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

Leadership and Living Your Life

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

1*-DoGFo87y7JZTHMDTfqsfw

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.)