Being gender bilingual at Level 4

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January 6, 2015
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February 6, 2015

Being gender bilingual at Level 4

Women make up at least half the potential executive talent pool, the vast majority of consumer decisions, yet are still only a small minority of senior managers. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox is dedicated to altering the imbalance in a way that makes sense for businesses as well as individual women.

Her approach is more – much more – than an exercise in equality. Rather, it is about reinventing business leadership for the 21st Century. In a media interview, for example, featured on her website, she observed:

‘Most companies were created by and for a century dominated mainly by men working and women who stayed at home. That model is now completely obsolete, but the structures, cultures and mentalities have not adapted so quickly to changes in society. Companies must focus on this theme to fit the new reality and many have not yet done so.’

Her approach more closely resembles the Level 4/5 approach that I have developed for the high-performance workplace, than the traditional, political approach emphasizing quotas and legislation. I was delighted, therefore, to see Avivah attend my talk at the House of Commons last November, when I described The Management Shift.

This fuller, three-dimensional approach to gender equality goes hand-in-hand with the drive for more participative leadership and engaged employees. It is about seeking to make the most of all an organization’s talents, not treating employees as a mere cost or ‘resource’. It means moving away from ‘command and control’ mindsets, as well as ‘command and control’ structures.

Women form around half of the talent pool, and make 80% of consumer purchases. Employers that adapt to this, and feature women in leading roles, will be employers of choice, better marketers and more successful businesses all round. Avivah’s practical advice helps create a gender-balanced workplace that gets the best out of men and women alike. She coined the term ‘gender bilingual’ to capture the learning that women and men, while equal, sometimes address issues in a different way. The organizations that get the best out of both ways of thinking and operating tend to outperform others.

Avivah’s 2014 publication Seven Steps to Leading a Gender-Balanced Business, published by Harvard Business Review, describes an approach based on seven simple steps for the reforming organization:

  1. Reframe – from a women’s issue or a diversity challenge to a business opportunity.
  2. Redefine Gender Balance – from equality, to a strategic analysis of talent and markets. Not necessarily 50/ 50, nor all women in staff jobs and all men in operational roles.
  3. Build Support at the Top – get gender onto the top management agenda. Then get alignment on the relevance and urgency of the issue.
  4. Get Leaders to Lead – equip leaders and managers with the skills to lead across genders. Most don’t know how. Reward and promote those that do.
  5. Work towards a Gender Bilingual Organisation – an organisation that uses gender balance strategically, both internally and externally, at all levels and across all functions.
  6. Bilingual Talent Management – review HR systems to make sure that they recognise and embrace gender differences.
  7. Bilingual Marketing – review Sales and Marketing approaches to ensure that a sophisticated understanding of gender differences maximises market opportunities and innovation.

This is an approach that focuses on men as well as women; on organizational health and performance as well as individual promotion; on culture as well as policies. As such, it’s a natural partner to The Management Shift.


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