Stop Fixing the Women

Author: Robert Franken

We do not need more women in management positions.

Wait… what?! No more women in management positions? But that is exactly what all diversity and equality officers in the organizations preach. And that is precisely what it has been about for years and for years in connection with the advancement of women in corporations and in politics. After all, the proportion of women among German DAX board members is stagnating, and nothing seems to be happening in the rest of the economy without a quota.

But you read right: We do not just need more women in management positions. Because before we demand something like this, we have to look closely at the nature of these management positions. After all, people can only develop their potential when the environment is right. And in this case, the environment doesn’t fit at all.

Fixing the women

We are facing major system upheavals because some developments are cumulating in our present time: Resource scarcity, digitization or the post-growth economy are only the first keywords in this context. Against the backdrop of these fundamental changes, there is little or nothing to gain from making women fit for a system that makes it so difficult for women, especially women, to find their own way and to remain in balance; and which will presumably, therefore, no longer be suitable for overcoming the indicated challenges.

Nevertheless, adaptation remains the strategy of choice. Hardly any company that does not rely on “promoting women”. Mentoring at all levels: reverse, cross or classic. This includes seminars and workshops on presentation techniques, communication or body language. The focus is always the woman – and never the system.

This is based on a basic attitude that is discriminatory: Women are deficient and must be made fit for management tasks. A look at the details shows that this means more than just conveying communicative or professional skills.

“She can’t do it, she doesn’t want to”

Male leadership behaviour is still the norm. Those who do not comply with this standard must be adapted according to the logic described above. Not only do the many female* skills and abilities fall by the wayside, there is also little room for individuality with so much adaptation. Yet: there would so much potential in the complementary capabilities of women and men.

If we were to focus less on differences than on working together, the focus would automatically be on creating the optimal framework conditions for collaboration. But even when women get involved: Today, it is very much a question of who gets engaged and how he or she does it. In the end, men still benefit from status when they bring in new ideas, but women do not.

“The status bump and leader emergence that resulted from speaking up with ideas only happened for men, not for women.”

But it’s even worse: If a woman fails to fulfill her managerial task, then only the woman is to blame: “She can’t do it” is the usual narrative. Thus, the system is self-fulfilling and at the same time ensures that it can continue to rotate around itself.

In order to support the narrative, a second cliché is used. This happens when more and more smart women look behind the system and explicitly refuse to have a classic management career. Then it’s a little patronizingly: “She doesn’t want to.” The withdrawal from the system, in the knowledge of the pressure to adapt, is a sign of far-sightedness much greater than adherence to stupid paradigms.

No female role-models

Incidentally, women should not only give leadership a completely new quality, they are also called upon to pave the way for other women. Empowerment is a kind of new “soft skill” that has to be applied as soon as she has warmed up her executive chair. But for such a willingness to mimic the “role model”, it would require a completely different socialization.

The pressure to adapt is so great that many women who have “made it”, i. e. hold leading positions, are no longer a prime example of “sisterhood”. The way to leaderhip positions is  doing something to these women. They do not always become more supportive. And that is not an accusation, but merely a statement.

System-immanent dissatisfaction

There is a very exciting research project on the life satisfaction of women and men (Brockmann, Hilke et al.:”Why Managerial Women are Less Happy Than Managerial Men”, Springer Science + Business Media, Dordrecht 2017).  In the study based on the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP),”managers” were compared with „non-managers”.

There is a very exciting research project on the life satisfaction of women and men (Brockmann, Hilke et al.:”Why Managerial Women are Less Happy Than Managerial Men”, Springer Science + Business Media, Dordrecht 2017).  The study, based on the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), compared “managers” with “non-managers”. The results are jaw-dropping. When a man goes into a leadership position, his life satisfaction increases significantly. In women, this figure is stagnating or even declining slightly. This means nothing more than counteracting the talk of “We need more women in management positions”.

Not only do women tend to be dissatisfied, they also waste considerable resources. After all, what is the point of filling the pipeline with women if you make them utterly unhappy and, because of this very fact, lose a large number of women again before they reach the top of the company? All the more so as management positions have changed considerably and will continue to do so to an even greater extent. Status no longer attracts talent.

Being a boss is no longer a goal in life

In the past, a leading position was the reward for decades of perseverance. Those who only kept still long enough and did not allow themselves too big mistakes, became boss. For many of these managers, all efforts to do well in the new position ended immediately.

This is changing significantly. When hierarchies dissolve, leadership becomes more and more a fluid concept and bottom-up is the new top-down, the challenges for managers are also fundamentally changing. Cognitive diversity is a coping concept for everything we cannot predict.

However, we will not achieve this diversity of perspectives, skills and approaches as long as we adhere to masculine normativity and accept the fixing of women as a legitimate reflex within this construct.

So let’s put a stop to it.

 

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

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.)

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!”