We’ve surely all heard of Kevin Roberts by now but for those who need a reminder, read Why we need to talk about Kevin. He is the now ex-Executive Chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi who declared that the debate about gender diversity was over and women don’t have a vertical ambition but a circular one.
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We would agree in part, that women, particularly mothers or those thinking of starting a family, may discover a more intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy over the need to rise for rising’s sake. Talking to the women we know they want the opportunity to realise their potential and not be deemed unambitous because happiness and time for family and self is part of the equation.
Many females do have a “vertical ambition” but as highlighted by Creative Equals:
..unless we tackle the unconscious bias, make sure there’s a well-supported talent pipeline, and create frameworks for women to stay and thrive (particularly around maternity) – this story continues.
We know that men and women often tackle tasks differently and this includes applying for promotions. A woman with the exact same skillset as a male counterpart will read the same application and see all the things she cannot do or doesn’t have experience in and rule herself out. Her male counterpart will see only the things he can do and ignore the bits he doesn’t yet know how to do as he proceeds to apply for the job.
A women will think about the additional responsibilities she has or is likely to have and wonders if she can juggle everything. Studies show women are generally more cautious about risk-taking and this natural tendency is often heightened when a women becomes a mother. But rather than seeing this negatively we need to harness it as an asset. When women channel their feminine power effectively, it is good for all.
Studies have shown that groups with more females have a larger collective intelligence than groups with less women. This is regardless of the individual intelligence of each member of the group but only 50% of women, compared to 70% of men believe they have an equal opportunity to advance regardless of their personal characteristics or circumstances*.
At senior levels, where important economic and structural decisions are made, it is vital the feminine traits of analysis, being open to receiving and considering information and looking at both the long and short term outcomes are evident – to balance out the more masculine-derived energies of risk taking and quicker decision making. As has been noted after Hillary Clinton last week became the first woman nominated for US president by a major political party, ‘When women win, men win, too’.
Equality in the workplace is not about making women fit what has traditionally been a male workforce and expecting them to display exactly the same traits as a male colleague but about embracing what female employers can offer business and embracing feminine qualities as strengths, not weaknesses. Gender smart leaders recognise it isn’t just women who win in a gender balanced work environment, it’s everyone. Just look at the statistics coming from those companies who have already embraced women in the C-suite.
Our thought process may well be more circular than our male colleagues but our ambition is not and if you look for the evidence you’ll see women who want to rise everywhere. Don’t be a Kevin and think the gender debate is old news. Be progressive and challenge everything.