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?

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

Changing the Rules of the Game: When is the right time?

guard-changing-ceremony-1564817-639x852A recent HBR article Women, Find Your Voice! talks about the struggle many executive women face in making an impact in senior meetings.  The article went on to list a number of ways in which women can alter their communications style in order to achieve this.  But in a short ‘throw-away’ comment, the authors make reference to the fact that, while it would be better to change the culture in those meetings so that women wouldn’t need to adapt their communications style, until power is granted to those who want to change the rules, changing the culture of those meetings is rather unrealistic.  So, the comment concludes, while women are operating in a male environment, women are encouraged to alter their behaviours until they have succeeded to gain enough authority to change this.

This struck me as an interesting proposition:  play by the existing rules, play well and win, and then change them.

Get to the top, then change the rules.

This is of course also what Sheryl Sandberg advocates in her Lean In advice.  Yes, she says, we ultimately want to get to the point when we can operate in an environment that is natural to the way women tend to behave; an environment that is characterised by the presence of strong emotional intelligence, collaboration, transparency and empathy (but is also strong, direct and decisive).   But until we can be the architects of such corporate culture, i.e. until women have enough support and/or influence to shape meetings to allow women to be women (and others to be themselves) without paying a price, until then we should adapt and attain credibility and influence by taking things less personally, speaking more assertively and concisely and in general become better conversant in the language and demeanour of current influencers.

But why change the women?  Why not change the men?

I often hear senior women say to me: “I’m tired of being asked to change the women in our company, why not start changing the men/male culture?”

While I acknowledge the sentiment, it isn’t a realistic ask!  People don’t change unless they have a vested interest in that change and for the majority of senior executives and politicians, Diversity & Inclusion is still not enough of a vested interest in order to embark on a journey of transformation.

So is the answer then as Sheryl Sandberg says?  Do we have to try to learn how to play and win by the existing rules until we, like her, get into positions of power and change them?  Maybe so.  Maybe workshops on ‘personal branding’, presence and gravitas’ and ‘how to make your voice heard in meetings’ do still have their place!  And yes, maybe they do appear to advocate changing women, but the way I see it, they simply equip women to succeed so that they can be powerful and fully conversant in any culture, so that they can be ‘multi-linguists’, speaking fluently with others of similar nature and behaviours as well as with those of a different persuasion.

In the end, if we are able to exceed that magic 30% gender representation figure at the top – and maybe even get to 50% - it will have been worth it!  For us, and for our employers!

Leverage Diversity as a Business Opportunity: Reflecting your client’s composition in your teams

team-ii-1238320Talk of the benefits of diversity is everywhere.  Gender in particular.  So much so that people are starting to look at it cynically.  Yet the benefits of getting more women (and other minorities) appropriately represented within each layer of the organisation are profound.  Report after report, measure after measure prove to us that (1) the financial benefits of balanced company boards cannot be underestimated (2) the case for what is often referred to as ‘feminine leadership’ is becoming incontestable, and (3) talk of business survival in the future appears to hinge on that business’ ability to adapt to a more flexible, more collaborative style of management. [1]

So if your company is considering diversity for the sake of diversity, for the sake of appearances or for the sake of complying with client demands, it is missing a trick!  There is really no if’s or but’s about it:  embracing gender diversity – the traits which we refer to as 21st century leadership – must become central to any leadership strategy of a company that wants to continue to thrive in the future.

But where do you start?

One thing you could do is look at your clients and mirror them.

Easy, right? After all, we all know what our clients look like, what they like, how they assess transactions, where there pressure points are.  We also know what their teams look like, the composition of their decision-making bodies, and those who are likely to make the deciding call on any new deal.

Yet increasingly so, clients are starting to challenge service providers to show them that our services will heed relevant diversity requirements:  a certain percentage of women on the team delivering the services, a certain number of other minorities represented in the business.  We’ve encountered a number of businesses whose pitches for new business didn’t succeed because they couldn’t evidence the requisite diversity required by the client.

If your company has been in this situation before, the best way to ensure it doesn’t happen again is to understand clearly the composition of the client’s teams – not only today but their aspirations for that composition tomorrow.  Many clients will have targets that they will want to meet reflecting certain percentages on their teams and on their promotion lists.  Find out what they are and reflect them in your own business.  You may not get there tomorrow but you will have taken the first step to show the client that you are as serious about diversity as they are; that you’re not just assembling a team to meet their requirements but are genuinely interested in reflecting the client’s own attempts to become more diverse.  They will thank you for it in many different ways, one of which might very well be that new deal.

Voice At The Table are a boutique gender diversity consultancy.  We work with professional women to build confidence, resilience and initiative.  We also work with companies to make them more inclusive.  In this way, we aim to build and sustain your female talent pipeline.

[1] Email us to receive relevant reports and resources

In the wake of IWD2016 – what are we really saying?

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Last week's international woman's day seems to have been the most popular we've had in a long time. Every company, organisation and network seems to have put on a celebration or event to mark the occasion.  Much has been written about it and pledges have been undertaken to change the balance between men and women at work and in the economy.

But what strikes me most of all is how much talk there is about women being the solution for the upcoming future. By this I mean that there is much research and insight to point to the fact that organisations that don't take gender balance seriously are said to be walking on thin ice; organisations that are refusing to change will see others who will be prepared for the future pass them by.  In other words, it is no longer the right thing to do or the nice thing to do for your business; ensuring that teams work on inclusive insights and that our leaders either possess many feminine leadership traits or are indeed women with those traits now appears to be a strategic priority.

Much is written directly about the influence and the impact of feminine leadership on business in the future.  Take for example John Gerzema’s and Michael D'Antonio book “The Athena Doctrine”, which is based on research and surveys of 64,000 individuals.  Published in 2013, the authors show that innovation and creativity can only be driven if one embraces feminine traits and values.  Having tried hard to resist talking in terms of gender, John and Michael succumbed to the overwhelming evidence that makes a strong case in favour of gender balance.  The book makes it clear that the different way men and women think and behave (in general) cannot be disregarded and that society’s values are changing to reflect those that are traditionally female.  John and Michael talk about a new operating system that includes as many feminine traits as it does masculine.

Much is also written about the leadership styles of the future that - although not directly referencing feminine traits, talks about them as central to the success of any future business.  Take for example the fact that millennials today don’t want to work for companies the sole mission of which is to increase shareholder returns.  They care about the world as much as they do about their jobs. They no longer want to perform a task that contributes only to lining their own pockets.  They care about legacy; they care about the environment; they care about social solutions to existing problems, all of which requires a different type of thinking. So what we read and hear about is how to work in teams and collaborate; how big decisions should bubble up from the surface rather than being pushed down from the top; we read about motivating and encouraging each other to perform the best we can and about valuing the differences that we each bring as individuals in the name of creativity and innovation.  Name them as such or not, these are the so-called ‘feminine’ traits:  collaboration, motivation, valuing others’ point of view, supporting each other and nurturing – these are the things that women tend to do more naturally than men.  And now it seems that these behaviours are becoming a central point of a successful business; they are no longer the ‘nice to have’s’ for a pleasant working culture; they are the central machination of a successful working team.  A company that embraces these traits and values is more likely to succeed in the future than one that doesn't.

But it is not just the survival of a business that makes this new operating system so relevant.  This operating system also allows companies to utilise these attitudes as a competitive advantage.  Creativity, innovation and diversity of thought are the cornerstones of ideas that lead to the discovery of new markets, the design of new products and the launch of new services.  This new operating system allows companies to experience the world in a way that their customers might do and they might not.  Once we learn to experience our surroundings from the point of view of another we start seeing things and solutions that weren't apparent before.  This new mindset that opens our eyes to things we haven't seen before is what's going to make the difference between the company that survives and the company that thrives.

I have always believed in gender diversity - in its very basic form - diversity of thought and the value of the individual as a strategic priority for any business.  It now seems that those who share my views are becoming more outspoken.  If you are a business that wants to see itself thrive in the future then I suggest you start listening to those outspoken voices.

Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Women’s Contribution to the Economy Cannot be Overlooked

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Governments tell us that the economy must not forget to tap into a growing pool of buying power: that of working women.  Last year, the Economist pointed out that

In the next decade nearly 1 billion women are likely to enter the global labour force. But their economic potential is largely unrealised. According to a report by Booz & Company, a consultancy, if female employment rates matched those of men, GDP would increase by 5% in America and 9% in Japan by 2020. The impact would be even larger for developing countries, home to most of the world’s women who lack adequate education and support (social and political). Increasing female employment would increase GDP significantly in countries like India and Egypt, where female labour-participation rates are below 30%. These countries rank low in Booz’s index of women’s economic empowerment.

But in order to realise this economic potential, organisations must gradually embrace a cultural change that will make the working environment an attractive proposition to the pool of female talent. By this I mean the following:

Flexible Working
The number one reason that women cite for not working in the corporate world is the lack of flexibility that corporate culture affords women workers. Let’s not deny the fact that women are and will likely continue to be the primary carers for their families. This means that working women do and will likely continue to have conflicting (at best!) priorities towards both their families and their jobs. If women operate in a world that does not allow them to carefully balance their responsibilities in such a way that each one of their priorities is realised, women will simply give up on the less flexible (and, to them, less important) one: their jobs.
To avoid this, businesses need to rethink their strategies and culture and ask themselves: what is it really that they don’t like about flexible working. Once that’s determined, and after some soul searching, businesses need to decide whether these reasons are a justifiable business cost. Because, let’s not kid ourselves, the loss of opportunity to employ a woman in a flexible arrangement translates to a business cost – in the form of replacement/recruitment costs, costs of training and investment in a new employee and the potential repeated cost if the lost job were to go to another woman.
In my experience, when managers face up to the detrimental aspects of not embracing flexible working, they quickly realise the potential business cost and change their attitude. And when that happens, business start to realise that “flexible working” isn’t a dirty word but a necessity that pays dividends.
Cultural Differences
We have all heard of unconscious bias – the brain’s ability to short-cut judgments based on previous experiences. Unconscious bias is one of the main reasons that the top layers of companies resemble a club or brotherhood the members of which are (in thinking terms) facsimiles of each other. Companies are gradually starting to realise that this kind of leadership isn’t necessarily good for business, as the lack of diversified thought may lead (and has in many cases) to unsound decision making. But how to change this?
One of the best ways to change is to support and empower women to take up some of those positions at the top of organisations. To develop the pipeline, companies need to change their views of women; they need to realise that women communicate differently; that women are not as likely to put themselves forward for promotion as men, despite being equally as capable and qualified; that women’s negotiation style is different; that speaking softly doesn’t mean women aren’t sure of what they’re saying. In other words, companies need to realise that there are “cultural” differences between men and women and not “penalise” them for these differences.
Boost Confidence
On average, women tend to be less confident about their abilities than men. They regularly (statistically-speaking) second-guess themselves and their decisions. This often leads to a fear of saying what they’re thinking, of going for the promotion or a new job, or of asking for what they believe they deserve.
If companies want to realise the most from their female talent, they should consider investing in support for women, such as mentoring programs, coaching and other developmental training that increases confidence and profile. Sponsorship programs have been proven to be very successful in promoting women. Cross-industry mentoring has also proven successful. Teaching women how to network and leverage their networks would also improve the confidence game.

In summary, in order to encourage women to work and participate in the economy , there are a number of measures that organisations should embrace to pave the way for women to take part in the game and, thus, in the economy.

Women of Influence – it’s all about confidence!

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Today I read an article in the paper that reaffirms what I’ve believed all along:  women are struggling to achieve their career ambitions.  Many familiar reasons are cited for this:  lack of confidence in going for promotions; lack of support for women in the workplace (such as the ability to work flexibly) and, in this particular survey, 20% of women said they felt discriminated against by their male colleagues.

So what will it take to change to world of work for women?  We already see a number of high profile women leaders in the world of finance, sovereigns and corporates.  We also hear the benefits of female decision makers readily and frequently discussed.  Diversity and Inclusion are no longer stigmatised terms but, frequently, a vital  part of corporate strategy!  So what is keeping us back and what can we do about it?

If you ask me, it is mostly about confidence and having the guts to go for it!

I know many women who have accomplished stellar achievements and have easily outperformed their male colleagues.  Yes, these women are smart, but more than anything, they’re gutsy.  They want something and they go for it.  They’re not discouraged by setbacks, nor do they listen to the niggling voices in their heads that might say they’re not ready or good enough.  They believe in themselves – rightly or wrongly – and they achieve!

And I want to say something about believing in yourself.  In my experience, it doesn’t matter whether you’re fully justified in believing that you can accomplish something.  You just need to believe that you can!  I might add that this works perfectly well for our male counterparts.  They never question their own abilities to perform – they just know they can, despite the fact that it is not always the case, as many failed projects have proven.

So back to these high achieving women.  These women are lucky to have been given a healthy dose of confidence as part of their upbringing, but one thing is certain:  all of us can get there if we put our minds to it.

Let me give you an example:  When I had my first child, it became very important to me to be home from work before bedtime.  That meant that I couldn’t stay even 30 minutes late at work without sacrificing the bedtime routine.  And during a very busy period at work, when I was frequently later than anticipated, I started resenting my job.  When that happened, I decided to take a risky step and ask for the possibility to work from home once a week on a regular basis (that way knowing that at least one morning and one evening I was guaranteed to be there for my child).  At that point, no-one in my team worked from home and I knew that my boss was predisposed against it.  But when push came to shove, and the alternative before him was to either lose me or give in to my request, he yielded.  Now, I’m pleased to say, every member of my team has the right to work from home on a regular basis, and business is booming!

The point is, when we’re pushed and feel that we have no other choice, we take the difficult and risky steps and…often get rewarded!  So why wouldn’t it also be the case if we applied this kind of drive to other career goals, without the need to be pushed to the limit first?

I say go for it and give it a try!