How to create a more gender balanced business

2 years ago   •   3 min read

By Simon Haigh

Simon Haigh argues that organisations need to create and maintain an environment that allows for a balance of masculine and feminine top directors and employees in an open, authentic, collaborative and inclusive way. Here’s how …

Women, particularly at the higher echelons in organisations, tend to be significantly under-represented, both in terms of numbers and in terms of comparatively successful negotiation outcomes. 

Second generation gender bias, whereby the patterns of behavior that are traditionally more associated with men, such as aggression and hierarchical thinking and which are usually looked upon unfavorably in women still pervades in the business arena. 

Women often find it hard to succeed in this environment. Career wise, women tend to negotiate less for themselves than women who negotiate on behalf of someone else and men regardless of who they are negotiating for. In anticipating prevailing biases, women tend to be bashful in fully seeking what they deserve from negotiations given their fear of being unduly criticized for being too masculine“- aggressive, dominant, arrogant and insufficiently feminine- accommodating, protective, sensitive, communal, collaborative, cooperative.  

Both men and women are comprised, to varying degrees, of the masculine and feminine attributes. Women can be strong and aggressive and men can be gentle and compassionate. By operating through one predominant side of the gender equation, organisations are not optimizing their capabilities, thereby risking the success of the organisation and the health, wellbeing and potential of employees. 

Organisations, and indeed all of us within organisations, could do a number of things to increase the true and effective representation of women and the feminine in effective business deal negotiation: 

Ensure that the organization audits and seeks to constantly improve its full deal and negotiation gender representation activities 

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Organisations can do this in a number of meaningful ways, from constantly reviewing their programs to reflecting on who was engaged in which roles during the course of the review period. They can then reflect upon who was engaged, how male and female candidates were each communicated to and in return how they communicated back to the organization and to one another. 

Develop suitable organisational policies with objective measures

Organisations should be vigilant for gender bias in their recruitment, development and promotions policies, procedures and processes. They should also seek to reinforce the positive positioning of accomplished female deal negotiators by matching them with senior executive mentors/sponsors. Without this structured support in place, the immense power of prevailing biases will usually prevent the feminine from advancing as far as it should. 

Organizations should play their part in correcting the current biases and gender stereotypes by developing and enforcing policies, procedures and processes through objective performance measures. In so doing, it is really important to constantly examine the organization’s culture for hints of bias, gender stereotype nuances and enhancing gender-neutral practices are fully entrenched. 

Create a safe place for sharing and communicating 

The underrepresentation of women in senior business positions only serves to reinforce the second generation and other biases and, as a consequence, the unfortunate status quo. Given the numerous layers of “bias glass-ceilings” that women face in business and, as a result, given the relatively lack of senior women in business and deal-negotiation roles, a safe place for sharing, communicating, challenging, learning and innovating is to be encouraged. 

It is, in turn, really important to frame these re-balancing activities in terms of leadership development for all, rather than as a perception re-calibration exercise. Organisations should build sharing and learning communities in which women can safely discuss their situations, compare experiences and support each other in their progress.

Provide impactful deal-making skills building and mentoring programs

While we might all be born with an instinct for negotiating deals, providing impactful negotiation and deal-making training that provides the impetus for effective gender-neutral skills enhancement is essential. In addition, providing mentoring programs to women to ensure that they are aware of promotion opportunities or chances to shine in the organization is very important. 

Educate on, and self-check, biases

We all, men and women, need to reflect on our own biases in terms of viewing aggressive women, or indeed women as a whole, as being unsuitable for deal- negotiation success. Also, when women recognize the extensive nature of second-generation bias, they are usually better armed to navigate more permanent positive results in a more confident manner. 

[This article is based on a longer version previously published in globelawandbusiness.com] 

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