Last June, Kate Broer, a partner at Dentons, admonished 250 female executives at a dinner. She said women were doing a disservice to themselves by not having more inclusive conversations with men about the future of leadership.
On the heels of this event, The New York Times published The Working Woman’s Handbook with this proviso: “No, we shouldn’t need this, but the workplace still isn’t equal … and we’re here to help." Sage advice was given in 10 areas ranging from imposter syndrome to mommy guilt. It was an aggregation of every women’s self-help book out there.
Fast forward to a fall event at women’s club Verity, and Colleen Moorehead, chief client officer at Olser Hoskin & Harcourt reminded us to heed Robert Greene’s first law of The 48 Laws of Power: “Never outshine the master." The audience nodded in agreement – never outdo the boss. In the next breath, women were encouraged to challenge bosses and learn from stories shared by the successful women at the podium.
As the group broke up, I wondered aloud to my seatmate, what kind of leadership development or transformative change had really happened in the room that night?
Is this what leadership development for women has come down to?
Changing the change
Women’s leadership seems to feed on stories these days. For every woman out there, there are at least 25 juicy stories. I know I have my share. But stories aren’t enough any more. Even with all of the women’s associations, award programs, networking groups, dinners, books, coaches and, yes, stories, women are still far behind.
A new study further convinced me these efforts are not enough. A report in The Globe and Mail concluded companies led by female CEOs and chief financial officers are more profitable. Yet investors aren’t investing. If savvy capital markets can’t compute the simple equation women-led-equals-greater-return-on-equity, you know there is a problem.
The AURA of opportunity
This equation led me to think about others that might be useful to reignite women’s leadership. In this light, I’d like to advocate an AURA approach. We need to move beyond stories to Awaken, Unsettle, take Responsibility and get into Action.
We need to go co-ed.
Hard change will occur faster when women and men come together to awaken new sensibilities toward each other. But talk is cheap. The crucial next step is to become unsettled and have conversations that bring equity to life. The hinge point rests on committing to mutual responsibility. Getting into action by harnessing the five equations below helps move us from posture to process.
Five equations to boost women’s leadership development
ESG = a holistic view
First, workplaces need to play an integral role evolving holistically from “equity” to ESG. When environment, social and corporate governance fuse, they harness activism – that has teeth.
FI = ESG2
Imagine the collective power of financial institutions (and other large corporations) pooling collective wisdom. Equity leadership practices that cascade to medium- and small-size organizations would accelerate commitment exponentially.
Networks x platforms = influence
Women in Capital Markets, Verity, the Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian Club, Women of Influence, Women’s Executive Network and the Institute of Corporate Directors have built impressive machinery. Why not aggregate their learning to advance women and men to awaken, unsettle, share responsibility and take action on these issues?
Canada + equity = competitive advantage
The No. 1 concern of Canada’s corporate directors is to increase competitive advantage. Just as ParticipACTION got us off the couch, let’s focus our new government on getting us moving on equity. Imagine if business and government worked together to create a process, not a policy, to address parity head-on. Let’s use equity as the ultimate competitive unifier.
Shoes + voice = collaboration
Finally, the good fight must continue to be fought. More women need to bang more shoes on their desks, figuratively speaking. But rather than doing this individually, they need to do it collectively.
Women do lead differently. They add value to decision-making and approach matters relationally, in ways men don’t. Old, middle-aged or young, all women seeking to make change need to work with men to establish a new momentum, one that is co-created and shared.
As you stare down 2020, consider process over posture in developing women’s leadership. So much for leaning in and leaning out. These jargon-laden terms haven’t helped as much as we thought they would, except in book sales. I say, “Shine your AURA bright, stand straight, strong and free." Pick up the phone and instigate the real and meaningful change we deserve for 21st-century leadership. Your grandkids will thank you for it.
Jill Birch is the CEO and founder of BirchGrove Inc.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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