Business and Gender: Men are natives and women are second-generation immigrants in the corporate world.
The native vs second-generation immigrants metaphors are taken from a recently published book by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland. Their book, Why women mean business: understanding the emergence of our next economic revoloution, published in 2008, discusses the rising economic revolution of women in the corporate world. They claim today’s corporations lose out on crucial business opportunities when they ignore women’s power as talent and market opportunities. Their solution to the problem is to enable companies to become gender-bilingual. According to the authors, one way of starting is to rethink their preconceptions of men and women. The starting point is to consider the following three perspectives:
1. Gender is a business issue, not a women’s issue
Getting the gender balance right in companies are often mixed up with good intentions going astray. Highlighting gender or promoting women as leaders should not become an issue for the diversity crowd. Companies should rather start thinking of women as ignored talents and not as ‘poor women, they deserve better’. Talents are what make business go forward these days. Or halt. Thus, the question is rather how can companies attract, develop and retain their talent, the scarsest of scarse resources? Which talent pool is most widely overlooked? Hm, perhaps women? Take a look around in your own organisation. Who makes progress and who trails behind? You’ll most probably discover that the main share of people in higher positions are men.
2. Getting the right leadership team
Another challenge is to have management teams capable of both grasping the complexity of their business surroundings, creating a good dialogue leading up to the right decisions. When companies start doing commerce in a multicultural, heterogeneous and unpredictable market context it may be a good idea to consider whether a homogeneous top management team is the best equipped band of brothers to carry out this task. If there are not space for newcomers (you may consider them strangers if you like) on the top, at least do something to breed a undercurrent of diverse and strong talents with heteregenous experiences and backgrounds.
3. Women represent half the market
Look into your customer base and you’ll soon discover that there is an incredible underuse of the market potential. Start counting the money to be earned and you’ll start figuring out new concepts that may attract women customers.
Therefore: Become a gender-bilingual company
The three headlines above may serve as a starting point for considering how to understand the landscape your company is maneuvring.
Could it be that corporations generally are blind to the fact that men and women act differently in the business world? A widely held preconception explaining why there are few women in executive posts is that ‘women don’t want power’. Wittenberg-Cox and Maitland suggest there may be a metaphor putting this preconception in perspective:
Men who want power usually push for it, navigating organisational politics as natives of a familiar homeland. (Wittenberg-Cox and Maitland, 2008:224.
The authors suggest that even though men tend to push for power more often than women, ‘does that mean they (women) are ill suited to exercising it?’ (ibid:11) Well, one metaphor helping to understand the current state of affairs goes as follows:
Women are not yet natives of the business world. They are like second-generation immigrants, with one foot in the culture of business and one foot in the culture of ‘women’ (ibid:224).
To what degrees does managers take this into account when they create their strategies for attracting people? To what degree is gender sensitivity at all on any corporate agenda as anything else than a phrase somewhere in the annual report’s section on corporate social responsibility?
There is an elephant in the room
Despite the fact that companies are facing a talent shortage, few seems to realise that the solution to the problem is staring them in the face every day: making better use of women’s potential. ‘The situation is akin to that of the “elephant in the room”, the big truth that people prefer to ignore.’ (ibid:29) That is what happened when The Economist, a weekly journal, ran a special survey on talent, issued the 7th of October 2006.
The journal makes a thorough investigation into the matter, in their usually committed and critically acclaimed manner. However, as the Wittenberg-Cox and Maitland point out: curiously, ‘[w]omen were not mentioned as a solution to the problem.’ (ibid:29).
Watch a sligthly pretencious video interview with the authors at the book’s official web site:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Want to know more?
- I also recommend you to spend a few minutes skimming through the executive summary of the Harvard Business Revew article Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership (2007).
- Since the Economist survey on talent is closed for non subscribers, you may listen to an audio interview with the author of the survey (somewhat boring, though).