Davos provides us with a look at the state of gender imbalance in a microcosm. The 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) generated much commentary about the still-too-low number of women—just 21 percent of total conference participants—in attendance. Conference organizers looked for the silver lining in the stats, pointing out that this slim percentage of female attendees is around twice what it was in 2001, putting the event’s current share of women at its highest level since the conference’s founding nearly 50 years ago. Yet even the organizers themselves admitted that still having nearly 80 percent men in attendance was “not by any means representing grounds for celebration.”
It’s one thing to continue to make change part of the dialogue—but as Davos clearly shows, it’s quite another to really make it happen. One strategy that can help shift this balance is leading with the Power of One. As detailed in my recent blog series on this topic, the new ROI for inclusion is collective intelligence rather than gender. The goal for our world leaders should be to connect with a common purpose and vision that links less to “men and women” or compares “men versus women.” Instead, this should be a new unified voice of leadership that ensures no matter who is around the table, everyone’s perspective and contribution is heard and valued. When leaders can find a way to enable each voice to connect to the dialogue in an inclusive way, then together, we can address and impact the global issues that impact us all. Together we stand so much more powerful than alone.
Yet how can we strategically leverage the Power of One to make faster and more meaningful progress for women, particularly at a time in history when, according to a new WEF report, we have a bigger gender gap than ever before—a gap that could take upwards of 100 years to close (or 217 years if we’re looking specifically at the pay gap)? Here are three concrete and tangible things we can start doing today:
- Move beyond the numbers. There’s no doubt that part of overcoming the gender gap is about balancing out the majority versus the minority. The fact is that until we get 50 percent of women attending and engaged in the Davos summit, or in a boardroom, or on senior leadership teams, the norm will still be set for the men to serve as the majority voice. This dynamic can diminish women’s voice and continue to ensure that women are seen as less capable and powerful. That’s why collective intelligence is so important to help our organizations and executives move beyond gender—the statistics of where women are or are not—or even diversity. Instead, we need to shift the business case to our commonalities and human connection rather than our differences. If not, based on the current glacial pace of progression in this arena, it could take decades or even centuries longer before we reach gender balance. This requires a significant change in cultural mindset to focus on what binds us, not divides us.
- Build a climate of inclusion.Power of One leadership is primarily about inclusion and shifting toward an orientation of understanding how others see the world. As a leader, you can shape the climate and culture in an organization, in a meeting, or within your team based on the leadership mindset and style you demonstrate. I ask you to consider what you can do today to become more inclusive. SHAMBAUGH’s executive coaches have worked with a number of leaders and executives on developing the power of their voice and actions, helping them to become more aware of how their biases may affect others. Practicing intentional listening skills means listening not only from your own lens, but from the lens of everyone in the room. Your listening skills also expand into giving and receiving feedback in a diverse environment, and modifying your approach to feedback. This aspect of leadership is critical to build the level of trust required for an inclusive culture—so focus on asking the right questions and noticing the feeling behind responses, not just the content. When it comes to feedback, both genders can improve their approach. Men can make an effort to deliver growth-oriented feedback that avoids personal generalities, and women can actively request constructive feedback to help them develop, rather than try to avoid hearing it.
- Emphasize the human connection. To move away from an “us versus them” or “me versus you” way of leading, Power of One principles can help reveal the basic human needs that people have to connect with others and ultimately create something bigger than themselves. Help members of your team understand the “why” behind their work as a team or organization by understanding these basic values. It’s also important to be aware of your own frame of reference, and notice when your unconscious beliefs and biases get in the way of your ability to listen to those with viewpoints that conflict with your own.
Davos was another reminder of the slow rate of progress achieved via traditional approaches to correcting gender imbalance. It’s time to upend both the usual dialogue and our fallback actions with the conviction that comes from the Power of One—the conviction that shows us every individual can learn to be more inclusive and connected as we work toward a common purpose.
Rebecca Shambaugh is the Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.
Hear Rebecca Shambaugh’s new keynote on “The Power of One” by contacting Becky at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s Executive Coaching and our Inclusive Leadership —Women’s Leadership offerings, visit www.shambaughleadership.com.