How to Promote Women in Leadership?

By in Media on 4th Jun, 2016

Organisations frequently talk about addressing the lack of women in senior positions, but does the rhetoric lead to effective solutions?

I was asked to comment on the question: “What’s the most powerful action you’ve seen to promote women into leadership roles?” by INTHEBLACK. My response was featured alongside Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace, Gender Equality Agency, and John Lydon, Managing partner of McKinsey Australia & New Zealand.

Seeing women as more than just their gender is the first step toward gender equality in leadership.

We can assemble a flurry of diversity management initiatives, development opportunities, progressive CEOs, quotas and good intentions, and see them fail because we ignored the ideological reality that men remain the leadership norm.

When leaders are by default men, women become treated as special cases. We impose outdated stereotypes that women are, by nature, more caring, gentle and nurturing and then set them up to fail when they inevitably have to make tough calls at the helm of their companies.

Recognising women as more than just their gender does not mean turning a blind eye to sexism at work. Sexism frustrates the ambitions of women at every stage of their lives and careers. Traditional gender roles are taught to our children from the toys they’re given. Gendered assumptions of skills mean girls are less likely to be engaged in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] at school. Bias against female students is woven deep into the cultures of business schools.

By the time women get into organisations, they are accustomed to believing they don’t belong. For women, after all their socialisation, to aspire to leadership is a political act. It’s ideological resistance against the taken-for-granted assumption that leadership belongs to men.

Women don’t need special treatment to be promoted into leadership roles. The most powerful and radical action we can take to support their leadership is to see them as full human beings.

This excerpt was published in INTHEBLACK.

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