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A powerful intervention that will help women succeed in your organisation

Firstly, let me describe the intervention and then the reasons for it. It is for your leaders to agree a few behaviours they consider vital in a gender inclusive workplace and commit to being an exemplar in them. This involves the leaders getting individual feedback every 3, or 4, months for about a year on the extent to which they are practising the behaviours. They also need behavioural coaching to support their development in demonstrating the behaviours.


The reason is that women continue to be massively under-represented in senior management and, seemingly, progress in changing this is static. This is a tragedy as research at London Business School (Prof Lynda Gratton) has shown:

‘Teams can be more innovative when they are made up of 50:50 even proportions of men and women. The (research) results demonstrate that optimal conditions for innovation are more likely to occur if the team benefits from group dynamics engendered when the team has even proportions of men and women. At the team level, the key drivers of innovation (experimentation, knowledge transfer, task performance and efficiency) stem from high team ratings for boundary spanning, a psychological safe communication climate and self-confidence. All these factors rated at their optimal levels with teams of approximately 50:50 proportions of men and women, regardless of whether the team leader is a man or a woman.’


The implications are that senior management teams are like to be more innovative if they have an equal balance of men and women. However, this condition is difficult to achieve when there are so few women in senior management.


There are many reasons for this of course: employers’ indifference to flexible working; stereotyping (Dr Elisabeth Kelan, London Business School); having to work in a masculine culture. However, there is one that is seldom mentioned. That is the impact of micro-inequities on women’s self-esteem and motivation in the kind of masculine culture that prevails in most organisations. Regular readers of IDC’s best practices will know that micro-inequities are patterns of negative micro-messages, e.g. being interrupted when speaking; having your ideas or opinions ignored; team leaders not making eye contact with you in meetings; etc. Individual negative micro-messages have little impact; but if an individual experiences a pattern of them the impact can be powerfully damaging – ‘the power of small’.  IDC’s diagnostic work for clients has repeatedly demonstrated that micro-inequities are the principal barrier that women cite to their performance and advancement.


Reducing the impact of micro-inequities on women involves changing the masculine workplace culture to one that respects and embraces both genders. Prof Daniel Goleman and Prof Richard Boyatzis have shown that “followers mirror their leaders – literally” (HBR, September 2008). Hence, if leaders set an example in gender inclusive behaviour this is likely to be adopted across the organisation.


IDC knows and understands this as we have helped leaders use the example of their behaviour to successfully transform their organisational cultures for nearly 15 years. We have an online survey tool to provide them with observer feedback on their practice of the behaviours they have identified as vital to drive transformation and our consultants are skilled in behavioural coaching.



Dr Ian Dodds,

31 Oct 08

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