Accelerate your Female Leadership journey

Written by Johanna Lindberg-Bert

Head of sales
Published on 07-05-2018

Earlier this year, Akteos Asia hosted a talk about ‘Making it to the Top: career plan or developing potential?’ with Jean-Louis Petibon, Akteos Senior Advisor and former EgonZehnder Managing Director France & Executive Committee Member. He quoted 4 essential skills for managers, male & female alike, to develop their potential and reach the top in worldwide class organizations: Vision, Resilience, Ability to Connect, Agility to Learn. In parallel, organisations are looking for ways to develop their Diversity & Inclusion culture through specific HR processes and concrete actions.

How do these skills and behaviours apply to Diversity & Inclusion and in particularly when addressing gender diversity?

How can You, as a Female Leader unleash your potential and “make it to the top”, if that’s what you genuinely want?

First, analyse yourself and pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself what gives you energy and purpose. This can be done by using profiling tools like the Akteos Nomad’ Profiler. The Nomad Profiler helps you to better understand your own style based on 10 dimensions of cultural working preferences. Do I really want a top position and the efforts that come with it?

Second, for the ones, “making it to the top” is what you want, identify the obstacles for Female Leadership in your environment and have a look where to find opportunities to promote your goals. Most of the time, achieving specific goals also means overcoming obstacles. Ask yourself:

1. Are there barriers for women to take on International assignments?

Women accounted for up to 25 per cent of foreign work assignments in 2016 (Global Mobility Trends Survey of employers by BGRS relocation firm).

Singapore female labour participation rate currently stands at 60.4%, lagging the male rate, 76.2%, by 16 percentage points (source: Labour Force Survey, Ministry of Manpower 2016)

2. Is there a glass ceiling in your organisation?

The Bank of England first gender pay-gap report revealed a gender pay gap on average 24% between the its male and female staff. Less representation of women in senior positions are likely to be the main reason.

3. Are you actively promoting Gender Diversity in your organisation?

The UK Financial Conduct Authority has set a target of 45% of its senior leadership team identifying as female by 2020. The aim is to give all senior leaders an objective around the promotion of diversity and inclusion and establishing a number of mentoring schemes which include an internal mentoring scheme for women.

Work on a clear strategy to overcome the obstacles, make this a priority and look at the possibilities.

How can cultural dimensions help you with this? Linking the above mentioned 4 essential leadership skills with 4 dimensions of cultural working preferences will give you a map on how to grow your influence and impact as a Female Leader:

I. Focal point: Individual or Group Where we put the focal point, individual or group, and what we consider as “group” (family or working colleagues) tend to affect our approach to career.

First, you have to identify what is important for You. Do you really have the strong motivation to “make it to the top” and do you have a Vision?

Then, to find new job opportunities and be able to seize them, the consideration of the group must be clarified. Some tend to prioritize the group “Family” over career, thinking they can’t have both, where others are more confident that the Family will adapt to the career constraints. It’s important to understand that the world is VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and accept it. Adaptability and Resilience are core skills required for Senior Management Positions. How does that fit with your personal hierarchy of priorities?

II. Professional relationships (task centric or person-centric) Make sure you know what is your potential. The choice of jobs that usually lead to high-level jobs and Managing positions are mostly functions within finance, engineering, legal and sales. Those are not what that the majority of women would naturally choose. We still find higher concentration of women within marketing, communications or human resources.

On the other hand, competencies linked to people are highly valuated for Senior Leadership positions. Understand how to use your person-centric skills to show your value as a Manager and develop your professional network to promote your achievements. Ability to connect and engage with others is a skill the organisations look for more and more in their leadership teams.

III. Explicit or Implicit “I’ve never done that before, so I’m absolutely sure I can do it” – Swedish book character Pippi Longstocking

A female CEO told me recently that if her Manager wouldn’t have pushed her and strongly insist for her to take over Senior Management Positions she would not have applied for those roles by lack of self-confidence. Yet, the agility to learn is another key element to climb the career ladder.

Women are less often asking for mobility assignments or promotions as they think they need to fulfil 150% of the requirements. Accept not knowing everything and be explicit in your capacities to learn new things. Know what you want, dare asking for it and be able to communicate it with impact.

To support gender diversity and overcome these unconscious bias, quotas in the organisation and legal framework can really help. A growing number of governments have opted laws and quotas to enforce better gender balance on company boards. In France for example, 40% of board members of CAC 40 companies in 2017 must be Female leaders. The top 100 primary SGX-listed company boards had an improvement of women’s representation on boards from 10.9% at end 2016 to 12.2% as at end Jun 2017. (source: Diversity Action Committee Singapore). Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) advocate a 20-20 target – at least 20% of female directors on boards by 2020.

IV. Relationship to time Flexible work environment and support for work-life balance is a key for attracting Female Leaders in the organisations. In Germany, lacking available day care services for the early ages, many women choose to either settle for part-time work, contract roles or not work at all. This scheme is also very common in Japan. On the other hand, for example Singapore, can be a fantastic working environment in many aspects as access to help at home is frequent and much more affordable than in Europe.

The impact of the internet on business models bring more opportunities for flexible working hours which doesn’t not only fit better with a work-life balance for women, but positively impacts men’s roles and attitudes towards work and family life, encouraging men to take part more in household and childcare responsibilities.

What can female leaders do individually? On an individual level, you can support the change by influencing the organization to take some concrete actions. Here are some examples:

The HR trend institute indicates that employee engagement is reinforced through a more human and holistic HR approach. The ’employee journey’ and ’employee experience’ is the latest trend within the HR industry and gender diversity promotion can be a cornerstone in this era.

Implementing training sessions on Female Leadership /D&I, help to demonstrate the importance of diversity and inclusion to the organization. It’s a great opportunity to learn best practices in a safe and enjoyable environment, share ideas and calls for action.

Go beyond the usual network when searching for Senior Management or board candidates. Involve other women in the recruitment process, who can recommend other names from their networks, or engage an executive search firm to help identify high-potential female candidate.

Leverage the momentum! Things are moving in the right direction. For example, today Singapore has over 20% female Member of Parliament and after serving for more than four years as Speaker of Parliament, Halimah Yacob became Singapore’s first female President in September 2017, inspiring and leading the way for the younger generations. On 1st of January 2018, Iceland becomes first country to legalize equal pay between men and women, for companies with 25 or more employees. “We want to break down the last of the gender barriers in the workplace,” said Thorsteinn Viglundsson, Iceland’s social affairs and equality minister. “History has shown that if you want progress, you need to enforce it.”

Johanna Lindberg-Bert
Johanna is Head of sales for Timeo-Performance's learning & development and consulting services including Akteos Asia and CrossKnowledge. She has more than 20 years experience in supporting companies to develop their business internationally and succeed with commercial strategy, management of their HR performance and cross-cultural management.

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