It’s Monday and you sit down at your desk, preparing to delve into your fresh barrage of emails. Instantly you spot a suspicious email from a colleague whom you don’t normally cross paths with, threaded between layers of invoice drafts and Christmas office party invitations. You open it. These are the words glaring at you from the screen in unmistakable black and white Calibri:
“HOW WOMEN IN BUSINESS BECOME BUSINESSWOMEN: TIPS AND TRICKS”
Although the hint of patronization is not wasted on you, you take it with a grain of salt and gingerly flick through (after all, you’ve had practice). As expected, the bright PDF document is littered with various spongy little tweaks in mindset – which may or may not be fruitful (you assume it’s the latter).
Whether intentionally or not, what your colleague is communicating is, in fact, that you are the problem. If you change your mindset, you may be able to distort your perception to the extent that you see your working environment as empowering. Practices of berating individuals to change themselves, under the guise of “tips and tricks” such as this, are common – whether knowingly or unknowingly.
This way, the agency is placed indiscriminately on the to-be-empowered woman, without the slightest concession of accountability on the part of the initiator. Of course, this is by far the easiest approach – and, if all you want to do is tick off a checkbox on your To-Do-List of performative activism, the most efficient.
What is lacking, is the determination for real change: change that doesn’t happen overnight or start with passive-aggressive character attacks.
Real change requires sophisticated language and a safe container to broach divisive and sensitive topics. Real change is structural. Real change doesn’t start at the bottom.
In other words, if a person feels it’s time to send their colleague an email to “tip and trick” her into empowerment, she’s already in an environment where she will never thrive. There is a vast difference between the simple check-box perception of empowering women – tips and tricks - and actually carving a gender-diverse landscape within the business.
And this starts from the top.
For change to happen from the top, realisations need to be made at the top. Leadership needs to see for themselves, the cracks in working organisational systems that lead to women feeling disempowered. Only then, will meaningful action be undertaken.
While those at the top are focused on bottom-line numbers, what’s often missed is what happens in the middle. The problem is that negligence of the everyday processes that deliver the results can come at a cost. Often, those at the “top” fail to see the empirical link between female empowerment, gender cohesion, and competitive advantage in the long term. In short: when women thrive, the business will be rewarded with boundless economic and emotional benefits. Here are two ways to get there:
Create a structure where equal voice, vote, and privilege are non-negotiable
The concrete skeleton of the business organisation needs to be rewired. The structures must permit seamless organisational democracy, job position mobility, and offer platforms to raise issues anonymously. Employees should have the opportunity to convene and paint the vision for the future, relative to the baseline of today. Clear-cut criteria should be agreed upon as a group with defined metrics to measure progress, both individual and organisational.
What gets measured, gets done.
Hire resources to realign your mission, vision, and values that support diversity
Whether in the boardroom, the call centre or the lobby, the business values should be in plain sight, not hidden away, and accompanying employees on their workdays. These can manifest in the resources threaded through an organisation, such as access to business coaches, experts in gender and diversity issues, paths to openly advocate for female colleagues.
Most importantly: leading should be done by example. The climate in the highest business structures and the most adorned offices need to transform first. This way a business culture of accountability, transparency, and trust is cultivated, empowering all to speak without fear of repression.
Remember that gender diversity IS NOT…teaching your female leaders tips and tricks - if it were, you would have already done it.
Gender diversity IS…
Discomfort - it requires you, your board, and leadership teams to do things you've never done before
Economically fruitful (aka: makes the business money)
Time investment and commitment
Creating an environment for your teams to have a space and place to work through the transformation is more complex than giving away tips and tricks. If it was that easy, we wouldn't be where we are today.
You can view this article as a call to action.
It’s time you go about empowering women in business in a new way, a better way, the right way, and move away from the perception of it as a simple chore to get done once and forget about. Or a fad diet you can stick to for a week or two. For long-lasting and real results, it’s going to be a journey, but a journey that pays for itself many times over. For some funny reason, it translates into numbers when you have half your workforce feeling strong and engaged.
The Global Collective is the ecosystem that can propel your business into the sweet spot of collective competitive advantage and healthy, sustainable working climates for both men and women. Email email@example.com to learn more.