Monday, July 05, 2010

A Call to Action – For Men and Women

Is now the time when women will take a much greater leadership role? This was a core question being asked at the Deutsche Bank Women in European Business Conference last week. The answer was a resounding “yes” from speakers such as Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-first and business commentator René Carayol. “It should be” was more the tone of the speakers leading major industries such as Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group and Colin Grassie, CEO of Deutsche Bank UK.

The business case for becoming “gender bi-lingual” is very strong for many businesses. Firstly, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox states, the biggest single, growing, poorly-tapped market for many large companies is not China, India or Brazil – it’s women in their existing home markets. Her message is that companies are still working to gender assumptions that men wield the economic power. Their products and their communications are designed to “speak” to men. Those companies that become gender bi-lingual create real competitive advantage.

Secondly, in our inter-connected business world, the skills of collaborative working, networking, and understanding people are more and more vital. Women have been shown time and again to be stronger at these skills.

So what’s at the heart of gender bi-lingual communication? For Heidi Mottram, newly appointed CEO of Northumbrian Water, it is about creating values based organisations – values that transcend male/female stereo-types. But if the top team of the company is all male, and the layer below is all, or nearly all, male, how do you create a real understanding of what those values should be - and how they should be expressed?

As someone who has listened to this debate for decades now, the answers from the conference made sense to me:
•    get more women into leadership roles
•    stop “fixing” the women and start fixing the culture!
•    trust those women to succeed by thinking and acting as women leaders, with different skills, rather than behaving like a man

If those are the answers for you too - what’s your role in making it happen?

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