I recently read and article which outlined CBA’s (Commonwealth Bank of Australia) target for female Senior Leadership positions. The bank CEO, Ralph Norris, has a goal to have 35% of its most senior roles filled by women by 2014. This is a 28% increase from current numbers. To achieve the target within three years, Mr Norris said at least 65% of new executive management appointments would have to be female (source AFR 29th April).
This poses an interesting question in my mind, what if the women being considered for the roles are not the best candidates for the role? Will they be given the appointment simply because of gender so CBA can achieve their target? Mr Norris did state he had not set these goals for PR purposes, he genuinely believes it will make a difference to the organisation. Good point, women certainly do bring a different approach and certain qualities to leadership if, and I emphasise if they are authentic and congruent to their brand and values. Many spiritual leaders have raised the point that there is a need for feminine energy in leadership today. However, I revert to my question, what if they are not the best person for the appointment? Simply because they are female does not mean that have the skills, behaviours, mindset, experience and style that will take the organisation or business unit to success.
I have observed many women in business and I too was part of a large corporate where women in high-level leadership positions were few and far between. I believe one reason for this is a hangover from our previous social attitudes to women in business. I was only one of three women in senior leadership in a team of 24. However, I did not at any stage believe I should have been appointed to any role because of my gender or feel hard done by because a male got a role over me. The guy was considered the best person for the role. A fact is a fact. What I was interested in was what I needed to do to be considered the best candidate next time. Now I’m not saying this did not and does not happen in business today. I am aware this does occur which is not acceptable.
There is an absolute need for women in senior leadership roles. There is a need for diversity. There is a need for improved dynamics within Senior Leadership teams and at board level.
Perhaps this issue needs to be looked at differently. Rather than focusing on gender and having a target in place, we should look at job functions as gender neutral. Perhaps the current model of talent management needs to be torn apart and rebuilt based on what is right for the 21st Century and the desired quality of leadership at the top rather than what was right for yesteryear. The consensus seems to be that it’s not working!
My point and case here is that I strongly believe we need to stop focusing on women in business as the issue. The focus should be on improving the quality of leadership within our businesses and organisations. The focus should also be on ensuring the right person is selected for the role. Women need to concentrate and raise their profiles organically and through actions ensuring it is authentic and congruent to their brand and values. Too often I have listened to women’s forums hell bent on establishing how they can compete in a man’s world and play a mans game. Big mistake! And they are missing the point! Perhaps the problem is that by women trying to play a man’s game they are concealing the very qualities and attributes that will gain them the recognition and consideration for the role. Perhaps by not playing an authentic game they are damaging their chances and getting consumed in what is not important. What is important is that you have a brand, skill, experience, proven success and the ability to engage and inspire a team of people into action to achieve a common goal. You need to be incredibly connected to your passion and purpose to do that. Not trying to be someone you are not.
I believe having a gender target in place is the wrong approach. It has the potential to considerably damage the brand of the business and the morale of a workforce. Significantly. The focus should be on transparency of required skills and up skilling the appropriate candidates to be successful in the role. And if that is a female, that’s great. The last thing women need is to have a stigma attached that they simply got the role because they are female and the organisation needed to reach a target.