Diversity vs Patriarchy – Let’s catch the next Wave!

Author: Karsten Jahn (coach & consultant) 

Recently I attended a conference, dealing with organizational change. One of the sessions there was about human resources (HR). This is the department of an organization that is supposed to support individuals within the organization. Here people were talking about how to evaluate the skills of employees, how to train them and the role of leadership in all this. At one point during this session a young woman from the audience got up and confronted a high-ranked HR manager from a large German energy provider, also female, with an interesting subject.

The young woman said that she was at the very beginning of her career. She recently read that a study, which shows that the careers of women are often hindered by other women, not so much by men. This sounded counter intuitive to her, as she thought women would support each other.

The HR lady responded that she has never been hindered by other women or experienced a lack of support for that matter. She continued pointing out this would not happen in her company. All that in a tone, close to scolding. Which in my opinion shows a major lack of sympathy and basically already proves the point of the study. But she continued talking, and not without pride in her voice (paraphrased):

“At our company we do not have a lot of female managers, especially in HR, even though a majority of the people in this division are women. But it’s not that they wouldn’t be able to, they do not want to go for a management career. Many young, skilled, intelligent women tell me that they rather not aim for higher management, the personal investment is way too high. So it’s a matter of choice, not of sexism.”

Instead of thinking critically about what the young woman said and discussing the very serious matter, she basically responds with disrespect and rejects the topic. That made me really mad. And I’m a white male, much further in my career. I can only imagine how the women that asked the question must have felt. Probably not encouraged, inspired or taken seriously, which is a shame, because exactly that is what HR should do. Encourage people, inspire them and take them seriously.

The question behind all this is, why do women not want to go for higher management and why do we want them to do that though. The answer is simple. Because we lack diversity. That’s also the reason why this question is not obvious to all of us. And sadly enough not even to the female HR manager…

Diversity is Valuable

We all want to learn, we all want to develop, it’s in our nature. And nothing supports this more than embracing the huge potential in the differences between and around us. People with different backgrounds add different perspectives, which help us reflect on what we do and what we think we know. That’s how we learn. Your sense of taste won’t develop if you always eat the same things, no successful musician only listens to the same type of music, no athlete just keeps repeating the same exercise. Variety is important.

When it comes to people, diversity relates to everything we can be different in: Gender, culture, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. Even mixing cat and dog people is valuable.

comfortzoneBut instead of mixing we often group with those that are similar. Psychologists explain this by the way our brain is set up. We feel more secure with those that are similar to ourselves, trust them easier. That’s why expats always stick to one another. And within each expat community you’ll find subgroups sorted by nationality. Or maybe by religion or language. And of course all of which are gossiping against each the other groups and all together against the host nation. It’s easier, it’s our comfort zone.

We say that birds of a feather flock together. And it’s true, it’s deeply rooted in our brains. That’s probably how we ended up with racism and sexism to begin with. But humans became very smart. And we found out that those who dare to leave their comfort zone, can achieve higher results. Our history books are full of examples for this. Embrace differences is leaving the personal comfort zone. Which is never easy. For no one. But it might be worth it.

Research shows that teams of knowledge workers, who have to operate creatively, are better equipped when they are staffed heterogeneously. Diverse teams achieve more. Designers collaborating with engineers, technicians with business people, senior with junior. Major synergies spark, when the mix works. But everyone has an experience, where it did not. It was probably build to fail and then served as a reasoning for people to not try again. So now we usually have homogeneous teams, everyone is similar.

Adding new perspectives would be hugely beneficial, though. But we have to want it ourselves, else it will just fail again. So we need to support minorities (i.e. underrepresented genders, age groups, cultures, whatever). And it’s not the minority as such, but it’s about looking at every person’s individual skills and needs, which emerge from their culture, their gender and so on.

If we just give them a desk and tell them our schedules, it will fail again. If we don’t adapt our styles so it comforts others, we will only get those that “convert” to our style. That is not really what we want. No one should have to change who they are in order to be successful. Only if we’re free to be ourselves, we can be truly creative. It’s time to fire the next stage…

Waves of Feminism

Feminism, as in the fight for women’s rights, is being classified in different waves. The first one was about acknowledgment and ended around 100 years ago in the western world (whatever that is). In focus were basic legal issues and to understand that women are people, too, who deserve the right to vote, to drive a car and such.

The second wave of feminism was then about extending the legal equality and had its peak in the 1960s and 1970s in large parts of the western world. Women are able do the same things as men and they have to be allowed to do that, too. Families, education, jobs… we had to adjust our laws so that women had the same options as men and that domestic violence became illegal. It was forbidden for women in Germany to play football until 1970, by the German football association.

Both waves of feminist activity were a revolution mostly dedicated to white middleclass women. According to the norms of the white male. The result, our current reality in large parts of the western world, is that we actually get to meet women in higher management positions. Very few ones, though. And most of those are “masculinized”. They appear in a business look, which is a merely female version of the men’s suit. They have to follow the lifestyle of business men. They have to play according to the rules of patriarchy. Again, not exactly what we have in mind, when we’re thinking about equality. Patriarchy is still up and running.

The third wave of feminism is addressing exactly that, taking care of the individual and their needs. It’s not just about women anymore, it’s about individuals. No privileges due to gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, etc. We don’t really know how true equality would look like, but let’s go for it, because more people will be able to live and work the way they want. And happy people are more efficient workers, resulting in products and organizations of higher quality.

What we need to do…

This brings us back to the HR lady from the conference, who said that many women at her company don’t want to go for higher management career, as the demand does not fit their lifestyle. Those are intelligent women that deny being squeezed into a structure that was created for someone else. And so they should!

We have to understand that it’s not their loss, if they don’t want to aim for a career like this, but ours. We need diversity in our societies and organizations. But we are not prepared for that. Expecting others to adopt to our system, which does not work for and barely accepts minorities, is obviously ridiculous. Yet, that is what we keep doing. We’re still stuck in wave 2.

I would expect that HR managers are aware of this. And I would expect that women in management are aware of this. A higher ranked female HR manager that is proud that their management level lacks women, because they use their freedom of choice, is mind-boggling and makes me really mad.

Our business world has been created by white men, to suit their own lives. That is a fact. We might not necessarily see it straight away, but that’s the problem with privileges. They are invisible to those, who have them (Michael Kimmel). We have to find solutions so that people can have a management career and a family at the same time. We have to find solutions so that people of different cultures can collaborate without having to abandon their own background.

Diversity is not necessarily comfortable. But it’s worth it. Let’s get out of our comfort zones. Let’s get rid of patriarchy. Let’s get rid of privileges for majorities, so that we can get rid of majorities. All that hinders diversity, which we need to be better, smarter, more creative and flexible. As a society as well as an organization.

Let’s empower minorities and listen to their needs.

Hi, my name is Karsten and I’m a feminist.

 

(This blogpost has originally been published here.)

Leadership and Living Your Life

Author: Wolfgang Lünenbürger (feminist, theologist, agency CEO)

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There is an ongoing discussion in Germany about the question whether leadership and the role of a manager are possible if you are working part time. The last round was sparked by an editor-in-chief that wanted to stay in her role after she gave birth and come back in part time for a year or so.

And as I learned just one week ago that there is a well-known agency in my city that explicitly refuses a career in part time (what is in my not so humble opinion the dumbest thing I heard for a long time), I feel the urge to share my experience and beliefs.

Everything is Possible to Do in Part Time

Back in the 90s, when I was elected member of my church’s Parliament, I was part of a groups of feminists that tried to implement a leadership tandem. We tried to find two women to share this job and indeed found a hole in the laws we had in our church. Since this day, and it was even before I started my own career, I’m convinced every task can be done by job sharing. Or in part time.

Since I reached a position that allows me to have some influence on the way we organize work and leadership, I try to show that this is true. And to be honest, I learned two things so far: (1) Yes, it’s true principally. (2) It’s hard anyway and we all are blown hot and cold between ambition, reality and all the responsibilities we have and take in our lives.

Plans and Chances

But it’s not by accident that on one of my jobs the only leader in that firm that came back into her exact position after maternity leave was one of the leaders of my team. We not only planned it carefullly, but asked as well the important questions my friend Robert Franken put up in his (german) blog post:

How do you, employer, make sure I’m able to do my job while I have a baby in a way that my needs are as important as your needs?

Back then we designed here tasks to fit into the ten hours work week she choose to have during maternity leave. And we put more and more hours back on her job, following the possibilities of her family situation. The only thing that did not change at all: she remained boss of her team, even when she was not exactly in office for many hours. It worked. And it worked nearly perfectly by the way.

Taking Leadership in Part Time

Now I’m running Cohn & Wolfe’s Germany operations as Managing Director. And my leadership team is built out of five directors and myself. Two of them work full time; one has different tasks in several firms of our group, so we as Cohn & Wolfe Germany have her part time; and two work part time, with different hours to be in the office. Both of them have made their career working part time. And for their last promotion (that includes responsibilities for clients, budgets, profits and people) they stayed with their part time.

It wouldn’t be true to say all is optimal. And it wouldn’t be true to say they are working only the hours they get payed for (what is, as everyone knows who works in an agency, true for all of us that take leadership in any agency). But what works, is, that we are able to help finding a good balance between the different roles that leaders (and not only leaders) have in their lives.

Organizing Success

I’m fully convinced that the recent success and momentum of my agency in Germany — we did triple both fees and headcount and have a very scary pitch-win-ratio — that this success has its roots in the fact that we do just this. That we put great talent exactly in the positions where they are best, regardless of their working hours. That we learned to organize ourselves and put responsibilities where they belong to be able to make quick decisions. That we strengthen the self-organizational skills of our teams by implementing scrum methods.

And that we ask ourselves

How do we as employers make sure you are able to do our job while having kids in a way that your needs are as important as our needs?

Nämlich.

(This post has originally been published on Medium.com.)

Women in tech: launch event of ABI.local in Amsterdam

On Tuesday night, April 26th, I attended the launch event of #ABIdotlocal in Amsterdam. It was hosted by Google Netherlands and Rose Robinson, Senior Manager from the Anita Borg Institute, was guest of honour, having come all the way from Atlanta, GA.

Rose gave a very motivating keynote on the role of local communities in empowering women in tech. She stated that „being the only woman all the time“ can be a massive problem, which is why events like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists with more than 12,000 women attending, are so important.

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Rose Robinson and Iffat Gill

The evening had been opened by Iffat Gill. She’s the CEO and founder of ChunriChoupaal/The Code To Change. Her talk was called “Digital inclusion: the importance of e-skills training for economic empowerment”. Iffat will be heading ABI.Amsterdam together with Diana Eggleston and Mine Ogura.

After another Keynote by Maya Tudor, Tech Scholarships Program Manager, EMEA, Google on “The role of the tech industry to address inclusion and retention of women”, the „Empoweress“ Mine Ogura, Head of Delivery of Marktplaats (eBay Classifieds Group NL), gave a very energetic workshop on „Cracking the Code“.

The official programme was closed by Coach, Trainer and Speaker Amber Rahim. Her workshop “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome” was full of insights and provided a lot of great takeaways for the audience.

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Workshops and networking

It’s been a fantastic event with a very diverse network. All of the attendants were utterly devoted to their professions as well as to the cause of women in tech. It has been an enormously supportive atmosphere and I’m very proud to be an ambassador for those projects.

If you are a woman and you are interested in coding and the technological side of the digital transformation, get in contact with organizations and initiatives like The Code To Change or ABI.local. It is more than worth it. I am looking forward to seeing those networks flourish and I’ll be doing my best to support this development.

New Work and Diversity aren’t just about women!

Author: Robert Franken (blogger and digital consultant)

I don’t get it, never did. Why is all the conversation about diversity and work-life-balance and gender equity so focused on the female-only issues behind these concepts? I mean, seriously: If you take a dive into the realms of feminist theory, HR management guidelines, leadership concepts or gender and diversity initiatives, where does this kind of limitation come from?

These subjects are not at all reserved for women, and neither are the concepts in their interest only. On the contrary: The potential benefits from changing work cultures, re-shaping career opportunities and dismantle societal expectations are and should be male priorities, too.

The only difference is the angle, from which the discussion has been kicking off. Gender imbalances almost always discriminate women. And this is the reason why it’s been the feminist movement which has identified and adopted these issues in the first place. Continue reading “New Work and Diversity aren’t just about women!”