Chapter 6: Creating wellness and breaking stereotypes.

Sheryl Sandberg started talking about Women in Leadership in 2010 when she also published ‘Lean In’. In my experience, girls stop thinking of being leaders around the time they hit puberty. Unfortunately, I’ve seen similar patterns play out today. At primary school, girls and boys are treated equally and given the same opportunities to grow. As girls get older, their focus seems to shift from being proud of their academic or other achievements into a mindset of valuing themselves based on their looks, weight or image. Social media is only making the transition worse as photos are filtered and more and more YouTube represent the same defeatist values.

My daughter is very fortunate to attend a school that encourages leadership skills across the years. They are given Bronze/Silver/Gold awards for speaking out and speaking up, supporting others and implementing new ideas. It is an all girls school which may affect the culture and focus on developing strong women, but mixed schools could achieve similar programmes for both sexes. Sheryl has since written Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy after the sudden death of her husband. The book shows that life can continue positively after such a personal tragedy, it just looks different than expected. It’s a book that shows women can survive and thrive without a husband; something that is still seen as undesirable…

Dove do a great job of breaking down the impact of language and self-image on teenage girls. They show that compliments are often skewed by the recipient girl to be negative, represented in this video. Do compliments have a similar impact for boys? Is this why boys generally feel a superior level of confidence to girls? Is this why girls are less likely to lead or ask for fair reward? I wrote about empowering women recently, and increasingly believe that female leaders in every sector of life and business are critical to rise up. I’ve always shied away from ‘Women in Leadership’ courses or the ‘Women in Tech’ conference. I felt that this kind of discussion would perpetuate imbalance, just an imbalance where men were excluded. However, now we have artificial intelligence handling statistical analysis, including for recruitment screening, historical bias perpetuates instead. The machine learns that women are less likely to be senior leaders, therefore the decision is skewed even before interview. David Crotty of Scholarly Kitchen highlights an interview with Zeynep Tifekci highlighting exactly this bias.

Melinda highlights that given only 15% of the tech industry are women, then the code that’s written automatically reflects the unconscious bias of the programmers. Maybe it even reflects the conscious bias, which goes completely unchecked by a system that does not see it at all. The manipulation in this case is unseen and unchallengeable as few people can identify the source in such complex code.

I’m really interested in the development of leadership characteristics and how to engender these in up and coming adult leaders, as well as the next generation. One model that I think represents the combination of attributes for developing leadership is below, a diamond made up of three aspects for each face:

How could a senior management team design a better model of diversity into an organisation? How can leaders create a culture that fosters the appropriate environment for maximising leadership potential? First, take a look at the demographics of leaders, senior management and directors, in your organisation. Are they a particular type of person? How are they selected?

Secondly, consider the impact of having your particular style of leader in place… what could they be missing that a younger person would not? That a woman would not? That an individual from another country would not? That an introvert would not?

What is your natural leadership style? (I see it like a ‘petronus‘ from the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling) A set of default positions that come naturally to each individual. If the ‘Sorting Hat‘ was part of the recruitment or leadership development process, it would look at attributes far beyond the skills or qualifications of each person. It would look at their fundamental and innate qualities, regardless of age, gender or race. It would look at their ability to create a sense of wellbeing in others… to observe who stands in for someone else when they have a family crisis or event. To see when someone steps into help their colleague who is struggling with a high workload. To notice when a manager sees a training or resources need in another team, not theirs, and highlights it. To recognise the person who speaks out and raises a concern about a policy that’s discriminative, unfair or unhealthy, when everyone else is nodding.

By identifying people who really care about others, the chances are that organisation will work from a position of value based leadership. Leadership that’s inclusive, accepting of difference and prepared for future challenges, simply because all views have been made equal. In this culture, people are supported, listened to and given room to develop their own solutions. They feel safe to participate and are honest about their own wellbeing. In this environment, teams become more productive as their motivation is more genuine and their activity is more likely to align with the bigger picture. Everyone wins!

The rest of my book Leadership Now. is here:

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Thank you for listening!

Love Ruth x

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