Interview with Edward. A Final Word

posted September 7th, 2012 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

“Before we met today, I was thinking back to that women’s committee I talked about earlier.  The Chairman who started it passed away a while back.  I had kept in touch with him over the years and had a really good relationship on some level.  We came apart for a time over a succession decision so there was a while there we didn’t talk but we started talking again and I’d see him from time to time when I got into town. In fact, I saw him just before he passed away.


“I was his performance management guy for a while which meant I spent a lot of time with him, one-on-one time, and I was reminded of an occasion when we were sitting in his office and he was talking about two things.  He was talking about the women thing and he was expressing very authentic, very genuine regret that the penny only dropped late in his career about it, but what that meant for him was that he was now bloody well going to compensate for it.  The other thing we talked about was his insistence on being addressed formally by everybody, but that’s another story.  The thing I’ve thought about over the years…because I see it now…I see it now where we have two candidates and one is a visible minority and for all kinds of good reasons…it might be very close but we’re thinking about the organization and the team and we appoint the visible minority person and then the person fails seven months later and you ask yourself, did we push that person and ultimately ruin their life and career, was that just a misguided decision?


“So the question I ask myself with respect to the former chairman, for all the good intentions did our work actually backfire on the women?  Because I’d argue that for some of the women who were on the women’s committee, there were negative consequences for them.  I saw it. I’ve heard them say it. I’ve heard people talk about them and I saw them leave the organization later, and I ask myself to what extent did all that stuff play a part. There was a lot of resentment within the organization at the time about that committee and about some of the promotions that were made, with people concluding that gender had some impact, and if you look at where that organization is now do you think it worked or do you think that ultimately it was well-intended but it didn’t?


“The chairman was completely genuine in his attempt…and without mentioning names, I think there are one or two of those women that would say that committee was part of a very negative outcome for them.  I believe that’s the case.  I think about it all the time when I have to deal with these issues myself in today’s workplace.  I just put a higher bar up to make sure that I don’t cause inadvertent risk for a woman, but it’s tough.


“We have had in our organization unbelievable success with clients who are new Canadians or immigrant Canadians and with gays and lesbians, and when we do statistical dives on the reason for our success, the main driver is our diversity initiatives.  Very simply, those particular client segments see themselves in us.  I do think that comes to play as well with women executives.  I guess it’s a different way of saying critical mass, but we never had an issue with women on our front line, in fact, we had two-thirds women.  It was the executive ranks where we had not achieved one-third women.


“After all this work, that’s the issue. I believe the societal forces around education and around degree-holdership and stuff like that, that’s a slow, inexorable trend that has to have some impact sooner or later, it just has to.  The feeder pool that created today’s situation didn’t have that characteristic. More men went to university than women and it takes 20 years to get into the executive ranks on average which in part explains the current situation, so I actually believe that with time this has to change. In the US today, 60% of degrees are being obtained by women including Masters degrees and MBAs.  Is that going to have an impact?  You’d think it will at some point.


“So if women represent 60% of every university graduating class today, is there a chance their numbers will move to critical mass at the senior executive level. I’ve had lots of women in every team I’ve ever run. At one time, when I was running a retail business I had a team that was mostly women. All the business leaders were women and it was just a very different team than any team I’d run before.  It was a more adult, less emotional…emotion’s not the word…there were fewer hidden undertones. It was a more transparent environment.  I often felt that it was just like sitting at home having a conversation with your family.  Part of the solution is that there’s a self-fulfilling prophesy here at some point, a virtuous circle where if you can get beyond the thirty to the forty or forty five percent of women in the senior ranks that it’ll just start to have an effect.  However, I think the motherhood issue is always going to be an issue.


The other thing I’d say is, when we have senior roles we post them now, as everybody does.  Women quite often disqualify themselves.  They look at the requirements and say I don’t have every required skill. It’s quite stark, we see that all the time.  We try to reach out to them very proactively now but that tells you that the women themselves are playing a part in the dynamic that’s interfering with their access to equal opportunity. They have to understand you don’t have to tick every box on the job description to apply.


“It’s interesting.  I’m no psychiatrist or sociologist but there are documentable differences in terms of risk-taking proclivity between men and women, and that is actually really important for Board appointments.  It’s really important.  I mean, a lot of what got the world into trouble was men taking dumb risks and if there’s actual scientific evidence that women will stop and think and take some extra time before taking risks, well, I’d like to have some of those on my Board.”


What Strikes Me?

Do women’s networks within corporations serve the intended purpose?


What will it take to move organizations to a critical mass of women at senior executive levels?


Women quite often disqualify themselves from senior roles. They have to understand they don’t have to meet all of the requirements for a job before they apply


There is documented evidence of differences in the risk taking behavior of men and women. What impact could this have at the board table and elsewhere when critical decisions are made?


What Strikes You?


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