Why are so many companies struggling to hire and retain talented women at senior levels? Well first of all, let me give those companies who are trying to correct this big kudos for noticing that women do make a difference in their organizations. Second - let me tell you that I don't have an answer! If you know me, you know that I have done a lot of work with my non-profit, Soluna Institute, that promotes balance in leadership (i.e. gender diversity). I do have to give credit to my co-founder and the visionary for Soluna, Pamela Teagarden, who opened my eyes to the issue. I'm a Gen X'er who grew up feeling like I could do anything boys could do -- better -- ha! I'm exaggerating, but that's what I was told back then (excluding the Traditionalist influence of Mrs. Getty, my 5th grade teacher who told me that I could not play football with the boys because I would get hurt. I will give her that -- there are some physical things that we probably can't do -- better. Although it still ticked me off at the time. ). I still believe that, but today I would add that we can do it...but we do it differently...and that is better for corporations...if they embrace a mindset of "balance". We need both in my humble opinion (and in the opinion of so many other diversity leaders today).
Now remember that I am purposely stereotyping, because there is a reason for stereotypes -- they are often correct. It is highly possible that you will have men and women with reverse characteristics. I say that because the example I'm about to give is actually featuring a man, not a woman, who exhibits a bit of the typical "right brain", non-linear, big picture thinking that we typically see more often in women. If you've read my recent blog on Grassroots Culture Change, you'll remember Gerry, the IT guy who became the "Yoda" for his company. As we were preparing for Ipseity's upcoming listening tour event, we spoke about the need for a two-parent company. I was a little surprised that this term was showing up again -- outside of my gender diversity conversations. As Gerry put it, we need the Strategic Visionary for the company -- typically the CEO -- and we need what he called a "Poet-Philosopher". We may need to come up with a better word that is more descriptive for this role, but his point was that someone in the company needs to be the Culture Visionary -- the keeper of the core values and how the company lives that culture.
Hiring and retaining women is not necessarily a gender issue, it is a culture issue. It's about encouraging employees to bring their minds and hearts to the organization and paying attention to their personal strengths, needs and goals. Motivation will be different for everyone, not just women. Maybe it is because women make up more than 51% of the workforce and touch all areas of diversity that we notice the gender issue first. Attracting and retaining top talent today requires a more holistic approach. Having a Strategic Visionary and a Culture Visionary "co-parenting" the company is perhaps just a start.
This "Culture Visionary" / "Poet-Philosopher" / "Yoda" may be a man or it maybe a woman. I don't have an answer to my question above. If I did, I think I could retire! My point is that in order to retain top talent -- men or women, Millennials, X'ers or Traditionalists -- you need to bring heart & mind to the organization. Until we embrace this and find a new way to operate large corporations, we will continue to struggle with this issue and our employees will continue to give us only their minds, leaving a whole lot of innovation and creativity out of our grasp.