I know all too well the feeling of being the only woman in the room, the lone female on a panel, or the solo feminine voice on the speaker line-up at a conference. My career choices seem to have always taken me into areas where women are under-represented. Strangely enough I even have a boys name… Kieran! (Clearly my parents had other plans!)
Maybe my sexually ambiguous name worked in my favor as I grew in my career as a rare breed indeed—a female Creative Director in the world of MadMen. Some statistics report that less than 3 percent of the advertising industry’s leaders are female. I have been to events and have been the only female leader present. Occasionally, I will attend an industry lunch and see one other woman or maybe two. At one such lunch, just before Christmas, there were about 85 men present and 3 women at most. Let’s be clear, this was 2014 not 1914.
These days I have my own speaking, innovation and training company, and while it is not as bad as the advertising world, I still find myself in a profession that is dominated by men. As a speaker I have had the privilege of presenting at a number of women’s events and while I love been part of them, and I adore the power of a collective group of women in a room, it concerns me a little.
Not because these gatherings are not useful. In fact, women mixing business with health and life is wonderful. No, not because of that, rather my concern stems from the fact that most of the time, the conversation turns to the lack of women in leadership in business, the poor representation of women on boards, and the fact men are still paid 20 percent more for comparable roles than women.
Now I understand that most (not all I admit) men do not particularly fancy mixing business with yoga, health advice or reaffirming affirmations so they do not come along to these work “life blending” events. Which is fine. The issue arises when many of these women expect that simply talking about the injustice of it all is going to somehow change things.
The conversation needs to be had beyond these walls and it needs to go beyond the whole “It’s just not fair” argument. Injustice abounds in our world. It’s not fair that one percent of the world’s population controls almost 50 percent of the wealth, or that every day innocent children are abused, or human beings are trafficked, or that kids are cruel to each other in class, and so on… it simply is not fair. But, an acknowledgment of unfairness alone does not change things.
What changes things are compelling actions understood by a majority. What can change things is flipping fears, such that we are more afraid of not changing than we are of changing. What changes things is learning to work with human nature not trying to constantly change its course (and that of our own).
What this means is—the kind of change we want to achieve in our world, is essential to include men in the conversation. We need to sell the power of women in business and the inherent benefits for all, not just the women in question.
Helping women to climb the corporate ladder, simply because it is the right thing to do, is not the most compelling argument we can make. Rather, we should do so because there is a skills shortage looming, we have an aging population, a resources crisis, environmental disaster looming, economic models that are outdated, a rate of change that is unprecedented, a disengaged workforce, more people leaving corporate jobs to start there own businesses as technology enables them to, a generation questioning the work to consume model, and because we frankly, need all the help we can get!
Studies show us diversity makes us all smarter – that having women (and men) and, more importantly, different perspectives working on problems produces fresher solutions and better results. Repeated studies tell us diverse boards outperform those of the more homogenous variety. So, we need women if business is to continue to perform.
We are also entering an era where collaboration, or We-Q™ as we prefer to call it, is the critical skill. As our world becomes more complicated, we all become more interdependent. Businesses, more than ever before, need to embrace what are considered more naturally feminine skills: that of cooperation and collaboration.
It is critical that we understand that men and women both benefit from having more women on top!
This is what we need to be telling business. These are the conversations we all need to be having. Not just with ourselves but with the entire business community.
Published by WILEY, Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory’s new book Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available in paperback RRP $22.95 from www.selfishscaredandstupid.com
Kieran Flanagan: A behavioural researcher and strategist, author, educator and corporate coach, Kieran Flanagan is one of the only female Creative Directors in the world of MadMen and has won awards around the world for creativity and effectiveness. Kieran is a TEDx Sydney partner and speaks to audiences including the UN in Singapore and Coca-Cola. She is a passionate advocate for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership.
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