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TrainingZone interviews: Margaret Davies pt2

Pic The Glass Lift MD_0

Sift Talent's Matt Evans concludes his interview with Margaret Davies, occupational psychologist at The Glass Lift, about what defines a successful leader and about her work designing and delivering female leadership development programmes.

For an organisation which is committed to developing and increasing the number of female leaders, both now and in the future, what three steps should they commit to doing and within what timescale?

The timescales should be short; every minute an organisation loses is an opportunity missed to increase their performance, so the sooner they do it the better. There is growing research to show that gender diversity at senior level leads to better financial performance, better productivity, better decision making, a better approach to risk and more collaboration.

The first step that an organisation could take would be to build a commitment to increase gender diversity at senior level into their strategic plan and their business planning processes.

Second, the whole of the board and the executive team need to buy into this commitment and set organisational goals around it.

The third step would be sponsoring and role modelling those goals throughout the organisation, to ensure their implementation. You might think about The Davies Report, a government-wide initiative which has a commitment to have 25% representation of women on FTSE 100 boards by 2015. There has been progress - we are at around 20% this year. I think the fact that a stake was put in the ground and many FTSE 100 organisations have signed up to it in the absence of quotas does mean that progress is being made.

There is a pool of women immediately available to take senior positions, but we do need to be working with women at middle management level in order to grow that pool of talent for future executive positions. I think there is a shorter term goal of increasing the number of women on executive committees and then a longer term goal to increase the talent pool at middle management level.

Can a female leadership development programme only succeed if it is driven by and articulated by the CEO?

If there is senior level sponsorship, which is articulated, supported and role modelled at senior level, then it is more likely to take hold and begin to kick-start culture change. However, a minority voice and a ground-swell of action throughout an organisation at the same time can also promote change.

We try to get senior level support on board to facilitate the process. Women need to see success at that level. They need to see other women progressing to the C-suite. If they’re not seeing this progression this becomes a hindrance because you’re not able to see success and as a result it’s more difficult to relate to it.

How can organisations define and quantify the business benefits to achieving a more balanced leadership team and board?

There is research which is starting to illustrate that organisations with balanced leadership teams perform better. The reasons they perform better vary between organisations, but one reason is if you have a diverse team you are more likely to innovate. If you have a lot of similarity in a team then those people may tend to think in similar ways. If you bring someone different into that team they will start to bring different dimensions and perspectives. That’s true for diversity in all its forms. Getting a mix of different people in a room will create an environment for innovation and the creation of ideas.

There are actually more differences within gender than between the genders, but one of the differences between genders is that women are more collaborative. A balanced team on the board or executive team will bring a collaborative element into the C-suite and will foster people working together more effectively within the organisation and with other organisations. That’s particularly relevant for the different departments and agencies in the public sector.

In the private sector, complementary organisations working to achieve something together is one way to success in the future. So, there’s a measure around collaboration and there’s also a measure around risk taking. If you have a more balanced team you are more likely to get a better approach to risk. Women don’t take less risk than men: they have a more considered approach to risk. With a balanced team you are more likely to get a better approach to that risk and so better decision making.

Another measure will be how that team operates together. Is it functional or dysfunctional? Have we got good quality dialogue and debate going on?

With Generation Y now entering the workplace, do you think they have different expectations from an employer in terms of career progression?

There is quite a bit of research around Generation Y and how they might be different. They want more out of their lives than working 18 hours a day. That’s an interesting dynamic which is quite helpful. We are meeting quite a lot of women in their late 20s, early 30s who are on the brink of having a family and they are terrified about how they are going to manage their career and have a family. There is a theme here around requesting flexible working, making sure flexible working is effective for them and maintaining levels of engagement with their careers whilst they take a short career break to look after young children.

There will be expectations from Generation Y to manage work and family and other commitments and they will ask more compared to previous generations – we just tried to find a way to make it work for us.

How an organisation manages and enables flexible working will be critical to productivity moving forward. Advances in IT now enable us to work anywhere and anytime, but that can draw you in resulting in you working very long hours. How virtual workers are managed and led is crucial to organisational productivity now, particularly those organisations with employees based across the globe. I’ve worked for organisations with a team manager in one country and team members in several other countries and they never met face-to-face. That made it very difficult to develop a high performing team.

Developing relationships with your team is necessary. It’s very difficult to lead somebody you don’t have a good relationship with. If you have never met that person it makes it more difficult to develop the relationship. It is possible through video technology but it takes longer and is more difficult for the team member to build trust in the leader.

How can organisations best evaluate the outcomes and effectiveness of introducing a female leadership development programme?

Measuring leadership development programmes is notoriously difficult. For example, you may have a person starting on a leadership development programme today. Their performance in two years’ time may be very different. During that two year review timeframe a work opportunity may have come up, or they may have had a change in manager or mentor or they may have changed jobs. How do you directly attribute their growth to the leadership development programme? That’s very difficult.

However, there are ways to do this, which rely on the organisation setting clear goals and objectives for the individual on the programme. For us at The Glass Lift, a goal could be for the organisation to see an increase in the number of women going for promotion. One of the challenges for women in leadership is that women tend not to put themselves forward for promotion to the same degree as men. So an objective for the organisation could be to see an increase in the number of women applying for more senior roles. Another objective could be to see the women stay longer in the workplace e.g. if they are taking a break to have a family they stay engaged for longer and maybe going for that promotion whilst they are having a family could mean they return to the workplace sooner.

It could be qualitative measures around the influence they have in the organisation and the amount of organisational citizenship behaviours. By that, I mean going the extra mile and putting themselves forward for initiatives and projects. We can also look at changes in behaviours and we can use psychometrics to do that. We can measure behaviour at the start and at the end of the programme to see if there has been any change.

For organisations which are committed to implementing a female leadership development programme, how should they articulate the aims and reasons behind the programme, both to its existing staff and also to potential new recruits?

There is a challenge around this. If you offer a programme which is just for one gender, how might the other gender perceive that?

The way we talk about this is to say there are many good business reasons to do it. And working with women together is the only way we can start to make that change. For example, we ran a workshop last week regarding how women experience the workplace and there were various issues the women raised that would only have arisen in an all-female context.

The aims are quite clear: it’s about diversity. It’s not about women replacing men; it’s not about halting opportunities for men to growing an organisation. It’s about getting a better gender balance and to do that there needs to be a focus on women to raise awareness of the barriers they face (personal and organisational) and then find strategies to overcome those barriers. At the same time there is a real need to raise awareness of the issues within organisations. There is still very low awareness of this complex topic in many organisations.

When an organisation is designing a female leadership development programme, what key metrics should be incorporated into the programme?

A starting point for organisations should be for them to understand what it looks like at the moment. What is the proportion of women at each level in their organisation, by department and by division? It’s really important they understand what that picture looks like at the moment and the metrics should be around how that picture changes over time. Are they keeping more women, are more women going for promotion? Are they getting the right women into the C-suite? By that I mean, women who are talented and not just token.

Over what timeframe should organisations measure the effectiveness of a female leadership development programme?

Our programme is two years, so therefore it is a long-term programme. The reason for this is that we don’t believe you can take people out of the workplace and into a training room for three days and expect them to go back to work and change their behaviour. It’s a process which happens over time. If organisations are looking for a dramatic shift in six months that’s unlikely - behaviour change takes time, probably years rather than months. However, there are some qualitative measures which can be taken earlier than that. For example, is there increased engagement by the women on the programme, or any shift in their thinking and contribution in meetings?

Women enter the workplace to the same degree as men and in fact over the last 15 years women have entered the workplace more highly qualified than men. There are roughly similar numbers at middle management level too.

Once you get to director level there is a dramatic decrease. At the moment only 5% of CEOs in the FTSE 100 are women. We need to better understand what is happening between middle management and director level. Organisations need to be working with their female talent early so that when they get to middle management more women have the desire to go further in their career.

Linking this back to your earlier question regarding Generation Y and career progression, I think they seem more willing to move around and grasp opportunities. Linear hierarchical progression will probably not be available to the degree that it is at the moment, so there will need to be other interesting opportunities e.g. sideways moves to keep Gen Y engaged in their career. Progress will be seen as laterally as well as vertically.

If you would like more info about The Glass Lift please contact Jayne Florence via email [email protected]. For more info on opportunities through Sift Talent click here


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