Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
I was meeting with the top decision-makers at a client organization recently to plan out an important event for 2010. As we began to discuss the speakers they had invited to participate, and the ones they planned to recruit, I realized there wasn’t a single woman – or minority – among them. Though, in fairness, the organization is about three-quarters male, it still was baffling to me that they were oblivious to the fact that they had reeled off eight white males as speakers without a thought to diversity. My clients are really good people who are intelligent, open-minded, creative and curious. But not once did any of them consider the issue of balance in gender – or race, or anything else for that matter.
When I spoke up and pointed out the issue, there was a collective pause – and then, as they “got it,” a change in direction.
It made me think about the issue of balance in women’s representation.
I believe, in most cases, the reasons for lack of appropriate balance are not due to a Machiavellian plot, but to history “the way it’s traditionally been”, staying in a comfort zone “the people with whom I eat lunch or play golf”, and obliviousness to the issue “I’m just choosing people I know who fit the bill.” This line of reasoning ignores 50% of the population and 50% of the workforce – and the importance of including them in leadership and decision-making. It also doesn’t take advantage of women’s fresh perspectives and different experiences, nor does it take into account their value as consumers and constituents.
And, a token woman won’t be of much value, according to a study which reported that having three women on a corporate board seemed to change the paradigm by boosting women as a minority status and enhancing their contributions. Disturbingly, Catalyst’s 2009 Census shows that less than one-fifth of the 496 companies they polled have three or more women Executive Officers and almost one-third of these companies have NO women Executive Officers. So much for critical mass.
What can women do to improve the statistics?
It is important for women to build open and effective networks in order to become better known. Understanding the importance of making key contacts internally in your organizations as well as externally is vital. Women must also be unafraid to take more risks and learn to be more strategic in terms of career growth. Using mentoring effectively is another tool to help you get your name and talents known to the right people. And, finally, learn to navigate the politics of your organization or company and don’t shy away from leadership positions.
If we keep our eyes open to inequities in gender balance and we make our observations known, I’m convinced progress can be made in this area. However, it will take a critical mass of voices to change the status quo. So let’s all put this on our “to do” list for the new year!
What do you think? Please join the conversation!