Women's voices are becoming more strident as we continue to be faced with virtually static figures for women directors in board rooms across the world. Despite fuller pipelines, more visible role models and a seeming recognition by many organisations, of the importance of the diversity agenda, the things that need to happen to make equality a reality, aren't. So what to do?
Men are sympathetic
I know there are men out there who are sympathetic to this issue. Especially those with daughters of working age! If this wasn't the case, there would be no senior women in influential positions at all!
What I notice is the tendency to polarise. The women are focused on pushing forward and on what is not working in the mens's behaviour and their own. The men on the other hand, in the face of the rising clamour for change, not seeing a way forward inevitably close ranks and ignore the situation, on the surface appearing to take the issue on board but in reality not knowing what actions to take that women will find acceptable.
What can be done?
To make progress we need a safe space where a better understanding can develop on both sides about the challenges the other gender may face. It's not just women who lack confidence, want to spend more time with their families or have issues with emotions. Talking and listening is an underrated activity. Thinking you know, that a woman with children can be passed over because you have assumed she won't want to travel, or assuming ,that if you call out bad male behaviour you will automatically be ignored, bare deeper investigation.
I think we are seeing the beginning of a recognition that for women to accelerate their careers they need to understand how men see things just as much as men need to understand what is happening for women. Men know deep down that a different approach is required but very often they feel at a loss to know how to initiate changes. They are terrified that women will play the victim card and they will have a 'situation' on their hands coming to the attention of the senior management in the wrong way.
In reality the conversations that work between men and women are the ones where there is some emotional intelligence at play. In tackling unconscious bias, Iris Bohnet in What Works states, the only aspect of unconscious bias training that works is the ability to put yourself into the other persons shoes.
Each gender has something to teach the other. Women need to be able to value the male ability to compartmentalise, be tough, take risks, get things wrong and men need to be able to value a woman's ability to oil the wheels, nurture their teams, and gain buy-in. It's a two way thing. In truth there is no silver bullet, it is a conversation of compassion and respect for the challenges the other sex faces and a joint commitment to working together to make the business enterprise they both support, succeed.