Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change
I have been working in women’s career development for over 25 years. I ran my first women career group back in 1993. Working with women as a coach and in groups has been and is one of the most rewarding parts of my career. I plan to continue doing this work for as long as I can. I have been privileged to walk alongside many women as they led large organisations or moved into entrepreneurial careers.
I also work and have worked with organisations that are truly committed to making a change and are seeing significant improvements in gender inclusion. These organisations are taking a systemic approach by focusing on a number of different strategies and initiatives targeted at the entire organisation.
In recent years however, the conversation has begun to feel jaded. There are endless panels in organisations and across organisations of both men and women talking about what we can do to ‘fix’ the ‘leaky’ pipeline in the gender leadership gap. Don’t get me wrong – I think we should be having these conversations, however, in some way the conversation isn’t changing and we can feel that we are struggling to make progress. Research shows that, in US organisations, despite committed to gender diversity, progress has stalled. Globally, we see the same situation, even though the economic benefits of gender equality for countries are clear, and even greater than thought before. Here in Singapore, there has been some improvement in board representation, however the country is still behind with gender wage gap worst in a decade.
My latest webinar focused on how to use a positive and solution focused approach to coaching and leadership. As IWD2019 approaches I have been thinking about how to apply these approaches to changing the conversation on gender inclusion. In Appreciative Inquiry or in Solution Focused Coaching, we are looking for places where things are going well, where we have already solved the problem. Taking the view that the problem doesn’t always exist, helps to release both optimism and creativity, as we look for solutions and ways to replicate successes.
One way of doing this is to look for places where there is systemic gender inclusion. For example, in many Multi-Nationals with a large presence in China, there are as many women in leadership as men. This is a success story, and whilst no doubt there will be cultural norms which make this possible, I am curious about what is the experience of men and women that helps to bring about gender balance in the organisation.
We also see some organisations creeping towards 50/50 women in leadership globally or across regions. What can we learn from their systemic approach rather than focusing on the success of senior women?
We know that ‘fixing’ the gender leadership gap involves the whole organisation. We have to focus on the entire pipeline from entry level to the board in order to bring about real and sustainable change.
I believe that by taking an innovative and systemic approach we can be curious about the system around parts of the organisation with gender balance, asking the question ‘what was in place in this system to help women and men progress in organisations in a balanced way?’ This shifts the conversation from individual women and asking them ‘what did you do to get where you are now?’ to the group.
In 2019, we have a real opportunity to change the conversation. In your organisations, where are the teams, divisions, countries, regions where there is good gender balance? How could you inquire into these success stories to learn from them and start a few positive and solution focused conversations? What coaching conversations could you have to invite curiosity in a positive and creative way?
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About the Author
Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes (ACTP). Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.