Fifty Shades of Black and White

When we focussed on this topic some months ago I concentrated on the value of values and the role of values in establishing a new way of doing business.

“What underpins these traits is attitude. Values, if you will. . . it said that women have a greater propensity towards nurturing and sharing whereas men are more inclined to personal achievement and competition”.
I would like to develop this theme.

In a recent discussion on Radio 4 on the numbers of women in senior positions in corporate enterprise, there were 2 protaganists; a “female entrepreneur” and an academic man that had just undertaken an year-long analysis of the subject. Their relative positions should be fairly obvious! The discussion settled on 2 main points;
that in his analysis, the vast majority of businesses that had consciously appointed women into senior positions have actually seen a fall in profitability (the number quoted was in the region of 80%)
and the issue of quotas.

My views on quotas has not changed. I am not a fan. Essentially, if business is “forced” to accommodate women in the boardroom to merely to meet statistical requirements then there is a risk of a reduction in quality. The quoted statistics would tend to bear this out (although I am well aware that statistics can be made to support almost any position taken on a subject; look at the way that the Government delivers “improvements”!). These senior positions MUST be filled on merit, not gender. For this, a change in the openness of selection would, I am sure, help to redress this apparent imbalance At present, we can very rarely see the criteria used for selection. Maybe the “best” have been selected all along? I doubt this but I think I make my point? Quotas are like dropping a huge, unknown weight on one end of a see-saw and expecting it to immediately balance the weight on the other end. True, it MAY settle into some form of equilibrium in time but more likely is the result that the opposing weight will fly off into the atmosphere in a multitude of direction! If not, you are likely to have to wait for some time to see if the see-saw ever balances again. Not recommended.

It made me think, though, about the whole system of balance; for I believe that balance has to be established and maintained. A Yin/Yang balance and NOT a forced equilibrium. Maybe those companies that showed a fall in financial results showed great improvements in other, less “popular” measures? Maybe staff motivation was hugely improved? Maybe more co-operation and communication projects were in place? Maybe the longer term wellbeing issues were being addressed without yet necessarily being reflected in the short term annual fiscal reports? Maybe productivity and wellbeing were improving exponentially but we are yet to see the benefits?

So what? Well, maybe we are looking for the wrong answers? Maybe we are asking the wrong questions?

I am forced to draw upon my own experiences and to set the scene I have no shame in resorting to quotation; I hope that you will indulge me a little:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

Far be it from me to dispute the wisdom of the above but I would slightly reorganise the above “process”. I believe that it is your values that influence your thoughts. Our values and overall “belief” system filters, influences and guides our thoughts. What we deem important and significant within our values subconsciously moulds how we construct our thoughts and subsequently our actions. If something ahs little or no significance or influence on our “self” then we are less likely to “give it much thought”.
So; where am I going with this?

Well, IF women have a greater propensity for sharing, communication and co-operation then maybe we need to measure this. The whole business of business is based around financial performance but in my opinion this is out-dated, restricted and open to too much manipulation to be taken on trust (e.g how can Amazon pay virtually no tax?). I refer to my point above: maybe if women are to change the way that business is conducted, maybe we have to re-assess the whole system of measurement? Maybe we have to measure the impact of the business on its stakeholders not just its shareholders? This is something that I am passionate about and is the basis of most of Ethiconomics.
Secondly, there were no statistics provided for “all women” business ventures and their respective population of men in senior positions. Are you in a glass house throwing stones? Do as I say, not as I do? From my perspective I have only been asked to present to 1 womens only group once in 5 years. (Thank you WIRE). It could be that I have nothing relevant to say? It could be because there were better, more relevant speakers? It could be that womens groups only want to speak and interact with women? I do know that there are a multitude of coaches and consultants specifically aimed at supporting women; I have never seen one that specifically only deals with men! I do not know but I DO know that I walk my talk. I have built and developed this magazine with Karen on the back of a personal mission to get more “feminine influence” into business. Those attributes and talents that women are accepted as being better then men” at. I don’t like generalisations but the facts seem to stack up. Are you recreating a business that is simply a mirror image of the system we are trying to change? Will you become the restrictive, bigoted, biased, self-perpetuating tyrant that many men become in these senior roles? Unfortunately these tyrants are, in my experience, more often men but not exclusively so. The role, it seems, creates the person whereas I would much prefer that the person creates the role; in this way, we can permanently change the entire system.

So, back to Ghandi and my slight amendment:.
Your values influence your thoughts, reactions and behaviour. “Values are both personal and universal and are irrespective of role and gender.”
Behaviour is inextricably linked to our values and values indisputably influence our core thought processes and belief systems. Essentially our attitude is the result of our values and beliefs and our behaviour flows from these.

I think that we have to address the system of appointment and not just the numbers: we should be considering why girls still tend to achieve better exam results but by the time that they reach “management” age, they appear to have fallen off the chart. I know that much good work is being done here but clearly it is not effective enough yet. If you do have a business, consider a new approach to measurement and reward. Do you measure your success in any other terms than fiscal? Are you creating a new “system” of business or a new business in the “old way”. What are you actually doing in your work that is fundamentally different to the model that “men in business” have propagated and protected for decades? Are you, in fact, a mere reflection of the male model in reverse?

50 shades of black and white?

I have witnessed and worked with some exceptional women; their numbers are similar to the exceptional men that I have worked with – very few! The system of business dictates a certain type of person with certain characteristics with the ability to deliver standard results. Whether a man or a woman. My earnest and passionate hope is that as we change business, as we change “the system”I hope that we do not simply create the same type of “successful” individual that just happens to be of a different gender!

Your thoughts and values are meaningless without action. Action is the key to change. We have discussed , analysed, reported, debated and even raged against the machine but it is the machine that is broken. We need a new machine, a new system of production if you will, that focuses on values and merit. The right person for the role irrespective of gender and if and when we influence the balance of women on top it will be because you are better than ALL the competition.

I will close with what I think is the most appropriate quotation on this issue that I found:

“Belief means nothing without actions”
― Randa Abdel-Fattah, Does My Head Look Big In This?

We have had the honour and pleasure of working with some wonderful women through our work with this magazine; I know that there are many of you doing many great things but I do believe that it is all too easy to call kettles black when our own bottom is somewhat discoloured!

In summary, we CAN change the system. We WILL change the system but please lets not just recreate the old one. Lets look at the way we integrate thoughts into action. Action into change. Together.

2 Comments on Fifty Shades of Black and White

  1. A well argued piece Phil but I am still concerned that as Dr Ruth Sealey from Cranford has said, we have had lots of time to change the system and it hasn’t sufficiently. I had my face firmly set against quotas for some of the reasons you have articulated, but she has convinced me otherwise. We know that cultural change can take a long time and we also know that sometimes we have to legislate for it, for example drink driving, because we need it to change more quickly. I know that there is more of a spotlight on this issue now and I also know through Karen that there is a groundswell of woman fighting the cause. Is it going to be enough to tip the balance soon or are we going to have to wait for more decades to pass?

    I also have a problem with so much emphasis on this one area in relation to equality. I would hope that by having more women in top positions in business, private and public sectors and in parliament that the rest of society will start to benefit. However my own particular interest is in women at the other end of the spectrum in low paid jobs (of great value however, to our society)who are completely undervalued. Who is taking up the cudgels on their behalf and how much longer are they going to have to wait for change to happen before it impacts positively on them?

  2. In my opinion we do need quotas – its a mans world out there. Board culture is male dominated. My father was very right to say its who you know not what you know and this just perpetuates the situation. I love committee life, but I have been forced to rethink how I get heard and how people take on what I say.

    I think its embarrassing that women are so under represented at board level – there is no reason for this to be the case – its a matter of culture. We can’t wait for xxxx years for this to change – we just need to force it.

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