Cinderellas and Princes Organizational Efforts to Promote Gender Balance

Cinderellas and Princes Organizational Efforts to Promote Gender Balance

In many organizations, the talk surrounding women’s promotion to top executive positions and the active support of gender balance in business firms has become open and important. In honor of International Women’s Day, Strauss’s Talent Management Director Noga Segev Nadir shares her thoughts on the gaps that continue to exist in 2016.

In one of our management development programs we distributed a feedback questionnaire in which each participant was given feedback by employees, managers and colleagues to enable him or her to take a look at the gaps between how he/she perceives him/herself and the way he/she is perceived by others. The intensity of the results came as a surprise – all women managers in the group evaluated themselves less favorably than their coworkers did.   From a cross-organizational perspective the implications of these perceptions are clear. Women propose themselves as candidates for in-house jobs far less than men do, and discuss their career in the organization or their compensation far less often.

Why do women evaluate themselves less favorably than men?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg likens a career to a marathon: long, grueling and occasionally rewarding. She makes a distinction between the voices male marathoners hear as they are cheered on – “Looking’ strong! On your way!” and the message female runners hear: “You know you don’t have to do this!”, or “Good start – but you probably won’t want to finish! …Why are you running when your children need you at home?”

Another source of this assumption is the fact that women are far more attentive to the feedback they receive from their surroundings and adapt themselves to this feedback far more significantly than men do.

A research study by Margaret Mayo performed on students of business administration, who evaluated each other and themselves at the beginning and end of the academic year, showed that at the end of the year the gap between self-evaluation by the men and their assessment by their milieu was maintained, while for women the gap had narrowed.

The first step: a change of perception

The first thing that comes to mind as we seek to promote gender balance in the organization is, let’s work with the women. Let’s give them the knowledge that will enable them to understand the source of their self-perceptions, let’s strengthen and empower them, analyze social and organizational phenomena with them, so that they will be able to choose other than automatically.   All of this is very important, since by understanding that part of my choices as a female executive are the result of an unconscious “steamroller of socialization” I will be able to weigh the next dilemma of choice differently.

But in the same breath, a red flag must be raised. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, one of the greatest experts on the subject, calls on organizations to “Forget Cinderella, Find Fred Astaire”, or in other words – stop over-focusing on inviting Cinderella to the ball and stop “fixing women”.

 

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One of the greatest surprises I personally received in the process was to experience the strength of a group of women when it comes to mutual learning ability and development.

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The role of the prince (or the organization)  

It's important to remember that efforts become meaningless if there's no prince that can actually dance with Cinderella (or fit the shoe on her foot), i.e.

if the organization and those at its helm are not in tune with management by women. As organizations, we have so many plans in place that deal with Cinderella – mentoring, manager development for women, intra and extra-organizational women's networks, et cetera, et cetera.   At Strauss, we too invest in part of them.

One of the greatest surprises I personally received in the process was to experience the strength of a group of women when it comes to mutual learning ability and development.

However, if these plans are not integrated in other organizational elements they are liable to become a double-edged sword.  

If the organization has invested in women executives and they nonetheless do not advance in their careers, this may be construed as a lack of desire on their part, or that they lack the ability.

The organizational assignment lies in acquiring the ability of both the organization and its senior echelons to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented women (and men), create diverse teams and communicate effectively with customers – women.   When I look at the organizational journey we have taken in terms of gender balance at Strauss, I am proud of what we have achieved: in our awareness, in the steadily expanding organizational talk, in the figures (there are around 42% women in executive positions at Strauss, and this is the result of hard work).  

At the same time, I understand that we are just beginning our journey, and we have a long and important road ahead.

This journey is only part of the process of optimizing the organizational talent to the benefit of the organization as we deal with the challenges in the organizational environment, to the benefit of its employees and managers, and to optimize the organization in terms of the development needs of its talent, however diverse this talent is.