‘To be equal, shouldn’t our mentoring programme be open to white men as well?’ People sometimes ask why we help companies develop mentoring programmes aimed at mentees from non-traditional backgrounds. And they are right – mentoring programmes should be open to everyone if we worked in a world that was already equal; in a world where ethnic minorities and women were as statistically likely to have the top jobs as white men. However, for those who are serious about increasing diversity in leadership, there is nothing wrong with prioritising ethnic minorities and women as your mentees and senior leaders (who disproportionately tend to be white and male) to be the mentors.
The truth is, the introduction of a formal mentoring programme doesn’t stop anyone, white male or otherwise, from seeking mentors. It merely makes these relationships more accessible to those who haven’t traditionally benefited from such relationships informally. In fact, in our reviews with mentors, they often compare these ‘formal’ relationships against the informal ones – the relationships that just seem to ‘crop up’. Nine times out of ten, informal relationships are with more junior white men – men who remind them of a younger version of themselves. The time to make formal mentoring programmes equally accessible to white male mentees as it is to everyone else, is when your senior leadership team is as diverse as your consumer and talent base. Until then, giving a leg up to those who are less likely to ‘crop up’ when it comes to discussing promotions is the only way to make real change.
I was at Bank station today to see a client. I always notice when at Bank or Canary Wharf or any other City hotspot, how few older women I see around me. This sends an implicit message to both women and men about the utility of older women, or perceived lack thereof. But it’s also a waste of hard-earned talent – some of the best talent a company can have according to new research by PWC. It appears women over 55 have the greatest likelihood of being what the firm called ‘strategist leadership style”. According To City AM strategist leaders are best able to deliver transformational change, as they are “likely to have wider experience of settings, people, and also of failure”.
According to PWC strategist leadership skills: ‘engenders a humility of perspective and resilience, so that they know what to do when things don’t work.’ The research focused on over 6000 European professionals and found just 8% surveyed had the requisite skills to effect change – a vital skill in such a rapidly evolving marketplace. So what do those skills exactly look like? As detailed in Forbes those skills: ‘include resilience, human perspective, a positive use of language, the ability to move between vision and detail, and the ability to figure out what to do when things don’t work – something that comes from a wide experience of settings, people and even of failure.
The largest number of those surveyed who actually had these attributes were in fact women over the age of 55. But not only were these women being overlooked, they were often first in line when cutbacks and early retirement packages were being handed out.’
Humility with strong determination is something also noted by Jim Collins in his seminal book ‘From Good to Great’. His research didn’t take into account gender, but these were the same qualities he noticed in leaders who transformed businesses.
Before the election, I was fortunate enough to meet Nicola Sturgeon. While I don’t agree with all of her policies, I hugely respect the fact she ran for election seven times before her first win. That type of resilience and empathy with losing will mark her out as a relatable and we think, great leader. She’s a real departure from other politicians who virtually walked into safe seats right after graduating from Oxbridge, and those qualities will set her apart.
Not surprisingly, we advocate flexibility and family friendly policies with our corporate clients. However, a series of new research shows promoting such ‘benefits’ as being aimed primarily as women, can actually undermine their advancement as it gives employers an excuse to discriminate against them as potentially problematic employees. They see women as ‘not worth the risk’ of leaving or potentially needing costly support. As detailed in the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller,
For example, in the US, after the introduction of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, still one of the least generous programmes in the developed world, women were 5% more likely to remain employed but 8% less likely to be promoted than they had been before the introduction of the law. Similarly, Chile introduced a child-care law which required employers with more than 20 women to provide and pay for local childcare to mothers with kids under the age of 2 years. While the smallest employers often didn’t comply, many of the rest compensated for the perceived loss by offering women starting salaries that were 9% to 20% less than they had before the law.
Spain introduced a new law in 1999 giving workers with children younger than 7 the right to ask for reduced hours. It was predominantly women who requested reduced hours and in the subsequent decade companies were 6% less likely to hire women of child-bearing age compared to men, 37% less likely to promote them and 45% more likely to dismiss them. The probability of unemployment amongst women of child-bearing age also increased by 20% during that time. As explained in the New York Times: ‘ These findings are consistent with previous research by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, economists at Cornell. In a study of 22 countries, they found that generous family-friendly policies, like long maternity leaves and part-time work protections in Europe, made it possible for more women to work — but that they were more likely to be in dead-end jobs and less likely to be managers.’ The answer is not in reducing the benefits afforded women but in making sure such ‘benefits’ flexibility is gender neutral.
After unsuccessfully suing her Venture Capital firm employer for sexual discrimination, Ellen Pao – darling of the Silicon Valley feminists, has now resigned as interim chief executive of Reddit. Pao, who had been at the company only eight months, put every effort into ridding Reddit of harassment. Pao made it one of her first moves to ban salary negotiations at the social media company. Burned by her own experiences, she seeks to eliminate gender bias. Many question the utility of this option, saying women should be able to negotiate their salaries as well as any man. In an ideal world, this would be true. However, research routinely shows even if we teach women to ‘negotiate like a man’, it’s not a great idea as we then penalise them for it, by describing them as ‘unseemly, selfish or shrewish’ when then do. In fact, other research from 2012 showed American men were more likely to give a better deal to women who flirted and flattered than women who adopted a gender neutral ‘let’s get down to business’ approach.
A follow-up study by business professor Laura Kray, found that type of ‘feminine charm’ worked because it put me in a more positive mood. Negotiating salary and other benefits makes the assumption that top talent want that type of approach. Kray however, found that undergraduate business students, particularly the women were turned off by the idea of working for companies that sacrificed fairness for profit. So a ’no negotiation’ policy may work best, particularly if you want to attract people who have historically been disadvantaged by salary negotiations; women and ethnic minorities.
As Kray wrote in the Washington Post: ‘A no-negotiation policy implies that an employer pays based on a job’s market value, rather than based on a job’s actual market value, rather than based on subjective individual characteristics. Laszlo Bock, chief of people operations at Google, recently extolled the virtues of this principle for eliminating the pay gap. Even making offers based on an individual’s salary history can perpetuate the problem, he noted. ‘We figure out what the job is worth, not the person,’ he said during a talk in Washington.’ Pao’s solution may be unconventional and will almost certainly continue to ruffle feathers, but we like that’s it’s an attempt to solve a real-world, rather than ideal world problem.