doesn’t necessarily make a connection with the other person, whereas when one listens, the listener has committed his or her perception to what’s going on with the listener beyond what’s being said.  This is called ‘active listening’ and requires the use of all senses.

In the context of building inclusive cultures, listening is critical.  A leader who listens creates trust and commitment, and shows team members that he or she cares about them. A leader who is an active listener will also read between the lines and hear what’s not being said – a crucial skill for anyone who seeks to influence, motivate and galvanise people into action.

  1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness can be described as the ability to understand who you are, to have a clear perception of your personality - your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Being self-aware allows a better understanding of others, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in the moment.

Becoming self-aware is the first crucial step to developing emotional intelligence, and emotionally intelligent people are not only successful in their own right, they are excellent communicators, leaders, thought leaders and philosophers.  Becoming self-aware allows a person to take charge of their emotions and thoughts and change them.

Self-aware leaders will naturally be more inclusive leaders.  They will be more aware of their innate biases, be more inclined to question their actions, thoughts and feelings, and allow diversity of thought to thrive.  Being self-aware also makes it easier to retain newly-developed skills, such as listening, empathy and others, in times of turbulence or high stress.  It’s during those difficult times that our leadership styles, personalities and preferences are tested and tend to revert to a more ingrained foundation.  Emotional Intelligence can help navigate those tricky waters and sustain a more calm and rational approach.  This, in turn, helps us to remain healthy, balanced and in control of our own emotions.  Naturally, in the context of inclusive leadership, being self-aware and emotionally intelligent helps sustain the trust that we have worked to instil and lead the team calmly through periods of uncertainty, change and challenge.

So, in our view, an inclusive leader will be a master of many more leadership skills and traits, but the above 3 are the cornerstones of any leader who wants to create a culture that benefits from the valuable contribution of each person in his or her team.  At Voice At The Table we understand not only the significance of this culture for the success and growth of a business, but we are also equipped to help leaders and their teams to attain an inclusive environment in which every person thrives and, as a result, delivers their best.

If you’d like to learn more about how we do this, please email us.

A matter of TRUST

trust-the-park-bench-1511643-1600x1200Recently, I have been given reason to ponder over the concept of TRUST.  If the recent election results in America showed us one thing it’s that TRUST is elusive.  Somehow, Hillary Clinton never managed to build the TRUST she needed to win the election, and paradoxically, a man who by all accounts shouldn’t have managed to do it, did.  Or so it would seem given that half (or so) of all Americans TRUST Donald Trump with their Presidency.

According to some neuroscientific research, TRUST is centred in our rational brain (the prefrontal cortex), whereas distrust resides in the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala and limbic areas).  Might this explain why Hillary Clinton had such a hard time getting buy-in from so many people? They all seemed to react to her on an emotional level given that, on a more rational level the dislike that she built up around her didn’t make sense, especially as compared to her rival.

Regardless of your views of the election results (personally, I’m dismayed!), it does beg the question: what is it about TRUST that works for some and doesn’t for others?  And how do leaders establish TRUST?

Robert Solomon and Fernando Flores, authors of ‘Building Trust’, offer this definition of TRUST:

Although trust often seems invisible (transparent, simply taken for granted), it is the result of continuous attentiveness and activity.  Trust, once established, easily recedes into the background, into a familiar and therefore barely conscious set of habits and practices.  But trust should not be confused with its background status.  Trust often becomes visible only when it has been challenged or violated.

In other words, building TRUST is one thing, but keeping it as quite another.

Looking at the old fashioned leadership model (and current leadership style in too many organisations still today), TRUST was established through a parent-child leadership style (sometimes also referred to as ‘command and control’): leaders were looked upon as parents and their followers as children.  In its purest form, this type of leadership style was characterised by a lack of transparency of decisions, which were often made at board level, with very little consultation or a chance to second-guess them beyond the decision-making body. It was also characterised by a culture where information flowed from top to bottom, respect commanded by titles and salary and mistakes rarely tolerated.  Typical industries in which a form of this leadership continues to exist are finance, law, accountancy and management consulting.  Leaders in these environments expect to attract respect and TRUST simply by virtue of their levels of seniority.  But even if that works to attract TRUST, can they keep it?

It seems, nowadays, this model of leadership is no longer adequate.  I, for one, cannot TRUST someone simply because they occupy a certain space and command a lofty title.  To me, a leader must do much more than that to earn my trust.  They must be open and transparent about their aims and ambitions.  I want to understand their own commitment and dedication to the cause they’re leading.  I want to see their human side, to trust that they can admit their own mistakes and learn from them.  I want a leader to care about me, to listen to me and respect me as an equal.  I want them not to be afraid to show their vulnerability and not to take themselves too seriously.  It’s only then that I will be able to trust them to make decisions on my behalf and trust that these decisions have been carefully thought through and believe that, if I had all the information to make that decision myself, I would reach the same or similar conclusion.

So the old-fashioned style of leadership no longer works for me.  And, in fact, it no longer works for most, particularly those who are responsible for our future.  Partly, that’s because the world is very different now.  Tech advances and faster information flow dramatically change how business gets done in virtually every sector of the economy.  This means great companies—and great leaders—must adapt and change in unprecedented ways.   We now live in an open, social and interdependent economy in which no company or leader can win alone.  This then dictates a different way in which leaders establish TRUST.  TRUST is built by continuously engaging with customers, employees and communities; by demonstrating personal involvement and commitment with the organisation and its purpose; and by successfully mentoring a new generation of workers with very different expectations, personal and organizational goals, and engagement levels.

Does this model of leadership – of building TRUST – resonate with you?  How many of today’s leaders stand up to this style of leadership? I can name a few, mainly business leaders, like Richard Branson, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Beth Comstock, the chief marketing officer of General Electric to name but a few.  These and many others are leaders of the future and they know all about building trust by being inclusive and collaborative.  Shouldn’t we hold our political leaders to the same standard of leadership and TRUST?  Shouldn’t each one of us try to live up to it?

So next time you’re asking someone to TRUST you, think about what it takes for them to do so.  Take a page from a book of the great leaders of tomorrow – those you respect – and ask yourself, what is it that makes you trust them?  Do they expect to be trusted because they occupy a space that deserves your trust or have they said or done anything that has earned your trust in them?  And, more importantly, can you replicate that in your own behaviour?

Guest Blog: Why mentoring junior lawyers is critical!

Written by Kristin Konschnik, Partner at Withers

27164902956-23356478-2A few years ago, as part of some executive coaching sessions, I took several 'personality' and 'leadership style' tests. The leadership style test was a '360 assessment', so some of my colleagues at different career levels answered the same questions as I did about my leadership styles (or lack thereof!) I don't put much stock in tests like this other than as to general principles but the results were interesting. While I saw myself primarily as 'directive' (ie, I tell people how to accomplish tasks) my colleagues thought very differently - in their view, 'coaching' (or teaching) was my primary leadership style.

Leaving aside how closely these tests correlate to reality, sharing what I've learned and my experience - technical, professional and personal - is extremely important to me. While this is obviously important for everyone, I think it is particularly important for successful women lawyers to understand and accept their responsibility to act as role models, mentors, sponsors and friends to more junior women.

When I started practicing many years ago, I was extremely lucky to work directly with a very successful woman partner. She was whip-smart, trained and practiced at several of the largest city law firms, and was a single mother with two sons. She was also the best teacher I've had in my legal career; she taught me many things that I now teach associates today. Most importantly, she clearly valued teaching - and I hope that value is also the most important thing I teach associates.

Beginning your legal career is challenging in so many ways. Often, it's your first real 'office' job; law school doesn't prepare you to actually practice law; you're quickly faced with competing (and frequently immediate) deadlines; everyone appears to be talking in a foreign language; and more senior lawyers are frequently 'too busy' to explain much of anything.

Although women have formed at least 50% of new intakes at large law firms for a number of years, many of them 'disappear' before reaching senior levels. While there are many reasons for this 'attrition', a large part of retaining the next generation of women lawyers depends on excellent, invested, interested women at (even slightly) more senior levels who are committed to teaching.

Why do I feel so strongly about gender diversity?

a balanced approach

Let's face it: nowadays, the uttering of the words Gender Diversity tends to evoke more negative than positive reactions, from both men and women.  Both view it as potentially divisive, threatening, even unnecessary.  Yet I can't help but continue to feel that it's the right path to pursue for any woman, man and company that wants more from this world.

So why the negative reaction?  ‘Gender’ is not specific to women.  The very term defines both the male and the female, so how can a term so inclusive be seen to be so divisive?

And what do we mean by ‘gender diversity’?  Well, it’s not about promoting women over men, it’s not about tipping the scales so that women can run the world without men, and it’s not about drawing a line in the sand where all women stand on one side and men on the other.  That would of course be very divisive.

To me, gender diversity is about balance – for both men and women.  Balance at work and balance at home.  Balance in politics and balance in our economy.

According to the likes of McKinsey, if women worked to the same extent with the same responsibilities as men, by 2025 the world’s economy would grow by 26% (that’s $12tn in real money!).  That’s a good thing, right?

According to the Athena Doctrine, 66% of the surveyed adults (64,000 from around the world) agree that the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.  So we need more women to share in thought leadership, in politics, education and business.

According to the likes of Catalyst Inc., companies with at least one woman on their board show higher financial returns, lower risk profiles, and greater ROE.  Financial gain (rightly or wrongly) has always been the driving force of most businesses, so that’s good news then, too, isn’t it?

According to most studies, those countries that are the most gender equal are also the countries that score highest on the happiness scale.  And what’s more important than happiness?

According to Dr. Michael Kimmel, American sociologist specialising in gender studies, the more egalitarian our relationships, the happier both partners are.  When men share housework and childcare, their children do better in school; their wives are healthier; and, most notably, the men themselves are healthier. Watch Michael’s TED Talk to hear the full story.

So, by all accounts, establishing gender balance is a good thing.  Then why the negative connotation about something that brings positive influence in every aspect of our lives?  Are we programmed to sabotage everything that’s good for us?  Are we so sceptical about the power of diversity that we don’t even want to give it a try despite ample evidence? Is it the fear that women will take over that stops companies from embracing them as equal citizens and equivalent contributors? Tell me, what am I not seeing?

Because, from where I stand, it's pretty straight forward:

I  want to world to become a better place for everyone.  I want my children to have equal opportunities; I want them to fulfil their potential without encountering artificial barriers; I want organisations to benefit from the wealth of the diversity of thought that each individual – man and woman – brings when they are empowered to speak their mind and share their experiences freely; I want our economy to tap into the resource that’s not being fully utilised, that resource being the female work force; and I want us to value our differences and to grow stronger together as a result.

So that’s why I feel so strongly about Gender Diversity, and my hope is that, some day soon, you will too.

Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Founder, Voice At The Table