By Vanessa Akhtar & Kathy Gersch
Many women, including female executives, have been overwhelmed by the need to take care of family at home while continuing to manage their professional responsibilities, and somehow trying to find time for their own self-care. This has been exacerbated for working mothers, as the pandemic has forced parents to choose between their jobs and stepping into full-time childcare responsibilities.
In fact, a March 2021 U.S. Census Bureau population survey found that 80% of those who left the workforce since the Covid-19 pandemic began were women. A recent McKinsey study also confirmed that one in four women have seriously considered taking a step back from their careers in the past 12 months.
Yet, it is well-documented that companies with women in senior management positions outperform those without and that women are seen as better leaders during a crisis. So why is there still a significant leadership gap for women? And more importantly, how can this issue be resolved in a post-Covid world by creating an intentional culture within our organizations that allow female leaders to thrive?
We reached out to several female leaders we know and trust to dig into these topics. Clare Moncrieff, Leader of People Direction at Nokia; Donna Warton, Vice President of Microsoft Devices Supply Chain & Sustainability at Microsoft; Laura Dottori-Attanasio, Managing Director at CIBC World Markets; and Hillary Blout, Founder and Executive Director at For the People, each weighed in. Here is what they had to say:
“Unwritten Rules” Influence Our Behaviour
Culture is how you choose to act. It is the set of behavioural norms and unwritten rules that shape how individuals interact and get work done. Being intentional with culture is key—not only in how every employee at every level behaves, but also from the organisation’s side, removing process and policy barriers that can block the right behaviours. We have been engaging our workforce in co-creating the culture and discovering what it means to them, but also in telling us what is getting in the way. This has been very revealing—as our employees share the bureaucratic barriers that are getting in the way of the culture that our strategy and purpose require.
– Clare Moncrieff
A Fixed Mindset Can Wreak Havok on Culture
Early in my career, I was frequently the only woman in meetings and, many times, the youngest person in the room. I was in finance back then and was the one who needed to bring up difficult topics. Slowing revenue growth, cost cutting, headcount reductions, etc., and how we needed to address these realities. I saw firsthand the impact to business results between leaders who welcomed and sought out diverse thought and leaders who didn’t. The cultural damage of having a fixed mindset ultimately impacts your bottom line, as you don’t challenge assumptions and, to echo, Brené Brown, you care more about “being right, vs. getting it right.” And, worst of all, you miss out on the innovation and creativity from your employees to drive business success.
– Donna Warton
People Don’t Know How—or Aren’t Encouraged—to Unplug
We have a lot of flexibility at Nokia, but the pandemic has placed a great deal of stress on everyone in different ways. When in the office, we might have suffered from ‘presenteeism,’ or being at work, but under-performing due to sub-optimal mental health (in Deloitte’s analysis, £29 billion of the £45 billion costs to UK employers annually were due to presenteeism). But now, we suffer from ‘leavism’—the inability to unplug. Intentionality about working hours, ensuring we feel enabled to unplug to attend to other tasks and empowering employees to prioritise what is best for their lives and for our customers will be critical to moving in a positive direction.
– Clare Moncrieff
Looking at the “Whole Person” Is Essential to Growth
Over the past few years, we have seen a cultural shift, across industries, scrambling to understand what it takes to hire, and retain, women. In my line of work, we talk a lot about seeing the whole person. I find the same idea rings true when building and growing a team. In my organization of mostly women, I believe retention is all about understanding what your team needs—not just as a manager or colleague, but as a person. When there is a deep admiration for the whole person—from the very first interview question to onboarding to weekly collaboration—you can foster an environment of mutual accountability, curiosity and professional growth. Then, you’ll never be left wondering what it takes to retain women.
– Hillary Blout
“If I Can See It, I Can Be It” Are Powerful Words
Earlier this year, our bank completed a study which found that, a year into this pandemic, Canadian women were twice as likely to be the primary caregiver for kids at home, helping with schoolwork and doing household chores—all while juggling their day jobs. There’s no question intentional culture is important to increasing the representation of women leaders and retaining talent, because looking at those findings, how can we expect things to change without purposeful intent? At CIBC, we believe inclusion and diversity are a competitive advantage. Diverse teams working in an inclusive environment are more innovative, make better decisions and deliver better results. Inclusive cultures foster an environment where women feel supported and encouraged to pursue their ambitions. We should never underestimate the value that comes from role models and active sponsorship. There is a lot to be said for those inspiring words, “If I can see it, I can be it.”
– Laura Dottori-Attanasio
Redefining Inclusivity Can Point the Way Forward
I used to define inclusivity as a feeling of belonging. But through this year, I’ve changed my definition of inclusion to bringing your authentic self to work by feeling safe, being seen and being heard. The best way to attract, support and grow female talent is to create an inclusive environment so that each person can bring their full self to do their best work.
– Donna Warton
Intentional culture must be linked to mission and outcomes first. At Kotter, we’ve learned that defining what success looks like at the outset is critical to formulating a plan to cultivate the behaviors and cultural attributes that will be required to get you there.
Regardless of your current strategy, every modern business needs to be adaptable to survive. Building a team that values the diverse many—including strong female leadership at all levels—will be critical to increasing agility, spotting real threats and real opportunities, and coming up with creative solutions to both.