Just in case you’ve been asleep for the last 8 months or so, there’s alot of buzz around gender equality and gender balance in the workplace. Change is long overdue but like many things in life, and particularly in corporate america, change takes time and people don’t like it. One of the most interesting aspects of this entire issue for me is the unfortunate need to “make a case” around gender balance in leadership. While I happen to advocate passionately around balance and equality, I also see extreme value in the fact that the genders will never be “equal” (there’s a difference between equality and equal). Actually, suggesting that they should be would be detrimental to any group of people trying to accomplish something.
While I hear alot of people stating the obvious around this subject, I don’t see much discussion around all of the science that would support, without a doubt, the need for embracing gender diversity at the leadership table. After all, no coach with her/his eyes on a trophy could build a winning team with only one type of athlete, one skill or one way to get across the finish line. At the most basic level, assembling a winning leadership team means finding the fifty shades of gray….matter that is. And leveraging the strengths and full potential of the collective brain power.
The brain continues to fascinate and enlighten researchers but it’s a scientific fact that only a small percentage of people have a distinctively male versus female brain. That complicated piece of mush in our thick skulls can actually be just about anywhere on a spectrum, male on one side, female on the other, the position of which determines exactly how we are wired to think and respond. The male and female brain are physically very similar however what defines the gender difference is the neural networking which drives decision making, information processing, physical and emotional reactions. These are uniquely gender influenced. For example, there is a long standing stereotype that women are more emotional than men. This is scientifically false. According to the neuroscience, what the female brain possesses versus the male brain is better “emotional eyesight.” Women can literally see more details in their emotional landscape which in turns effects how they react. There are many more examples on both sides of the gender spectrum that support diversity of brain power throughout an organization and in leadership. The power of which will never be realized without both women and men (and everything in between) at the table.
My step-Dad retired in his early 50’s. A graduate of Berkeley and a successful software engineer for two leading global technology companies, he was fortunate enough to save and invest wisely and do what many of us only hope and dream we can do.
Now almost 70 and living in a new community, he wants to meet new people, make some social connections and stay active (he’s still an avid hiker). A part-time job seemed like the perfect solution. He’s personable, smart, kind, hard-working and honest. He’s good with numbers, technology and people. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone that fits this description? But he is retired, and he wants to keep it that way. So a full-time job is not of interest.
Recently he interviewed for a front desk clerk position at a boutique hotel where he lives. According to my Mom (and I have no reason to doubt her), he looked like a million bucks…the ultimate Concierge. The hotel owner loved him. He engaged with the guests telling stories inserting his sharp wit where appropriate. From the looks of it, it appeared to be a perfect match. Hired? Not quite. Unfortunately, the position that was offered to him was full-time, 2nd shift and five days per week. A little extra cash would be nice but my step-Dad doesn’t really need the money. His motivation for re-entering the workforce was primarily social. But he doesn’t want to work full-time and he doesn’t want to give up dinners at home with my Mom every night so it’s a non-starter.
What’s the lesson here?
The landscape of work is changing. Smart companies that get the value of re-imagining when and how work gets done to include the part-time worker profile, will win in today’s competitive consumer market. We have a generation of smart, able and loyal talent that is being overlooked. If businesses want to be agile, particularly in the retail and hospitality industries, they will re-think the “ideal employee” and find creative ways to enable nontraditional talent to contribute to the bottom line and strengthen their brand.
Having a diverse and inclusive workplace goes beyond accepting the fact that you will work with people who are different than you. And it’s not about having the right number of this or that type of person. It’s about finding joy, inspiration and learning in perpetuity from those whose unique life experience enables the lens through which life is filtered to be uniquely different than yours, thus creating a rich culture that fosters diversity of thought, innovation and an extraordinary quality of leadership. Life is the single greatest learning experience and if you limit yourself to only one version of the story, you might be doing yourself a huge injustice. So that is my “So What” on this subject. It’s a journey and I’m loving it.