Monthly Archives: April 2011

The one where it’s all about women

I remember some years ago watching a dreadful film called “Junior” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emma Thompson. The fact that I thought it was dreadful whilst trapped on an aircraft for 8 hours only reinforces how bad it really was. Tedious story short “The Governator” plays a scientist who agrees as part of a fertility project to carry a foetus in his body.

Dodgy Arnie films and a transgendered person in the US who now male carried a baby to full term aside women are solely responsible for the difficult part of satisfying the genetic imperative. Fact.

In the process of completing an essay for college recently I took time to read a number of journal articles, published government reports and NGO reports on the topic of women in business and the gender pay gap.

First some statistics:

In 2010 the gender pay gap in the UK was 16.4%. This equates to women working for no reward from November 2nd every year (Fawcett Society Report)

64% of the lowest paid workers in the UK are women (Fawcett Society Report)

Only 12.5% of the corporate boards of FTSE100 companies are women (up only 3% from 6 years earlier) (Women on Boards Report)

60.5% of women work in only 10 of the 78 total occupational classifications (and with the exception of teaching the 10 does not include any professions) (DfEE Report 2001)

It would be easy (and I must confess I had largely taken the easy route) to assign all of these differences to women being out of the workplace through childbirth and parenting. If I’m honest my apathy on the subject was based on “well men can’t have kids” but reading the statistics above (and much more) has left me feeling that organisations need to do more than they are doing because although the statistics are changing positively year on year (check the ONS website if you don’t believe me) they are in tiny increments which don’t for my part tally with the contribution the women I know make the workplaces I have known.

I should add some caveats here:

  1. I know some fabulous women who are very successful and have broken glass ceilings
  2. I work in an organisation that is over 80% female
  3. The same organisation has an exec co that is 38% female (so although not truly representative statistically significant by comparison)

So apart from the propagation of the species (which is kind of important) what other reasons exist for the gap and the glass ceiling in corporate life. It should be noted there are no citations for this list (although plenty exist) and it is NOT exhaustive

  1. Corporations are largely still culturally male
  2. Access to informal networks (think the old boys’ network) is restricted both in opportunity and time to women balancing work with family
  3. Acceptability of role at senior levels is still largely male (without consideration of suitability)
  4. Women who want to work part time “crowd” to occupations that are more tolerant of it and where they won’t be penalised either formally or informally for balancing their lives
  5. A lot of the “go further” activities in organisations e.g. Training, rely on commitment outside of working hours

What I find interesting in this case is though rafts of policy have been enacted since 1997, the change is taking time and I don’t believe we’ve got the family friendly policies right yet in terms of where they are positioned and the reaction that generates from organisations (the automatic defensive to the ‘right’ to work flexibly) and a blog post worth reading (including the comments) on this topic is here . Saying that, I don’t believe a positive discrimination approach will work as not only is it legally dubious but also I think it will leave women feeling exposed and vulnerable to criticism in a way that would be more unhelpful than the results it could achieve.

One thing I am sure about is that the solution to this problem is beyond my wisdom or purview but in everything I’ve read the message that comes through is that not enough is either known or understood about the positive impacts that women have in organisations. In the spirit of this I will close this post with…

Last some facts:

  1. Companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity (Women on Boards Report)
  2. Organisations benefit from “feminine leadership” with the challenge facing organisations the need for competitiveness, aggression and task orientation (what could be considered male traits) are seen as less valuable than good communication, coaching, being intuitive, flexible and more people orientated in general (stereotypically female characteristics). (Powell et al, 2002)
  3. In Europe and the USA, women account for approximately six out of every ten university graduates and in the UK women represent almost half of the labour force. (Women on Boards Report)
  4. European Women continue to devote twice as much time as men to domestic tasks: 4h29m for Women, 2h18m for Men (Women Matter, McKinsey & Co.)
  5. Children born today will be 30 by the time I retire so can we please ensure they are well cared for in their formative years to ensure my old age is a happy one

Note: This post only scratches the surface of a very complex situation and for those who are interested in more detail there is loads available, start with the reports linked here and follow the trail.

Powell, G.N., Butterfield, D.A., Parent, J.D., (2002) “Gender and Managerial Stereotypes: Have the Times Changed?” Journal of Management, 28(2)

All other references are linked to download


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The one where I am truly humbled

I am by nature fairly difficult to impress. I don’t know why but my default reaction to most things is “that’s great but…”. I don’t know where this came from.

This afternoon I witnessed something humbling. I witnessed several thousand people running the London Marathon and although I have watched it many times  on TV and even in person once before it wasn’t until today that I was truly in awe of the achievement of the people running past me.

Just a few of the 40,000 runners

There was nothing to characterise those running – they were male & female (and if you took the costumes at face value several animals), every age, every hairstyle, every brand of headphones and some rather fascinating tattoos but in their pursuit you had no idea of their occupation, net worth, property value, car brand etc etc

The diversity of the charities was also incredible. Obviously the big hitters were out in force but some were clearly very personal whilst others were far more timely (a Japanese team out in force)

From a psychological perspective, the thing that struck me was their resilience. They were attempting this literally marathon task and with the exception of power drinks, iPods and the support of an enthusiastic crowd they weren’t stopping (I didn’t see Paula Radcliffe though). One definition of this phenomenon is:

“Resilience” the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease) (Masten 2009).

If anything I have seen typifies this then it was those I witnessed punishing themselves today.

The second thing I noted was that with the exception of the elite runners (who were done before I got there), there was no sense of win/lose, no sense of competition – everyone was there to support, help, cheer or at worst avoid crashing into, someone else. The crowd were not hoping one went faster than any other, no one cared how much these people were paid and there was definitely no chorus of “you’re not singing any more”.

The third thing that struck me was the celebration. At the end every runner who completed the course was given a medal and bag of stuff (chocolate, t-shirt etc) and the look  of pride on the faces walking past me said how they felt about wearing that medal. I think organizations are incredibley poor at celebrating success, they may do it privately, behind closed doors and then there is always a hint of embarrassment and a collective look of either a) we should have done more/better or b) this celebration is not allowed we should be working. The look on those faces should tell CEOs everywhere why celebrating success is an excellent use of time.

Finally, and this kind of links to the lack of celebration, organizations love to take any completion and immediately turn it into a case study, hold a “lessons learned” meeting or a review on “what should we do better next time” robbing anyone involved of that little moment of validation that says “i’m good at this”. Don’t get me wrong I am all for achieving goals but maybe, especially in current financial conditions, organizational leaders need to give their teams a chance to understand what they’ve done well and take a well earned pat on the back for it.

Amongst the biggest advocates of goal setting theory are Gary Latham and Edwin Locke and they make it very clear in numerous publications (a few are referenced below) that without clear feedback attempts at goal setting will be far less effective so what follows is my feedback :

To the c40,000 people who ran today I hope you achieved what you set out to, have an experience you’ll never forget and full truly proud of yourself this evening

To Virgin and all the others sponspors, well done for continuing to support this event. I hope it doesn’t become a budget cut and that you achieved what you needed from it

To all those involved in organising it including TFL staff, the Police and the volunteers who held ropes and lifted bales – well done!

And finally to my friend Mel Buckenham, despite my crass humour at the finish I feel humbled by what you’ve achieved and hope you too feel incredibly proud of what you achieved and the money you raised.

That’s great….no but!

My friend Mel with her medal

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A. (2002) “Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation – a 35 Year Odyssey” American Psychologist, Vol. 57 No. 9

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A. (2009), “Science and Ethics: What Should Count as Evidence Againat the Use of Goal Sharing?”, Academy of Management, August

Latham, G.P., Locke, E.A.(1990) “Work Motivation and Satisfaction: Light at the End of the Tunnel”, Psychological Science, Vol. 1 No.4

Masten, A. S. (2009). Ordinary Magic: Lessons from research on resilience in human development. Education Canada, 49(3): 28-32.

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The one where I make a complete fool of myself

In my last post I talked about Leadership and to manage your expectations right up front, in this post, and in countless more, I will again. It’s a topic that fascinates me not just from a work perspective but in life in general.

Again in my last post I shared the device I use to start a conversation about what makes great leadership – I ask people to bring a picture of someone they consider a great leader. Much to my relief, it really works but on one occasion worked to make me look very foolish and as it seems to be global culture anecdote day let me explain….

Picture the scene, it’s the summer of 2010 and employee relations are definitely high on Willie Walsh’s agenda. Being a loyal British Airways customer whore for tier points/BA miles I had opted to fly BA to India despite the strikes. This actually worked to my advantage as the flight was crammed and I got bumped from Cattle Plus to Club Class – happy days.

Sat next to me was an Indian gentleman somewhere in his 60s and from the moment he got on board he was agitated and the staff were clearly aware of this. Just before takeoff Cabin Services Director (such a grandiose title I think) came over and patiently explained that his company had cancelled his 1st class ticket and by the time it was rebooked only (only!) Club class was available and they did not have space to bump him. He was not happy. He complained about the food (strike meant reduced service), demanded a drink whilst someone else was being served and was generally not a happy camper and with no trouble showing it, hence the name I gave him in my mind “grumpy guy”. With hindsight it should have been “rude guy”

So we ate, we drank and eventually everyone settled down to try and get some sleep, me amongst them, at which point he rummaged in his bag and pulled out an iPad. To give this some context iPad was only about 10 days post release in the UK so at the time this was flash and distinctive. Why should this bother me? With only perspex (or similar) between us he seemed to have a great knack for timing his change of app/page and it’s ensuing flare of light with my almost reaching sleep with the consequence that it took me far longer to get some sleep than planned. His name was now revised to “grumpy guy with iPad”

[Stick with it there is relevance I promise]

On landing in India he was up and gone almost as soon as wheels hit tarmac and the lady sat behind me made a comment to which her neighbour (who it turned out was BA staff travelling home) remarked that he was one of India’s most famous businessmen and a ‘high up’ (her phrase not mine) at Company X. On reaching the hotel, restless and bored, I checked out Company X and wouldn’t you know it, there he was, on the website, Chairman and Chief Cheese (or similar) “Grumpy Guy with iPad”…

The following morning now feeling jet lagged and stood in front of 15 of our Indian Managers I was feeling tense and anxious a feeling I could see mirrored in their expressions too, so I did what I often do in such circumstances, I told an anecdote – to relax them, me and most importantly to make the Senior person from the UK stood in front of them seem just that bit more human and less intimidating. I told the “Grumpy Guy with iPad” story. The response was engaging but with some looks in the room I didn’t quite understand…

Moving on to the ‘picture of someone you consider a great leader’ exercise, the looks became absolutely clear to me. Of the 15 people in the room, no less than 4 of them had brought….you’ve guessed it – “Grumpy Guy with iPad”. To give this some context M.K. Gandhi (yes THAT Gandhi) only appeared once. On a scale of 1 to 10 how big an idiot do you think I felt? Yes, 12.

An aside on the choices that day – of the 15 pictures on the wall, not one of them was a non-Indian. The only country that has chosen only people of their own nationality. I couldn’t resist asking the question and the response which really made me smile was “Why would we consider anyone who wasn’t Indian?”

Anyway, this man, who I had written off as a cranky show off, is one of the most respected businessmen in India, has built a hugely successful business, is on the board of a globally renowned business school, has been honoured by more countries than you can shake a stick at (including ours) and yet I had dismissed him and given him a cheap nickname…but was I wrong?

I don’t know…

Having reflected on this encounter and told the story a few times (its better with wine, trust me) the following things keep coming back to me:

1. Despite his achievements in life, on the day in question he was rude and made life difficult for people trying to provide him with a service

2. Was it fair of me to judge the human being sat next me in the terms of the global business leader he was being considered the following day?

3. Can we really expect anyone great leader or not, to be great 24/7? (especially in Club Class). Do “we” (the little people) hang too much of our hope, expectation and destiny onto this notion that these people are really great?

4. When will I learn not to lead with my chin?

5. Argentinean red wine really does help me sleep




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The one where I first talk about leadership

Over the past few years I have had to, as part of my role, develop leaders and trust me it’s so easy…


Hang on, it’s the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my entire career

I recall running a leadership workshop last summer, tweeting the title of workshop and being asked the question by several people “can leadership be trained?”

For my part I don’t believe that leadership is something you can be trained to do – management is trainable, but not leadership. Which then begs the question ‘are leaders born or made?’ to which my answer is…both, which may appear something of a paradox but it’s not. If you notice, in the first sentence I used the word trained and I do strongly believe that leadership cannot be trained it can however, with the IMHO caveat firmly applied, be developed i.e. helping people to discover the qualities, abilities, confidence, points of view, courage, insight, self awareness, understanding etc, to become the best version of themselves…which in turn may engage people to follow them as leaders…

When faced with having to run a leadership workshop for the first time (some time in the distant murky past) I stood facing 12 people and asked the question “what do you think defines a great leader?”

Having heard the sound of tumbleweed for what felt like forever (in all likelihood I probably only lasted about 20 seconds) I forged on, asked questions to stimulate thought and at the end of a 20 minute bore fest had less than 10 words on a flipchart. To use a twitter expression #epicfail

My failure I believe was due to several factors amongst which were as an out and out extravert not letting people have any time to think about any answer but more significantly to pick a topic so vast and dare I say it over published/discussed/venerated/poorly defined and then to expect people to pick some nuggets out of thin air. Suffice to say the workshop didn’t improve much from there and I went away deflated and introspective….

*Time Passes*

So having to now deliver it again (some months later) I realised that yes I did want to have a discussion about what the participants considered great leadership. So how was I going to make it work? Easy…give them some time to prepare and some sort of framework to think within (I am in L&D after all!) and then an idea came to me that seemed so simple yet it *may* work… ask them all to bring a picture of someone they considered a great leader. As they get stuck on the wall, they get discussed, scrutinised, challenged and understood (and I’m in L&D I write this all on a flipchart)

What has ensued on the many occasions I have used this, in countries as diverse as the UK, US, Hong Kong, China & India, are probably some of the most interesting and enlightening discussions I have had at any point in my role and what’s amazing is the diversity of people that get chosen but more about that another time….

For now, I just share what has come to mind whilst thinking this through:

1. Learn from your mistakes – quickly, but don’t necessarily change your objective just consider different ways of doing it

2. When something isn’t working, get out and move on…

3. Poor workshops are the fault of poor design or delivery NEVER poor participants

4. Apparently it’s OK to consider Captain Kirk (as played by William Shatner) a leader in at least 2 countries!

5. Only 4 people have appeared multiple times (and if you guess I’ll tell you)

And leave you with a question, who do you consider a great leader? And why? (Answers on a postcard, tweet or in the comment box below please)


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The one where it’s about support & help

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was Mentor and a Mentor was good.

Harking back to days of yore (or before my time anyway) Mentoring was simple – “the developmental assistance provided by a more senior individual within a protégé’s organization – that is, a single dyadic relationship” (Higgins & Kram, 2001) or to put it in layman’s terms big cheese looked after little cheese. Little cheese benefited from advice, guidance and occasionally from influence or sponsorship, big cheese got a little benefit from insight into other parts of the organization and a different point of view…

Then, somewhere along the line, the world changed. For a number of reasons I think mentoring lost support in organizations. The reasons include flatter structures so less distance between big cheese and little cheese, the ratio of big cheeses to little cheeses decreased so the amount of available mentors decreased but probably most significantly individual tenure in an organization decreased – careers became things that involved being in several organizations and it seems organizations tacitly decided to “bugger you we’re not giving you a mentor” (I am generalising of course!)

So what happened? Did people simply exist without the additional support, counsel, guidance and G&T that a mentor provided? Simply put – NO. What happened was people built their own mentors, but rather than it being one big cheese the support came from many people – kind of DIY mentor made up of numerous people both senior & junior, both inside & outside the organization, both colleagues & friends – they built networks of support, but how are those networks of value?

There seems to be a trend in social media to keep score – Klout seems to be the most high profile and my view is largely negative due to the superficial nature of the metric but I haven’t put any near enough time or energy into really understanding any of them. Basically whichever scoring system is out there they seem to want to draw conclusions about your power and influence over other people from the metrics surrounding your social network profiles. For a more informed view you may want to check out the following blog posts from Matt Alder’s Blog and from Rob Harrison’s Blog

At the same time the academics have (of course) developed their own models of what they term “social capital” which is defined as any aspect of social structure that creates value and facilitates the actions of the individuals within the social structure and is created when the relations among people change in way that facilitate instrumental action (Coleman, 1990 in Siebert et al 2001). In terms of career development they use several models to try and “keep score”. The first (weak ties) considers the intensity, frequency and diversity of the people an individual is linked to, the second (structural holes) considers the “uniqueness” of the linked person – how discrete is one contact from another and the final one that seems popular is Social Resource Theory which builds on Weak Ties by consider the “value” of the linked person in terms of career development. But does any of this work in reality?

During a conversation with a supplier some months ago she recounted having worked directly for Stuart Rose (Sir Stuart formerly of M&S fame Rose) who she described as “the consummate networker”. In the days before Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter etc he ‘apparently’ had a comprehensive system for managing his network and was fanatical about keeping it updated and more specifically growing it having stated a goal to run M&S he set out to network himself to it, operating a number of rules, the primary of which was “don’t make the first contact the one where you ask for their help”. And as we all know, he got there and….well he got there!

Where does all of this leave me and you?

Likely without a formal mentor to be sure but then if you carry on waiting you’ll stay unsupported – DIY, find your own. Realise that everyone you meet and everyone you talk to is likely a source of support, advice, guidance and in the case of most of the people I speak to on Twitter opinion, but if all you do is take you are likely to find the cupboard bare fairly quickly – it has to be mutual as and when the opportunity arises but don’t be afraid to ask, the worst they can say is no and remember to be honest, if you want help of your friends ask for it – don’t dress it up or, trust me, they’ll know. Finally, whilst numbers are interesting realise that a few great people with whom you have meaningful dialogue outweigh 1000s of people who don’t know you from Adam so build relationships with care and with respect and you’ll find on the day you ask for help likely there’ll be several people more than willing to step up…

Higgins, M.C., Kram, K.E. (2001). “Reconceptualizing Mentoring at Work: A Development Network Perspective” Academy of Management Review Vol 26, 2, 264-288

Siebert, S.E, Kraimer, M.L., Liden, R.C. (2001) “A Social Capital Theory of Career Success” Academy of Management Journal, Vol 44, 2, 219-237


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