A place at the table for women in Rhineland-Palatinate

Post in: German

Let’s imagine, you’re a woman responsible for making sure there are more women in leadership positions and decision-making groups: How can you enforce laws requiring women to be hired, without creating backlash, without alienating women who may or may not want these positions? These aren’t easy questions to answer! But we worked on these on a Tuesday afternoon at the University of Mainz when I met with the equal-opportunities commissioners of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate as their guest for their spring meeting.
Why are women so underrepresented in leadership and decision-making? What can we do about it? What makes women worth fighting for as leaders? These are tricky issues. “Women” are as heterogenous as “men.” But it is true also that women as a group have been underrepresented and disadvantaged in the labor market. Their capabilities have gone unrecognized.

My main points were:

  1. At the end of the day, the focus really must remain on how to make the world better, how to make our organizations run better, be more effective at what we do. What is our objective? Keeping streets clean? Educating children? Making sure that everyone has a roof over his and her head? When we keep our goal in focus, it’s easier to handle the details that make that goal happen. That includes getting the right people at the table.
  2. Processes are happening at an unconscious level that bias men and women toward believing men are the better leaders, even when all evidence points otherwise. As a result, women’s effectiveness is undervalued. Women compensate by being about 2.5 times more effective than a man who reaches the same level.  Blind evaluations would help remedy the bias.
  3. The phenomenon that women rise only to a certain level in an organization’s hierarchy and after that are no longer to be found at the upper reaches of leadership is what is meant by the term “the glass ceiling.”
  4. Successful leadership is not any one thing that good leaders do; it is a combination of things. Taking responsibility, looking out for the needs and development of the people being led, and getting the job done are some of those things. We’re rewarding the wrong behaviors when we reward greed, narcissism, and the ability to draw attention to oneself with choice well-paid, highly responsible leadership positions.
  5. Studies that really look at effective leadership find “transformational leadership” is the most effective one. Transformational leadership is the type of leadership that more women than men demonstrate.  Transformational leadership is the most effective type of leadership, and it’s the type of leadership that more women than men demonstrate. More effective leadership also draws on qualities often ascribed to women, building relationships and respect, listening well, responding to the needs of the organization and the team. Kind of like raising children, actually. Hmmm!
  6. Women in leadership can provoke discomfort just due to their novelty.  Yet people learn only when they’re a little bit challenged or uncomfortable — but not too uncomfortable. This is called the Zone of Proximal Development, and finding it helps organizations move from old habits to new ways of seeing and being.  Women in leadership can help organizations find that zone and move forward. And the women in a leadership position will feel that “Zone” at times, too. Don’t be afraid. That’s where growth happens!
  7. Having work and life in a healthy symbiosis is a demand of Gen Y and a wish for nearly everyone.

Did you attend? Please feel welcome to share impressions, experiences, and feedback in the comments section, below!

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