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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Women and Conscious Leadership

Taken from the forthcoming spring ‘e-Organisations and People’ journal – For more information and to purchase a copy look here. This article asks whether the time is finally right for women to take on leadership roles without needing to give up their core values, needs and behaviours.  Evidence is put forward showing how essential it is to include women in leadership roles if we want to attain a sustainable future.  Lasy Lawless explores what might prevent that from happening.  She considers how much of this problem is self imposed and how much of it relates to gender politics in the workplace.  She asks each reader to do one thing to accelerate change.Keywords: Inequality, women in leadership, gender, prejudice, diversity and sustainability

My discovery of gender prejudice

I grew up on a farm in a large family in Ireland.  There was an equal number of boys and girls in my family.  This description probably conjures up a stereotypical image of simple country folk following strict catholic doctrines, women in the kitchen supporting men in the fields.  But that’s not what it was like.  My mother was the first female to study law at Cork University.  She experienced severe prejudice from male lecturers, who assumed she chose the subject to be the only female amongst men so that she could flirt with them.Despite being awarded a first class degree, she never got to work as a lawyer.  In those days the economic policy to address unemployment was that women gave up work when they got married.  Those women who did not go on to have children simply struggled to contribute and to live full lives. This background set the scene for my upbringing because in my home we never distinguished between male and female roles along traditional lines.  Boys cooked and girls worked on the farm – if that suited our strengths, rather than tasks that were assigned based on our gender. So natural was this to me that it wasn’t until I actually entered the workforce in 1980 that I discovered gender prejudice and I found it both shocking and stupefying.  It simply made no sense to me.

Slowly it dawned on me that although women were a core part of the workforce, they rarely ran companies, sat on boards or shared equally in rewards. Throughout my twenties I watched and learned just how agonisingly slowly systems of power change, irrespective of whether they are effective or satisfying.  I have oscillated between irritation with the system, rage at men and frustration with women themselves, each playing a contributory role in ensuring that change cannot be immediate. However, in the last ten years I think I can see the roots of a sea change.  I hope that when we look back at the noughties we will all be as shocked and stupefied as I was in the 1980s.

Conscious capitalism for gender equality?

And I believe that conscious capitalism is the movement that captures the attitudes and values that will make it possible for women to take their rightful place as equals in the business world.  I believe that gender equality requires three major shifts:  a new economic structure, the buy-in of men and women being more assertive. Conscious capitalism is that system.  I will try to address the other two conditions later in the article.Conscious Capitalism by Mackey, Sisodia and George (2013) identifies some key qualities of the conscious leader.’Conscious leaders abundantly display many of the qualities we most admire in exemplary human beings.  They usually find great joy and beauty in their work, and in the opportunity to serve, lead, and help shape a better future.  Since they are living their calling, they are authentic individuals who are eager to share their passion with others.  They are very dedicated to their work, which recharges and energises them instead of draining them.  Conscious leaders commonly have high analytical, emotional, spiritual and systems intelligence.  They also have an orientation toward servant leadership, high integrity and a great capacity for love and care. (Mackey, Sisodia & George 2013, p183). While so many of these qualities are gender neutral, others (love, care, emotional intelligence, sharing passion, servant leadership and helping shape a better future) are attributes frequently associated with women.  They might even be described as nurturing or maternal characteristics.

Because of the roles traditionally played by women – supporting partners, enabling children towards independence and reaching their potential, running households and finances, it could be said that women have been in training for leadership positions for thousands of years. ‘Conscious business’ is a way to describe organisations that operate within a conscious capitalist structure. Conscious businesses positively encourage women to embrace leadership roles outside of the home, but this is only the structure.  For real change to occur we need women to step into the roles and demonstrate our effectiveness in leading.

So what are the issues that women will have to address if they choose to step into leadership roles?  I think they fall into two main categories – things that women need to do for themselves, and things that men need to support us with.  Equality for women is happening slowly, but for change to happen quickly both genders need to collaborate.  The greatest hurdle is to raise general awareness of the challenges and of the amazing opportunity if we address the issues.  We need to take the conversations out from the feminists and futurists to every layperson. The major challenges we face are: women’s preference for collaboration over competition; scepticism about how their accomplishments will be reported by journalists/men; women’s fear of being humiliated by being judged on how they look rather on their accomplishments; young girls low aspirations based on their lack of belief that they will succeed; and ignorance by female graduates of the benefits of working in SMEs rather than in corporate cultures.

Collaboration vs competition

It would be easy to idealise women and to pretend that they completely avoid conflict or competition.  They don’t. But research shows that there are significant gender differences in frequency when entering into ‘winner-takes-all’ types of competition, and yet no significant gender gap in other types of competition.   Women are averse to entering competitive forums that result in a single winner walking away with the prize and the kudos, but women are equally competitive where the agenda results in rewards for the majority (Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. 2007). Conscious leaders believe that the most successful and sustainable results come from including the interests of all stakeholders – employees, investors, suppliers etc  rather than simply focusing on shareholders short term returns.  Conscious businesses need leaders who favour collaborative, empowering attitudes rather than ‘shareholders-take-all’ behaviours, and women compete as frequently and as successfully when these conditions exist.

Respect for the long-sightedness of how women compete needs to be applauded, rather than their aversion for winner-takes-all outcomes to be portrayed as a weakness.  After all, we have seen the outcome of pure capitalist attitudes – the majority lose while the minority continue on in a self-serving manner. I ran a workshop this week for “Women in Leadership” that included an hour of dialogue with three significant female leaders.  I was struck by their passion to share success and power, which was reflected in these three responses: “In the Green Party we spent a long time considering how to do leadership so that it was not something that we did to people, but something that we do with them.” Caroline Lucas (First Green MP). “When I got above the glass ceiling I threw the ladder down so that other women could climb it.” Polly Toynbee (Journalist for The Guardian). “I have never knowingly turned down any conversation with anyone who wanted to talk about their career development.” Penny Thompson CBE (CEO of Brighton & Hove Council). These responses were not constructed to gain PR advantage.  They were authentic responses embedded in answers to various questions on “Women In Leadership.” It demonstrates their natural preference for “power with” as opposed to “power over”.

Scepticism about the press

I am currently working with an amazing female MD running a successful international business. The company is a conscious business moving towards employee ownership.   A year ago I invited her to speak about the company’s culture at a business event but she found the idea horrifying.  Besides a fear of public speaking, which is a common fear for both genders, she just didn’t trust the media to get that the success of the company and its culture was down to her team and not to her alone. She was not going to risk her team feeling undervalued. Since then I have introduced her to books and articles on conscious capitalism and very, very gradually she is becoming hopeful that there is a growing appetite for change in how business is done.  We need to get more information about conscious business out to women so that they know there is a system that absolutely relies on the feminisation of business.  I believe that they will take the risks necessary to step out of the shadows if they have faith that something is changing.Caroline Lucas resigned as formal leader of the Green Party after four years because she “had benefited so much from the position and she wanted to pass on that opportunity to someone else in the party”.  She told us that the press could not accept this explanation and so instead they were creating stories about an affair or her mental health.  This is the type of personal assault and misinterpretation that women risk when we openly offer an alternative explanation for our motives than the winner-takes-all model.

Fear of humiliation regarding personal appearances

Women fear the limelight of greatness because they risk being judged on their appearances rather than on their accomplishments.   68% of girls across all groups agree with the statement “ability”. At the workshop that I mentioned earlier, Penny Thompson told us that when a picture of her appeared in the paper after her appointment and announcing her amazing prior achievements she had to tolerate comments on her appearance such as suggesting she “use her huge salary to do something with her hair”. The most atrocious recent example of what women have to endure is captured here by the Financial Times about the first female prime minister of Australia: “Few politicians in a western democracy have endured such personal abuse as Gillard, whose three-year term as prime minister ended in June amid a welter of recrimination about the nature of Australian society and its treatment of women in top jobs”. (Parker, 2013)

But the Welsh-born lawyer did not go down without a fight. Gillard reflected on her role as the country’s first female prime minister: “I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other PMs in the past but then concluded it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor party.” With tears in her eyes, she talked about what her term as prime minister might mean for other female leaders: “What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that, and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that”. While this type of attack didn’t stop Penny Thompson or Julia Gillard from embracing leadership roles, not all women are resilient or brave enough to survive it.  Just as it is not every man who is brave enough to be a Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.  It takes a huge amount of self belief and faith in the underlying higher values for a person to put themselves consciously in these positions.  What we really need is the support of men, the press and all powerful thinking individuals everywhere to make this kind of ignorant behaviour a thing to be ashamed of.

Young girls’ aspirations

Women lack self belief in their ability to succeed in business.  Girls across every level of affluence are almost 10% less likely to believe they could start their own business than boys of a similar level of wealth.  (Click for link to survey results.) For me, this is the most depressing piece of research available.  When I compare this perception to how I described my beautifully, naive beliefs in my teens it feels tragic.  We need more female role models in all walks of life.  Change of this type has to begin at home. So if you are reading this article, make one little change – point people towards Guardian Women, attend an event to support women in leadership (there are loads of them), vote for female leaders, challenge the status quo in companies.

Corporate careers vs SME offers

Women do better in SMEs, and SMEs do better because of women.  The number of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 15% in 2012, to 17.3% in 2013 (Dr Sealy, 2013 – Link). Career breaks, bias and having babies certainly account for some of the shortfall but it cannot account for all of it and gender prejudice must account for at least some of it.  In contrast, recent research also found that 80 percent of family owned businesses are more gender balanced, having at least one female director and that this diversity meant that the companies were less likely to fail than companies with less diversity (Myers, 2013 – Link). The study highlighted the fact that family-orientated goals such as preserving unity, wealth and providing employment for family members may also contribute to their survival.  The team analysed data of over 700,000 medium and large private family and non-family firms with an annual sales turnover of at least £6.5 million, a balance sheet total of at least £3.26 million and at least 50 employees. This information is available to corporate boards but because they are so entrenched in traditional thinking and averse to taking risks they often appoint women as a token gesture and to appeal to corporate social measures rather than in the full understanding that they need to do this for their own survival.  We need this kind of thinking and behaviour to change.

Some hope

I think it is significant that although conscious business culture is only recently emerging as a solution to addressing the pitfalls of capitalism, and that democratic management and empowerment are being touted as the way to run successful businesses, it was an exceptional female political scientist – Mary Parker Follet – who wrote about it almost a century ago.   Her work was largely ignored by business writers, all men, until recently. “Follet was profoundly interested in society and how one could attain personal fulfilment while striving at the same time to create the well-ordered and just society.  The answer, she concluded, lay in democratic governance, an abiding belief that was to inform all her activities and become the goal that inspired her for the rest of her life”.  (?Graham 2003, p: ?)  In ‘Prophet of Management’ (2003), Pauline Graham explores the reasons that she was so ignored by her peers – was it a sign of the times or simply because she was a woman?   Like my mother, Caroline Lucas, Polly Toynbee, Penny Thompson and the female MD mentioned earlier,

Mary Parker Follet continued to say what was true for her despite being ignored or misinterpreted by her male peers.  It is remarkable how ahead of her times she was, and it is testimony to her message that approaching 60, and without any experience in the business world, she became a management thinker eagerly sought after by the business communities of both the United States and England.   Those business leaders, mostly men, were also ahead of their time.

Summary

Conscious business is a successful, sustainable way of addressing the failure of pure capitalism.  Conscious leaders require additional qualities that have been traditionally described as feminine.  Companies that have at least one female director significantly reduce the risk of business failure and conscious business culture was originally captured in the writings of a woman over 100 years ago.  So all of this bodes well for women who are ready to aim for leadership roles.  And having a more balanced mix of the genders across business leadership roles would appear to  lead to more sustainable success for everyone. It would seem that the time is ripe for women to share more equally in leading the world towards a better way to do business.  It is now up to women to embrace the moment and aim for greatness, for the good of everyone, rather than fearing the comments of small minded individuals.  It is also up to men to support women in the journey because it has finally become clear and evidenced based that this is the only intelligent choice for us all.

References

About the author

Lasy Lawless is passionate about change and transformation. She likes to combine this with pragmatism, strategy and business focus. Her approach is person-centred – which means, she expects and supports others to take their own, full responsibility.As a trained accountant, Lasy worked for Big Finish – a conglomerate of TV and film post production companies – at a time when that world was being radically changed by digital technology. As Group FD, after 10 years sitting in over a dozen boardrooms devising strategy, she realised that the old ways of doing things were finished. Traditional power structures no longer delivered.That’s, at least in part, why she re-trained as a psychotherapist. Lasy believes that understanding what motivates people, and how to create strong challenging relationships at all levels, is the single most critical success factor for any business. Lasy is one of the founding partners, with Pete Burden and Jamie Pyper of Conscious Business People, a consultancy a business consultancy helping leaders build 21st century business cultures. She can be contacted  via  http://www.linkedin.com/in/lasylawless.


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Evidence for Conscious Business

Some people would argue that if you need evidence that being more conscious at work is a good thing, you’ll never be persuaded. But there’s also an argument that hard evidence helps – to give confidence and encouragement to those that need it.

So here’s a selection of facts and figures I have put together.

It covers the value of employee engagement, clear purpose, innovation and good leadership. It shows these are what investors look for, and that they are good for a business generally. There is a PDF version here if you prefer to print and read (or send to your ebook).

Investing in  leadership skills:

About 80% of professionals who analyse companies for investors – including investment bankers and executives at private equity companies and hedge funds – say they would place a valuation premium on a company with a particularly effective senior leadership team. And the same percentage said they would discount a valuation if they thought a company’s leadership was ineffective. Analysts and investment professionals placed an average premium of 15.7% on particularly effective leadership, and an average 19.8% discount on companies with leadership that was deemed ineffective.

[Deloitte 2012 How TMT Companies Win The Confidence of Investors]

Stock market performance and shareholder return in relation to conscious business:

Firms of Endearment study – over 10 year period companies that broadly  follow conscious aims outperformed the S&P 100 by ratio of 9:1

[Raj Sisodia, Bentley University]

Stock market performance and shareholder return:

Motivated employees are 52 to 127 percent more productive than those who have average motivation. Companies that have an employee recognition strategy double the return to shareholders compared with those that don’t. 40% of the variability in corporate financial performance comes down to employees sense of fulfillment in the workplace.”

[Richard Barrett, ‘Liberating the Corporate Soul’ – TBD original source]

Growing interest by investors in sustainability, climate change, social factors:

Investors increasingly believe that social and environmental conditions in society can have a direct impact on the business operations of a company and its long-term viability.

In 2011, average support for environmental and social shareholder resolutions topped 20% for the first time, according to research by Institutional Shareholder Services. That’s up from 18.1% in 2010 and 16.3% in 2009.

[Sabine Vollmer  – senior editor – CGMA Magazine March 2012]

 Including more stakeholders improves financial performance:

Despite the drop in performance seen in 2011, companies that are owned by their employees have outperformed FTSE All-Share companies by on average 12% each year.  Over successive three-year periods they have outperformed by 37% and over successive five-year periods by 71%.

[The Employee Ownership Index]

 Transparency:

280 CEOs were surveyed for the report spanning 21 countries. Three-quarters of the CEOs recognised the need for measuring non-financial value. Meanwhile, 76% think the current reporting system places excessive emphasis on financial data. 87% viewed transparency as an opportunity, and 13% viewed it as a threat. The question among many CEOs is how much transparency is too much.

[Research Commissioned by  AICPA and CIMA (the major UK Accounting Bodies) and carried out by Oxford Economics (2012)]

Employee disengagement is expensive and destructive:

In recent years, employee loyalty has plummeted. Here are just a few sobering statistics that may surprise you:

  • Only 30% of today’s employees reported that they were engaged (loyal and productive)
  • 54% reported they were passively disengaged (going through the motions)
  • 16% reported they were actively disengaged (badmouthing the employer, sniping from the sidelines

[Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty, Mattanie Press, October 2005, By Tim Rutledge]

Congruence and authenticity at work:

In a field experiment carried out in a large business process outsourcing company, it was found that when socialization/induction focused on personal identity (i.e. emphasizing newcomers’ unique perspectives and strengths and authentic expression) it led to significantly greater customer satisfaction and greater employee retention after six months, compared to (a)when socialization focused on organizational identity (i.e. emphasizing pride from organizational affiliation) and (b)when it focussed on the organization’s traditional approach which focused primarily on skills training.

[Breaking Them In or Revealing Their Best? Reframing Socialization around Newcomer Self-Expression By Francesca Gina (Associate Professor in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets Unit at Harvard Business School)]
Encouraging newcomers to be themselves rather than adapt to the company culture]

Purpose impacts profit:

A  strong, strategically coherent and well communicated corporate purpose is associated with upto 17% better financial performance

[IMD/Burson Marsteller Corporate Purpose Impact Study 2010. The study is based on research into 213 European companies from 10 industries.]

Employee engagement:

88% of highly engaged employees believe that they can positively impact the quality of their organization’s products;  only 38% of disengaged employees think so

[Towers Perrin 2008]

Only 4% of UK workers exhibit the highest level of engagement with their work.

[Corporate Leadership Council]

Purpose and brand:

40% of a company’s reputation is determined by its purpose and 60% by its performance.

[Burson Marsteller/Penn, Schoer and Berland 2008.]

Lack of employee engagement costs companies re staff turnover, accidents and theft:

Gallup in 2006 examined 23,910 business units and compared top quartile and bottom quartile financial performance with engagement scores.  They found that: Those with engagement scores in the bottom quartile averaged 31–51 per cent more employee turnover, 51 per cent more inventory shrinkage and 62 per cent more accidents. Those with engagement scores in the top quartile averaged 12 per cent higher customer advocacy, 18 per cent higher productivity and 12 per cent higher profitability.

[Gallup in 2006]

Employee engagement and earnings per share:

A second Gallup study of the same year of earnings per share (EPS) growth of 89 organisations found that the EPS growth rate of organisations with engagement scores in the top quartile was 2.6 times that of organisations with below-average engagement scores

[Gallup in 2006]

Employee engagement and innovation:

Gallup indicate that higher levels of engagement are strongly related to higher levels of innovation.

Fifty-nine per cent of engaged employees say that their job brings out their most creative ideas against only three per cent of disengaged employees. This finding was echoed in research for the Chartered Management Institute in 2007 which found a significant association and influence between employee engagement and innovation.  Based on survey findings from approximately 1,500 managers throughout the UK, where respondents identified the prevailing management style of their organisation as innovative, 92 per cent of managers felt proud to work there

[Gallup/Chartered Management Institute in 2007]

Employee engagement and illness:

Engaged employees in the UK take an average of 2.69 sick days per year; the disengaged take 6.19.

[The Macleod Report commissioned by BIS 2009]

The CBI reports that absence due to sickness costs the UK economy £13.4 bn a year.

[CBI]

Employee engagement and interfacing with clients/customers:

70 per cent of engaged employees indicate they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs; only 17 per cent of non-engaged employees say the same.

[The Macleod Report commissioned by BIS 2009]

Employee engagement and retention:

Engaged employees are 87 per cent less likely to leave the organisation than the disengaged.

[The Macleod Report commissioned by BIS 2009]

The cost of poor employee retention:

The cost of high turnover among disengaged employees is significant; some estimates put the cost of replacing each employee at equal to annual salary.

[The Macleod Report commissioned by BIS 2009]

Employees as ambassadors and relation to NPS (Net Promoter Score):

Engaged employees advocate their company ororganisation – 67 per cent against only three per cent of the disengaged. Seventy-eight per cent would recommend their company’s products or services, against 13 percent of the disengaged.

[Gallup 2003]

Employee engagement and change/flexibility:

Engagement  and involvement are critical in managing change at work; according to Price waterhouse Coopers (PwC), nine out of ten of the key barriers to the success of change programmes are people related; only 24 per cent of private sector employees believe change is well managed in their organisations (15 per cent in the public sector) according to Ipsos MORI.

[Price waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and Ipsos MORI]

The need for employee engagement and conscious business more widely in UK:

Gallup suggest that in 2008 the cost of disengagement to the economy was between £59.4 billion and £64.7 billion.

[Gallup (2008)]

The importance investing in everyone, not just leadership:

The IES/Work Foundation report ‘People and the Bottom Line’ found that if organisations increased investment in a range of good workplace practices which relate to engagement by just ten per cent, they would increase profits by £1,500 per employee per year

[The IES/Work Foundation report ‘People and the Bottom Line’]

Towers Perrin in their 2008 Global Workforce Study of employee views found that the top driver of engagement was senior management demonstrating a sincere interest in employee well-being.

[Towers Perrin in their 2008 Global Workforce Study]

Evidence is not the problem, there is so much of it:

The case for employee engagement – there are so many more research findings in the Macleod Report

[commissioned by the Department for Business (BIS) 2009.]

Consciousness is a rare commodity:

Only 10% of Managers take “Purposeful Action” (a powerful combination of focus and energy).  Meanwhile 30% of managers procrastinate, 20% show detached behaviour and 40% exhibit distracted behaviour.

[Sumantra Ghoshal and Heike Bruch]

Pretending to engage employees doesn’t work:

If employees conclude that a manager is just trying to win points by paying lip service to consulting them — and has no intention of acting on their advice — they are likely to stop offering input and, worse, act out their frustration by clashing with their colleagues.

[When Employees Stop Talking and Start Fighting: The Detrimental Effects of Pseudo Voice in OrganizationsGerdien de VriesKaren A. Jehn and Bart W. TerwelJournal of Business Ethics, 2012, Volume 105, Number 2,  Pages 221-230]