OE Cam Partner, Hazel McLaughlin, who heads the Talent Management Practice at OE Cam, continues her involvement in at the International Congress of Applied Psychology (#ICAP2018), where members of the psychological community meet every four years to debate and discuss the current issues in research and applied psychology.

On 28 June 2018, Hazel was an invited panellist in an Alliance For Organisational Psychology session on “Removing Barriers for Women: How to advance Women in Organisations.” This was an opportunity to explore specific questions around women in organisations. Hazel contributed to three areas:

  1. What issues should women who are aspiring to occupy leadership positions be aware of?
  2. Which actions/initiatives can change the culture of the organisation to make it more supportive of women?
  3. What are the specific challenges regarding sitting on Executive Boards? Why are women underrepresented?

1.  What issues should women who are aspiring to occupy leadership positions be aware of?

Hazel highlighted four core issues women who are aspiring to occupy leadership positions should be aware of:

Women need to take a proactive approach to building their social capital by seeking out specific experiences and opportunities. There should be a focus on strategic career experiences and breadth across functions and roles not just depth.

As much as women need to ask for learning opportunities, organisational culture can encourage learning and development and male colleagues have a role to play in creating the right culture and ways of working.

As Hazel outlined; “Education is critical; when 10% more girls go to school, a countries GDP increases by an average of 3%. Life long learning helps; women need to keep developing skills and capabilities and be vocal about strengths, learning and aspirations.”

Women often attain more senior positions when they come from STEM backgrounds. There is a need to encourage girls and women to study these subjects, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). “The most successful female leaders often come from STEM yet women are not always encouraged in this direction. This exploration should start early in education and pre-career.”

Women in leadership may not always have visible and accessible role models and mentors. Good role models and mentors are vital as they elicit richer learning and development experiences. As Hazel said, to help achieve this; “women need to proactively network and seek out mentors both male and female, who energise their career.”

2.  In working towards overcoming these core issues, which actions/initiatives can change the culture of the organisation to make it more supportive of women?

There are many key initiatives that can support women and Hazel highlighted two core successful actions:

Both men and women can work together to make these initiatives a success.” It is important to have active involvement of men to build cultures that promote inclusion and make the most of diversity. After all, male stereotypes have negative consequences for men and women so their involvement is vital for long-term change.

Senior men, in particular, have a significant role to play in enhancing career opportunities for women. This is not only as role models and mentors but also by creating the organisational culture and ways of working that embrace diversity of thought and enable decision-making based on information and debate.

Building a clear and well communicated vision for an organisation is vital.” We tend to find that successful women have a strong sense of purpose as leaders and the vision to create a wider impact on the organisation and beyond. Building female leaders an overarching direction to work with will make the most of this tendency.

In addition, ‘values-led’ organisations that emphasise relationship building and collaboration, will tend to build on women’s strengths and therefore support the progression of women. However, it is important that organisations and leaders are not complacent, values-led initiative need to be lived in the organisation and ‘ways of working’ need to be reinforced and be supported across the organisation by both men and women.”

3.  What are the specific challenges regarding sitting on Executive Boards?

A key issue that was emphasised was the danger of tokenism. Hazel identified that for women to be seen as legitimate executive board members and not just representatives of women’s views, there needs to be at least three women on the board with meaningful portfolios. It is important for women to be seen as leaders and not representing their gender.

Why are women underrepresented?

Specific challenges women face and some of the reasons why they are not being promoted to board level were highlighted:

  • There is a need for stretching assignments that would build women’s leadership capability, exposure and experience.
  • Many women are concerned to show their commitment to the organisation. At times they may shy away from childcare facilities or asking for flexible working arrangements. Indeed part-time working is seen a barrier to promotion.
  • On career breaks it is important for women to keep up to date and current and to continue to develop their skills.
  • It is important for organisations to use relevant and objective talent processes so that judgements about suitability and leadership potential are about capability and the impact of conscious and unconscious bias is reduced.

There are already some effective broader initiatives which highlight the importance of male champions such as the United Nations, ‘heforshe’ designed to build equality.

As Hazel concludes:

“For far too long when we think about diversity, the focus has been on what women need to do to get to the top and it is undeniable women must be proactive and to seek out opportunities. However there are institutional, organisational and societal factors that must be addressed. The focus needs to change and to be on inclusion. When women are fully included as leaders then this encourages debate and diversity of thought which leads to better decision-making and more effective organisational results.”

For further information contact: Hazel McLaughlin: hazel.mclaughlin@oecam.com