I have finally caught up with the reading the thought provoking articles on women in leadership in the most recent People Management.
I particularly enjoyed reading the article called ‘Why being more female isn't about hiring more women’. I am struck by the concept of feminisation in the work place. I agree with Nadia Younes, Head of Diversity at Mining Company, Rio Tinto, although her industry could probably not be more different to mine. She talks about it being a ‘shift away from a more masculine culture to one that is more tolerant of style differences and ways of making decisions - and that benefits men as well as women’.
The article also quotes a McKinsey survey done in 2009 called Women Matters 3. This looked at leadership styles and behaviours and whether they were perceived as gender neutral or favoured more by one sex compared to the other. There were three top leadership styles that were seen as most important for managing in crisis and in ‘normal’ times (are any times ‘normal’?) Of these, two, using expectations and rewards and offering inspiration were favoured by women. Also, Dinah Wallman, CIPD Divertity Lead quotes research that showed that feminised work places where feminine values were prevalent had a positive impact on innovation and governance.
This article and others have caused me to reflect on my own experiences throughout my career and during my studies and also on where I am now and my current organisation. I could write for a long time… Afterall, who does not like to talk about / muse about their own experiences? However, I think applying these thoughts of a feminised workplace to my present leadership role in a Probation Trust is hopefully more interesting for anyone reading this.
If you look up ‘feminisation’ on any web based dictionaries, the definition is very two dimensional and disappointing as it’s just about developing female characteristics. ‘Feminisation of the workplace’ definitions bring up equality of opportunity, fairness, redistribution or work between the genders and practical issues such as flexible working and shared childcare. I don’t think any of this is what Younes was talking about, if I understood her observations correctly, and it’s not what I think either. She acknowledges that the language is problematic, and I agree, so I have been racking my brains for alternatives. The obvious contender is the increased use of the term ‘soft skills.’ This is not great either because despite all the research now showing a clear link between the use of soft skills (meaning for example communication, empathy, emotional intelligence) and the bottom line, there is an obvious problem with the word ‘soft’ as it sounds, well…soft.
So, maybe the approach is to look at the behaviours most favoured by female leaders, using the two noted earlier and to look at the impact, as noted earlier.
I am currently the HR Director in a probation trust. About three quarters of our work force is female and this is reflected in our Trust Leadership team, where 6 out of 8 of us are women. Our Board is 50/50. So, on a basic level, equality of representation has been achieved. But what about our qualities and behaviours, that in turn drive our successes? I contend that our overall culture does have this hard to define and somewhat intangible ‘feminine’ culture, but it is by no means soft, and the behaviors that influence it are not more prevalent in my female colleagues compared to my male colleagues.
Expectations and rewards:
· One of the first things our Chair and Chief Executive did was to make sure our business and management information reporting was top notch. Team leaders receive useful and timely information and in return they drive their team’s delivery of a quality service, data quality and performance. There is no naming and shaming, and no blaming, but there is plenty of friendly rivalry. Team of the Year is always our most hotly contended staff excellence award category and it’s a pleasure to judge internally. Even better is the fact that for the 2nd time in 4 years, one of our teams won this award nationally (against 34 other Trusts.)
· We go for awards and nationally or internationally recognised accreditations, and when we gain them we showcase them appropriately. We have worked hard to achieve European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Recognised for Excellence and gained 4 stars on our first attempt. We also have the Matrix standard for our Education, Training and Employment Team recognising the quality of their service. To this list, we can add ISO level accreditation for the Environment and for Occupational Health and Safety. Did we set out expecting to achieve these? Yes. Did teams work hard and collaboratively to achieve these? Yes. What are the rewards? Well, we are part of the public sector, so no financial rewards, but plenty of recognition and thanks.
· Our Chief Executive is highly visible and most of our staff have been able to speak with her personally as she has visited our geographically disperse offices regularly. She also writes an internal blog and has championed the use of Twitter, so she communicates in a diversity of ways to inspire more staff and stakeholders.
· We hold an annual staff conference every year, held twice so all staff can attend. This year, we used two well known academics in the field of Desistance as keynote speakers and provided workshops run by experts in Restorative Justice, through their own personal experiences. I found attending these to be a privilege personally, and from the feedback received, many of our professional staff were highly inspired to apply their insights to their practice.
A positive impact on innovation and governance.
· Our Trust was one of the first to run Integrated Offender Management (IOM), which is a partnership with the Police and Local Authorities to support joint teams to reduce reoffending by prolific offenders. It is successful and a classic case where the total is so much greater than the sum of its parts. We also use this approach for high risk of harm offenders in the Bristol area.
· Our Education, Training and Employment Team, have commercial contracts, and their Director has been commended nationally for her leadership of this innovative team.
· Onto the more mundane matters of governance:
o We are always in budget and continue to find further efficiencies
o We deliver outcomes according to our contracts and more
o We have turned around the relationship with our Trade Unions locally, and now enjoy a very constructive dialogue
o We prefer informal HR solutions but do follow up formally when required.
So, by picking out a few key examples, I hope that I have given some substance to my theory (well, musings really) on how ‘female’ qualities can make for a positive and successful culture. I am still struggling to think of better terminology compared to ‘feminisation’ or ‘soft skills’ though. Any ideas?