Removing barriers in organisations to real opportunities for everyone for advancement and self-realisation has been an interest of mine for years. Black people, for example, have a much harder time getting a job and, once in an organisation, do not get the opportunities for advancement that their white peers do.
I talked recently with a black woman who had worked for an educational establishment in the UK for nearly 20 years and who had never been promoted to the next level up, in spite of the fact she had studied to improve her qualifications in her own time. She sounded as if her confidence was at an all-time low.
Black staff in the UK NHS have similar stories. Many BAME nurses and midwives informally teach young doctors but never move up themselves. The NHS has made a serious commitment to change the culture that perpetuates this bias. It has been there since the inception of the NHS so it will be great if that happens.
In the WOMEN COUNT 2020 report there is clear evidence that UK companies with a third or more of their executives who are women have a net profit margin over ten times greater than those companies with no women at this level. This is not the first report to evidence the financial benefits of a more diverse boardroom but change is slow in spite of this and the social justice arguments for parity.
According to this report, women CEOs are critical to driving the agenda for diversity at senior levels. When there is a woman CEO at least a third of the Executive committee is female. Companies led by men only have an average of one in five women at that level.
BAME women have been steadily establishing themselves in senior positions in UK government, health, sport, union organisations and NGOs as well as companies. (Reports tend to focus on statistics about race or gender, not both.) They often are breaking new ground, sometimes isolated and may be on the receiving end of abuse, in their role.
Here in Germany there are government quotas (30%) since 2015, for the number of women on boards but they are not fulfilled, with boards more likely to have 10% women. German recruitment often happens through personal networks and those seem to remain traditional white and male. As for race, there is little data available in spite of there being about a million black people in Germany.
Culture: ‘the way we do things around here’ can block change happening. Even if recruitment practices are good, once an employee of an organisation, the experience of ingrained patterns of behaviour that do not work for everyone can take its toll. Being the only woman in a room full of men carries a strain with it. The same goes for being a person of colour in a predominantly white organisation (known as emotional tax).
The organisation may have all the right policies and practices in place, and may even project a public image of inclusiveness, but some employees will feel good and others not. Speaking up about subtle patterns of bias and negative behaviours is difficult as they can be hard to pin down and, ultimately, employees need to keep their job so they put up with them. This is the real challenge of good leaders – creating an environment where all people feel welcome, valued and developed. These leaders are skilled at opening up discussion with employees and are prepared to hear different perspectives about what it is like to work in their organisation. If this is a useful exercise then it will be likely to be uncomfortable. It takes courage, the willingness to believe others’ experiences and be open to making the changes needed. It requires a commitment to building respect for each and every employee in the organisation so they feel safe, fulfilled and content at work.
There are potential blocks to actually talking about gender or racial bias, or both, and their impact on employees…. some leaders still say there isn’t really a problem.
‘ gender differences don’t matter – I see men and women as equal’
Or.. ‘Our organisation is colour-blind – we just see people’
Or even ‘ we are diverse and we see that as part of the richness of our organisation’
The reality is that organisations are a long way from being meritocracies and there is ample research to prove it. So leaders need to be prepared to listen to colleagues about any biased behaviour they have experienced and talk to people they don’t usually talk to.
They need to ask what it will take to build trust with everyone and remove bias. They need to be prepared to be uncomfortable and make it clear to staff that they want to hear the reality of what it is like to be black or a woman or both within their organisation. They need to provide reassurance to those people in the minority that they want to hear what they have to say. They can model humility and an openness to learning about race and gender bias that encourages their peers to learn. Then change starts to happen.
#coaching. #inclusion # leadership #black lives matter #women leaders #blackwomenleaders