LeadingWoman: New strategy, old technique

You probably don’t realise this happens.

I was struck by the honesty of an executive in a Wall Street Journal story I read about strategies to promote women (yes, we still need help with this, apparently).

This executive – the global CEO of accounting firm Ernst & Young, James Turley – admitted recently that he unconsciously dismissed the contributions of two women during a meeting, and when a guy made the same point, he pounced on it, and praised the gent.

The two women politely set him straight after the meeting. “You probably don’t realise what just happened,” they told him.

That story reminds me of listening to another CEO, here in Australia, talking honestly about how he simply didn’t seem to be able to improve his company’s performance in pay and promotion parity for women. Yet all the women in the room were politely – perhaps too politely – telling him exactly what he needed to do.

This is the reason that following the fabulous information – just released by a taskforce at last week’s Women in the Economy conference in Florida, USA – will only achieve so much.

I’ll outline their excellent points, but my point is this: you probably do not know the last time you dismissed, discriminated against, discouraged or disempowered a woman in your company (whether you are a man or a woman).

Clearly, the EY women felt sure their CEO would appreciate them drawing attention to his blunder; he rewarded them by committing to never making the same mistake again.

So, do please take a lot of these strategies, but part of the process of achieving change is finding ways to become aware of such moments. If you want to harness the economic potential of women listen carefully.

  1. Enlarge strategy meetings to including mid-level managers where women are more highly represented.
  2. Set goals to achieve greater gender equality, measure progress, and tie managers promotions and compensation to them.
  3. Audit the culture to investigate assumptions about how women are “supposed to behave” and help managers understand the women’s viewpoints.
  4. Sponsor from the top – shift the responsibility for nominating women for leadership development and visible roles from middle managers to senior executives.



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