I am often asked why in the 21st century we still need to run female development programmes.
As a female owned and female run global business for the first 10 years of our organisations existence, we were constantly being asked to speak about women in leadership and for the first 10 years I constantly refused saying that great leaders would rise to the top whatever their gender. However some 5 years ago, I completely changed my mind about it and today seeing the results from the World Economic Forum which puts the UK in 18th place falling from 9th in 2006. Looking at the results that say that women in the UK are 54th place for Parliamentary roles and 59th place for ministerial jobs just convinces me that what happened to my thinking was absolutely right.
I am a great believer in being awake to what is happening around you, and for me many things happened at the same time that drove me to design and have my organisation run Female Development Programmes.
The first was that at the time I was coaching 3 female senior executives that fundamentally all had the same issue going on. All were in their 40’s, all were undergoing IVF treatment and trying to fall pregnant and all were having to hide the fact from the same bosses that subliminally made them feel over the preceding 15 years that they in fact should not get pregnant and that it would be an end to their careers.
Now did these bosses actually come out and say that in so many words? In one case yes, but in many cases it is the subtlety that does the damage, the drip, drip, drip of what we refer to as unconscious and hidden assumptions that eventually can change behaviours, destroy self-confidence and alter the path of many people’s lives. So my coaching had me understand that it was a very different environment for women, than it was for men.
The second thing was that I remember seeing a speaker who developed an algorithm that proved in the FTSE 250 and Fortune 500 companies it was very likely to be true that, as I was then at the grand age of 45, it wasn’t my daughter that would stand the same chance as my son of being the next CEO, it wasn’t my granddaughter either. At our current rate of progress across Britain and the US, it would be my great granddaughter that would stand at piety with my great grandson and that was only if she was still Caucasian and definitely heterosexual.
The final piece that really brought me to designing and having my organisation run women’s development programmes was speaking to a group of women in professional service firms that had exited or been exited just before achieving partner status. Many of these women had left University with Firsts and had built that what on the outside looked to be great careers within the firms. However I was in the position of being able to interview a sample of them that had left, and the feedback was startling, almost to the last woman, they couldn’t tell me the exact date, time and place that they knew that they weren’t going to make partner they described a “feeling”, a dawning truth that crept up on them over a period of time.
They went from being deeply confident, high achievers in many cases to questioning themselves and to questioning their own capability, which in the cold, hard, light of day made no sense. The reality is that as we work with organisations: to have them set diversity targets, have them understand their unconscious bias and to have them understand the importance of creating an inclusive environment to developing their strategy. I would love to be able to say that this is all it would take, however these things will only improve over time, and in that time, the environments that we are creating can be doing damage to what could be some of our most successful, shining female lights. Running programmes that help to develop them, to ensure that they are able to put up their umbrellas against the acid rain of hidden biases and more obvious biases, that they carry strategies to be able to help them, from the base of who they are, rather than strategies that have been developed by women from different social starters and different educational backgrounds is absolutely key to their future and the future of the economy.
Please visit our website for more information on the female development programmes on offer by the People Development Team.