“We give them”​ – have you heard those words?


Really, how serious is Australian industry about incorporating more women in their leadership ranks?  I have to wonder why we are moving so slowly on rectifying the problem, and perhaps woman and men don’t see the same problem?

I think for women it is about equal opportunity and the (often) lack of flexibility that many workplaces offer them during their child bearing or elder caring years.  I think it is also about the lack of ability to be at the high level decision making tables, where the real deals are done and where budgets are negotiated and incorporated into strategic plans.  I so often hear women say to me that they ‘have to ask’ for the budget to run a fairly low cost intervention or activity that supports gender diversity. I am also dismayed because I know that whilst some organisations deny this funding for gender diversity, they at the same time spend a similar amount of money on visits to corporate sports boxes or golf days. It’s really a question of priority and value.  So really, don’t we need to ask ourselves “how important is this gender diversity stuff to Australian business”

Whilst doing my Diversity Program Reviews (using the DPRF™cultural diagnostic), in organisations, I often hear well-meaning explanations from people who can’t understand why they continue to have a gender balance issue…and its usually a man, but not always. In extreme cases, these explanations have become well-crafted excuses that are actively preventing progressing, and in some cases, are creating new (and alarming) barriers to women’s progression.  One of the most common phrases starts with these three words; “We give them”, said with sincerity and often tinged with a little confusion.

Think about the words – WE…..GIVE….THEM.  Now think about those words separately and carefully.  Firstly

Who is WE?

In my experience the ‘we’ is generally the Board, Senior Management, or a Senior HR Professional. Usually this group is largely male, or perhaps a senior female manager who has ‘made it’ on their own terms by ‘putting in the hard yards’. Yes I hear you groaning, and yes this is not always the case, but it is quiet often what I find.   This language is powerful and by using ‘We’ and ‘Them’, the groups are separated with senior management unconsciously, often male, distancing itself, the ‘we’ from the problem that ‘them’, their female staff – can experience. This is not just about management and employee, it is a clear delineation between what the organisation hierarchy see’s as the way it should be and what is. There is another way of saying the same thing that does not differentiate between ‘us and them’, for example;

“The Company provides all our employees access to mentoring programs because we recognise that in order to support our people to achieve their potential, we need to support their growth.  However for some reason, we are not seeing the same return when mentoring women in our organisation”

Hmmm, those pesky ‘them’s’ – they are just not fitting into our expectations. No doubt because the expectation of management has a view of what the gender makeup should be and has a blinkered view of what life is actually like for humans that have families or a life outside of work.

GIVE

This is an interesting word because very few people give without some expectation of receiving something in return.  There seems to be strings attached to this giving, and of course this makes sense in business where money has been spent because of course there is an expectation of return on investment.  They way that this is often said to me is almost with exasperation that this group of WE’s is continually ‘giving’ but the women are still not changing.  Changing into what?  It seems that the changing that is expected is that they become like the organisations view of what a female employee looks like.  Of course there is no standard view, but there is a stereotypical or gendered view of what a female employee looks and behaves like.  There is lots of research on this already so I won’t go into to that in this post, suffice to say, that I do find instances where organisations are actively hiring women who fit a certain stereotype.  I also find that many organisations spend between $30,000 and $50,000 on their gender diversity initiatives with the first amount used to set up the Diversity Council.  Then the usual mentoring programs are set up, women’s forums might be implemented, leadership training for ‘high achievers’ (who often look like the ‘we’s) may be funded, and sponsors allocated to progress the ‘high potential women’ identified by the organisation. So…now the we’s can have some of ‘them’ that are behaving just as the ‘we’s’ expect. After all ‘we’ have given them stuff to make them achieve haven’t we?

AND THEM

Those that are not like us, those women…..that want to be recognised for the individual that they are. Unfortunately in my experience doing these #DiversityCapability Assessments, the ‘we’s’ really think that they are doing something wonderful by giving women many of the same things they wouldn’t think twice about if a man asked. Makes you think doesn’t it? These are actual real examples not from the 1970’s but as little as 3 years ago….

For more information about the DPRF, diversity or organisational activism, contact me at susanne.moore@ambidio.com.au

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