Time to smash through the toxic alpha masculine ‘norm’

sue unerman“I find it astonishing that there’s already a profound gender imbalance, at every level, in an industry that didn’t even exist 30 years ago” – Martha Lane-Fox. Now, I’m an optimist about gender diversity at senior levels in business.  Even an optimist gets daunted by the tech industry. 
The failure of an entirely new industry to be more diverse. Businesses in this sector were mostly set up or at least developed this century. Generations have passed since the legal framework for gender equality was established. And yet…
Here we are.
When we set out to investigate the gender disparity in senior management for our book The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, my co-author, Kathryn Jacob, and I did lots of research across many sectors, in the UK and worldwide.
We established that there is indeed an issue across sectors that is preventing talented women rising to the top of organisations, however new those organisations are.
There’s an invisible barrier, a Glass Wall.
Men and women can see each other through the Glass Wall at work, but they don’t speak the same language, have the same expectations or respond equally to the same motivations.
It is still the case that senior men tend to nurture and promote younger men. Women underrate their talent and don’t show off about it, whereas their peers who are men are doing the opposite.
Women simply want to be treated “equally” to men. However, when that equality is to a masculine “norm”, indeed as is so often the case, a toxic alpha masculine “norm”, women, who are less likely to game play or to pitch ruthlessly for promotion, do less well, however talented they are.  (Often because women are too busy getting on with the work).
This isn’t good for business. It isn’t good for the tech industry. Just because someone (a bloke) is better at gaming the system or getting himself promoted this doesn’t mean that they are the best person for the business for that role. This is endorsed time and again by research studies that show that a good gender mix in senior management is better for decision making and profit. A recent study by McKinsey states that companies with a good gender mix are likely to outperform the “norm” by over 20%. So that toxic “norm” costs businesses, the tech industry and by correlation real GDP money.
What must be done to sort this out? Clearly, it is not OK to carry on as before.
Our view is that there’s a shift, a step change that must take place. We need to reset the “norm” to be a human being “norm” not an alpha masculine “norm”.
Let’s recognise that both women themselves and the tech industry needs to change. Certainly women need to show off more, lean in, if you like, to the challenge. But businesses and team leaders need to lean in as well.   The Women in Data (WiD) initiative is crucial to delivering this change.
Some 40% of working women in the UK, Russia and US are dissatisfied with their choice of career (source: Lightspeed GMI for The Glass Wall).  This just isn’t good enough.
We need to smash the Glass Walls, transform what seem like barriers to success into real levers for change and progression.

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom and a key speaker at the Women in Data UK 2017 conference

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