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Everyday Sexism, Diversity & Ambition For The Boardroom

Posted on May 30, 2013 at 5:50 PM

Too much to say and not enough time. That's good, I think - it means there are more things that I care about than the time at my disposal. A productive mix. 

First - next week the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union (BGIPU) has kindly asked me to be part of a panel debate on violence v women in Politics (from a media perspective). The timing could not be better. Three women took on Facebook last week on misogynist posts on pages with advertising - and in just seven days, Facebook had to take them seriously - because advertisers, distressed at the prospect of lost customers, sensibly pulled their ads. #theloudvoiceofmoney. 

One of those three women is British - Laura Bates, the 26 year old founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. I take my hat off to her- because that is what it is all about, combating everyday sexism - from the clothes we choose to wear as women (and men)  to the ambitions we set ourselves, to the people we need to represent us in government....to the boardroom.

Everyday sexism is the insidious culprit that stops many a woman in her tracks, whether or not she recognises it at the time. By another name - and by the time we get old enough to be in jobs - it is subsumed into what we call 'corporate culture.'

Then there is 'leadership' - all that management writing about how to do it, and how to change that culture. But very little of it is rooted in what I would call the 'real world.' Management writers talk to other other management writers, the bulk of whom are men. They discuss leadership roles, the male psyche vs the female psyche, 'power' vs 'emotional intelligence'.

I think a lot of it is tosh. (Online dictionary defintion here: "Slang chiefly Brit nonsense; rubbish") Know why?

Because, in fact, as a species I do think we have evolved. Yes, there are two distinct sexes for the most part, men and women- and yes, they differ broadly. But what they share - and what can bring them together - is empathy. They (potentially) share more than what they don't share.

And so this is what businesses should do, in my view, instead of focusing overly on gender differences, and the holy grail of diversity,  letting it become a divisive issue. Focus instead on empathy, use it for employee engagement.

I attended a breakfast yesterday to hear more from Lynda Gratton about her Hotspots Movement at London Business School, part of the collaborative FutureofWork research consortium. It was a morning well spent.

I also shared my experiences of working with a clever and forward-looking FTSE100 company, which hired me to interview its senior management - in the style of interviews I have done for the Financial Times Executive Appointments section.(In these interviews I seek to 'take the pulse of the individual' and provide a sense of why they made the decisions they made which brought them to this senior point in their career. I see it as telling their story). I was quite surprised by the level of interest from those present.

This FTSE100 company hired me to do the same style interview to their remit, for internal consumption via company intranet - and monitored the feedback. They have a very young, international, and mobile workforce - they needed glue to bind. They started with making their senior leadership human and soon moved to telling the stories of their 'everyday people.' I believe it was very well received.

Surely it's obvious this is a good idea? I can tell you that this company's share price suggests it's onto many good things -  and it's employee engagement strategy is driven directly by its CEO, who was the first subject for interview.


So I would stress the need to look for the 'glue that binds' while plcs wrestle with all their many challenges. And never underestimate the power of storytelling as an instrument of change. Stories can provide the mirror we all need to remember we are not alone.

Categories: Women, Engagement, Behaviour