When Does Equality Become Inequity?

With such great movements towards equality in workplaces; I’ve always been curious about the hidden dynamics.  By this I mean – what do companies really do (under the surface) to achieve equality and this authentic?

Larger organisations now have set targets to meet on diversity and most of it sits around gender.  This is only one small part of diversity.  Only the statistics and results are seen in the public eye.  These are often seen in reporting or through and Talent Attraction Campaigns.

Little is known about how organisations achieve this.  Behind the scenes are people in recruitment, talent management, leadership and HR who work tirelessly to ensure the organisation complies.  How do they achieve this difficult task?


I’ve asked a number of colleagues who work in recruitment (particularly in the banking sector) and was horrified.  One colleague said that for every three resume’s they presented to stakeholders, there must be at least one female represented (this is not what horrified me!).  This horrified me!  The focus was not on whether the female had the experience and qualifications for the role but was simply a ‘token’ candidate.  This meant that the recruitment team could report accurately that they had put forward a female candidate to the role.

This has many levels of ‘wrongness’ .  The poor female candidate goes for a job interview and is clearly not right for the role.  How does this leave her feeling?  What about the time she wasted, the time the recruitment team wasted and the interviewer!  Simply so the organisation can report they have interviewed so many females for the role.

I too have been asked to apply for a senior role as the company only wanted a female.  Not only was I under qualified but I didn’t want to take a role where an organisation thought that male and female ratios meant diversity.

Internal Promotions

I’ve also seen males less qualified and experienced get internal promotions over other more qualified females to meet the targets of a female dominated industry.  I’ve also witnessed a female who was extremely under qualified get promoted into a senior role over a male (who was doing the role and very successfully).

Diversity is so much more than gender.  If we are going to focus on gender as a way to quantify that we are ‘good’ organisations – this is alarming.  Male or Female – we should not be put up as a statistic to prove we are equal.  In fact I think looking simply at gender is inequality.

Some organisations do diversity really well and I know why.  They don’t have to report on male/female ratios or prove anything.  The simple mantra is ‘the right person for the job’.  One such organisation a great mix of male/female/transgender/gay/bisexual/people with disabilities/marginalised people and much more.

Diversity of thought is the key and the ‘best person for the job’ regardless is real diversity.

Leadership-Is It Interchangeable?


Leadership can be defined in many ways and there is plenty of literature that tell you how to be a ‘good leader’.   Quite frankly I’m a little sick of hearing about the new trends in leadership but that’s not because I’m a bad leader.   My view is that leadership has very different meanings.  Leadership is diverse and so are the qualities that make up a ‘good leader’.  For example, a ‘good leader’ in the manufacturing industry would look vastly different to a ‘good leader’ in the HR industry– why?  Because the skills required (soft and hard skills) would be linked to the outcomes of the business or division they lead.  A ‘good leader’ in manufacturing may need to be good at directing others – this is necessary to keep process optimized and keep everyone safe.  Ford is a great example of this, however this type of leadership may not fit well say in the HR industry where directing others might leave you with high turnover and a disengaged team.!
Now, I’m not saying they aren’t interchangeable but I would question that ‘good’ might mean different things to different organisations.   You could be in the same industry but change companies to find out that your ‘good leadership’ style is not so good at all!  Ask any CEO of an organization “What does good leadership look like”?  and I bet you’ll get a very different answer from each one.
There are also different leadership styles amongst CEO’s (which I guess means you can have different styles in the one job).  But do they get the same result? – well actually, sometimes – YES.  For example, look at Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – both had/have very different styles of leadership but took one of the worlds most recognised brands to new heights.  Were they considered ‘good leaders’ – to the shareholders probably yes.  See below for further insight.
So I’ve put together some key fundamentals that make a good leader – one that can transfer their leadership to different industries and organisations.
  1. Adaptability – The ability to adapt to different circumstances quickly and effectively is critical. You may have to adapt your style in a second depending on your audience.  Mastering this skill will make you a superhero of an organization.  Failing to do this will most certainly see you struggle.  But all of us have it in us – it is tapping into it that will be the tipping point but you do it socially.  Think about how you change your style amongst your friends/social groups etc.  Be aware of this and you will start to shift your thinking
  2. Listening – a ‘no brainer’ but listening is not just auditory. Observe your team – How do they interact with you and visa versa.  How do they interact as a team – do they collaborate well or are they working individually – coming to know your team is the first step in good leadership
  3. Boundary management – This is an interesting one. Being able to manage your personal boundaries/professional boundaries is just one part of boundary management.  Managing your team’s boundaries is also critical – are they getting stomped on by other divisions?  A good leader is able to build an invisible boundary around their team and you (as the leader) stand at the boundary.
  4. Performance Management – This is difficult for most people but having tough conversations with your team when they are not performing is key. If you see a member of your team acting badly – hit it on the head straight away – don’t let it fester.
  5. Story Telling – now hear me out! – A good leader is someone who can use their mistakes, turn them into stories and teach others how to avoid them. They are also good at painting a full picture of situations that are occurring in the organization that effect their team.
Now I’m aware that I have given you more to think about than answers so I’d be keen to hear your own thoughts.  What leadership qualities are critical to success in your organization?

Kids in the Boardroom

Kids in the Boardroom
With public bombardment of articles, blogs, research, statistics and media reports – there is no doubt that the world is suffering a ‘female drought’ in senior leadership positions.  Organizations are tacking this by putting in place policies, procedures and recruitment campaigns to ultimately get more women into senior roles.  But I want to know more; how has this become an issue in the first place?  Are you really considered a ‘progressive organization’ in an innovative world if you are considered ‘An Employer of Choice for Women’?  I think the intention is well placed but worry about the long term consequences if we as a society continue to need to have these sorts of programs in the first place.  I’m certainly not against these initiatives, in fact I think they are great; but I want to tackle the issue at a deeper level.  How do we change society so that gender is not attributed to our ability to be empowered in the first place?
As a daughter – I was always being told that I was capable of anything.  We are not confined by gender to be successful –  only by ourselves.   The recent #AWARE campaign strikes a chord in me (as I’m sure it will with you).  It is a short YouTube video that shows how children perceive the role of male and female.  It also shows the pinnacle at which we are divided into gender.  As children (in this case a 4-year-old girl), we don’t consider ourselves one gender or the other, we consider ourselves human – able to run, throw, jump and hit – just like a human, just like, well “me” – not my gender.  It is during adolescence we start to recognize our own gender it is at this point that it informs how we perform in society.  I encourage you to watch this video.  It is inspiring and eye opening for anyone (with or without children).
Although to explore gender relations in an organizational framework, it is necessary to first understand how gender is constructed.  Hart (1996), best described this creation of gender as a ‘social construction created and maintained between men and women and not fixed on quantity that one is born with’. P43.  This means that gender is transient depending on social situations and not assigned specifically to one type of gender or the other.  For example, women can have both masculine and feminine traits as can men.  However, society has divided us into what is considered the role of the ‘male’ and the role of the ‘female’ and assigned specific tasks to each sex.  It is not uncommon in today’s society for these roles to be slightly skewed but generally (and I am generalizing) it seems we are programmed by gender.  In organizational life; we see this phenomenon start to impact our mid-level management (where the ratios of men:women really start to shift).   What part of our biological programming assigned the more senior roles to men and the more junior roles to women? Is this something that is inherent or can we change it? And, more importantly, how do we show our next generation that they should not be confined by gender?  If gender is a societal construction; this means that society holds the power to change it.  Corporations are part of society too.
So I ask of you…. As members of society…. What are you doing to change society’s perception of gender relations?  How do we create a society and a workplace culture that keeps the ‘4-year-old girl’ dream alive – they don’t see themselves as any different to boys – but at some point… sadly…. for girls…it changes. And this continues into adulthood.  This is why we see such a skew in the workforce at mid and senior level management.  Let’s change this skew and imagine the possibilities.  The possibilities for organizations to have a varied way of thinking; a diverse way of thinking; a new way of thinking!  Maybe this new way of thinking might just help us grow as organizations.  Maybe it might just get us closer to our consumers – imagine that!

Is Organisational Culture Primitive?

The study of Organisation Dynamics refers to the behaviour and culture of organisations as a ‘whole’ rather than that of the individual.  The focus of the ‘group’ or ‘system’ dynamic is commonly referred to as the ‘culture’. When asked to describe the culture – it is often hard to do so.  How do you describe the social fibre of an organisation when most of it is actually hidden under the surface.  Culture is best described as the things each of us do unconsciously.  For example – when a new person joins your organisation they are mostly in a state of confusion – why? – because they are trying to understand the ‘under the surface’ dynamics of the organisation.  They must learn this before they can perform their job in the most socially appropriate way.  What is acceptable behaviour in one organisation is totally unacceptable in another – I have seen this in many organisations.
The study of Organisation Dynamics seeks to understand some of the unconscious drivers and socially constructed systems that make up the system and subsequent sub systems of an organisation.
Bion (1967) laid a foundation to better understand organisations as social systems when he analysed and documented group behaviour.  Bion was clear in his description of a group in that it must be formed to serve a purpose.  Organisations too have a purpose and each division within an organisation has its own purpose or set of tasks that are linked to the overall purpose of the organisation (sometimes!).
I don’t want to get academic on you (because I’m definitely not!) , however anyone who has studied organisations might be familiar with Bion’s theory.  This underpins the framework for organisational observation today.  Bion’s central theory was that there are two parts to every group.  These two parts formed the ‘work group’ and the ‘basic assumption group’.  The ‘work group’ serves the purpose or task of the group and the ‘basic assumption group’ holds the unconscious fantasies or ‘assumptions’ of the group.  Bion describes this group as the ‘invisible people sitting in two separate circles and talking’ .Margaret J Rioch  1970 p. 20).  Inherently as individuals we hold both the ‘task’ and the ‘invisible’.  Think about who you gravitate to or gossip with (yes you do).  Sometimes the invisible side of us can be used in awful ways towards others – like colluding, alienating others and more.   I’ve certainly seen this happen but people aren’t aware that they are doing it – it is unconscious (or sometimes unfortunately conscious).
There are three main groups that Bion (1961) uses to analyse the ‘Basic Assumption Group’ and these are Basic Assumption Dependency (Bad), Basic Assumption Fight/Flight (Baf) and Basic Assumption Pairing (Bap).  The fundamental idea regarding ‘basic assumption groups’ is that they operate (unconsciously) ‘as if’ or assuming that something was true.  For example, the Bad group operates as if they were a depending on another (in most cases the omnipotent leader) as their saviour – again, this is not a conscious choice.
All Basic Assumption groups operate at the most primitive level of humanity and it is this that is culture.  So describe the culture of your organisation now?  What is the real culture?

Self Awareness – Are we really as Aware as we Think?

Self-Awareness is a term that has been used rather superficially in organizational life – but what does it really mean?  Most leaders would say they are self-aware. It is a necessary requirement in leadership.  I would argue that self-awareness isn’t as prevalent as we are lead to believe.   Self-awareness, in my opinion; is the ability to really understand one’s behavior in relation to others.  It is our ability to see ourselves in ‘the third person’.  Are you able to see yourself in that way?  Most of us would say ‘no’.  Our unique behavior comes from our ‘internal dialogue’.  By this, I mean the pictures, memories, thoughts or views that we have developed over our life time.  From our early childhood until adulthood we are evolving and developing how we see ourselves in relation to our world.  Our life’s journey, shapes the way we think and the way we think about ourselves.  In our mind this becomes our reality.  Our sensorial experiences create a picture of who we are and what we stand for.  They become our ‘values’ which then become ‘hard wired’ and hard to shift.  Let me give you an example:  Have you ever sung in the shower and imagined that you were on stage with a band behind you singing your favourite song and the crowd cheering in the background only to be told (by someone in your external world) “oh my god, what the xxxx was that?  Your internal world was telling you how amazing you were!  Some might say you lack self-awareness but that is not my point – my point it is that your internal world dictates how you see yourself in your external world.
Self-awareness is the ability to bring your internal world and external world together.  It is the innate ability to understand how your internal world impacts the external.   At the risk of going even deeper – it is the ability to bring the unconscious into consciousness.  To give you another example:  I observed someone I work with.  This person would tell me when they are uncomfortable about something – not by telling me but by bringing her front teeth over her bottom lip.  She is completely unaware that she does this.  I came to this conclusion because I watched her pattern in each scenario – and I saw it every time.  To make sure I wasn’t crazy, I asked my colleague (a psychologist) to observe what I had seen.  I didn’t tell her my thoughts only about the teeth over the lip.  Every time, she observed her doing this, she said she was in an awkward or difficult position.  Telling you this is not an attempt to put anyone down, only to make us all aware that there are things we do unconsciously.  Ask someone you trust whether you have certain expressions or something you do when under pressure.  This will become the first step towards becoming self-aware!
If you would like more information about how you relation to others visit www.NIODA.org.au  they do some great experiential work on ‘self’ and ‘group awareness’.