Stop fixing women – start building sustainable businesses

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-first


Women are 60 per cent of the talent pool. They make 80 per cent of consumer buying decisions. They will soon earn some $18 trillion (£14.5 trillion) globally. They run countries from Germany, to the UK and Scotland. They run companies like Pepsi, Lockheed Martin and Glaxo Smith Kline. Companies that have more of them outperform those that have fewer.

So it’s time to stop repeating that women lack confidence, need to lean in, aren’t ambitious enough (or are too ambitious). Enough already.

Even if it is sometimes true, it’s not the source of the problem, it’s a symptom. Instead, we should be asking what’s the matter with organisations and leaders that can’t attract, retain and develop the majority of the world’s educated talent and connect with a feminising market.

Smart companies understand that gender balance builds sustainable organisations, better positioned to adapt to 21st century realities.

  1. Start with leaders

Leaders need a bit of help on gender, whatever their sex. Leadership teams can start by aligning on the rationale for gender balance (they aren’t). If they don’t buy it, they won’t sell it. Then build skills in understanding the impact of their own leadership styles and preferences. It’s the only way to avoid unconscious self-replication.

  1. Shift the culture

If leaders aren’t accountable for balance, it simply doesn’t happen. So start with that. Then – and only then - do corporate cultures begin to shift. Reward systems are key. Stop applauding the occasional woman who is finally promoted. Instead, reward, acknowledge and celebrate managers who build balanced teams. Newly inclusive cultures need to be perceived as a win-win for everyone, rather than an alienating focus on ‘promoting women’.

  1. Adapt systems

Companies need to adapt a range of policies and systems to a new reality. Recruiting, retention and promotion systems, as well as leadership identification, criteria and succession planning are all gender normed on masculine styles. So is a lot of sales and marketing messaging, channel management and advertising. For organisations to balance, models must evolve.

Want to tap the benefits of gender balance? Start adapting your company’s leadership, culture and systems to 21st century talent and markets. Are you ready?

Stop fixing the women - start building a sustainable organisation adapted to 21st century talent and markets www.20-first.com

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