On Orchids, Muscles and Gender Balance

On Orchids, Muscles and Gender Balance

Dealing with gender balance in the organization is an excellent workout: it requires perseverance, regularity, tackling difficulties, constant improvement, a holistic solution, and no less important: delaying gratification until the results are noticeable

On the windowsill in my kitchen is a potted orchid I received as a gift. Exactly one year ago, it was crowned with exquisite flowers. They lasted a long time, and then they died. After a week, I watered it. After another week, I watered it again. This went on for ten months. It looked just like any old stick, but this stick kept getting water.

There is much more than one reason for promoting gender balance in the business world. It’s the right thing to do, morally, regulatorily, and it serves the business in the long run in the pursuit of better business results. This is all true, very true. But I’d like to put forward another reason.

A few weeks ago we held a discussion with a group of men in the organization about the unconscious biases in the perception of women and mothers in the company. The talk focused on questions of the division of roles between the members of the couple at home, on the gender roles expected of them, or, to their chagrin, not expected of them, and on their influence, as managers, on the immediate work environment.

The discussion raised questions such as, “Am I allowed to want to be a dad who is present in my children’s lives?”, “How do people at work perceive this?”, “Will it affect my chances of getting ahead?”, “How do my choices impact my partner’s choices?”

I want to put the answers to these questions aside for a moment, because by simply holding this discussion, by having this conversation, we gave meaning to the subject. It was a special moment in our journey to gender balance – I felt that there was far more on the table than the subject itself, with an even broader ripple effect.

 

Why does an organization need to deal with gender balance?

Because an organization that treats its women better is an organization that treats all its people better, from two aspects:

First, because of the “what”. To devise solutions for women one must listen, look at needs, hear what parents have to say. A big part of the solutions do not support women alone. An organization that chooses one day a week when meetings aren’t scheduled after three p.m. serves the parenting or leisure needs of all its people; an organization that chooses to contribute to daycare until the age of three does so for all its people; an organization that is flexible when it comes to working from home serves the needs of many of its people.

But beyond the “what”, an organization such as this becomes better for all its people because of the “how” as well. To make a change in an issue such as gender balance the whole organization must undergo a process. This is not “cosmetic surgery”, but a deep inner change. Not a crash diet, but a conscious choice to make a long-term lifestyle change. A great deal of effort is required, from different angles, and must be applied over time to transform the entire system.

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An organization that takes this journey is more attentive, open, ready and willing to change, inclusive, caring, responsible and brave, and is a better organization not only for its people but also for itself

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To manage a process such as this, the organization and its leaders must be willing to listen, to take a long, hard look in the mirror, even if it isn’t always pleasant, to persevere and to be ready for the long haul before seeing any results. To achieve success you have to create a dialogue, share and include others and remain cautiously optimistic, because there are always a million reasons why it isn’t really going to happen.

An organization that takes this journey is more attentive, open, ready and willing to change, inclusive, caring, responsible and brave, and is a better organization not only for its people but also for itself, because all of the foregoing are crucial to an organization in today’s era since they strengthen a muscle that is important in its ability to cope in a changing, community-based and networked world, a world in which each element impacts many other elements.

Are there no other processes that can strengthen these organizational muscles?

There are, of course. But gender balance contains a challenging combination of properties that make it an excellent organizational workout: it requires perseverance, regularity, tackling difficulties, constant improvement, a holistic solution, and no less important: delaying gratification, because just like physical exercise, muscles aren’t built in a day and it takes time till the results are noticeable. 

A few days ago my orchid bloomed again, and yesterday, the first flower opened. In the worlds of gender balance in organizations, sometimes the people driving the process need to water sticks that look just like any old stick for a long time until the flowers begin to blossom.