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Building Authentic Leadership for Gender Inclusion

By: Leslie Traub and Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, Cook Ross Inc.

Individuals, corporations, academics, and other institutions have been making the business case for women in the workforce for the last three decades, and it is well known that a diverse pipeline in employee demographics leads to a stronger and more robust team. How and why, then, is this topic still alive today?

Why is it that while we have made strides in gender equality in the workplace and in talent management, we still see statistics showing us that women are far less likely to become top leaders in a company, are paid less than their male counterparts, and experience more obstacles to their career than men do if they leave and re-enter the traditional workforce?

Studies have shown an invisible barrier between women and a career path with truly equal opportunities.  Beyond the glass ceiling, we know that there are deeper challenges that we as gender-focused practitioners should be cognizant of.  Building a truly gender inclusive culture requires strong and authentic commitment from everyone—women and their male colleagues—but especially those at the top of an organization.

Many organizations’ commitment to gender equality in the workplace take the form of policy statements and targets, accompanied by an investment in women’s leadership development programs and networks.  Doubtless there are many who do benefit from these efforts, yet such actions without authentic leadership can give the impression that as long as someone else is doing something, then leaders don’t need to pay attention.  This patterned approach can lead to cynicism and a feeling of tokenism on behalf of women, and contributes to the “fatigue” that many feel when a gender issue is evoked.

Authenticity must originate from the top. Having a strong, personal voice of endorsement from leaders can alter the perspectives of line leaders and managers. This culture of authenticity and commitment can reinforce why an organization is committed to gender equity, and what steps everyone can and will take to examine personal or systemic barriers to inclusion. Most importantly, it will bring a topic that is spoken in third-person, even by women, into a personal and relevant space.

Our experience with CEOs and other executives shows that a personal commitment makes a difference.  When we work with leaders to examine their relationship to gender equality based on their life experiences, framed in their own words, we have seen them take a clear leadership stance, holding themselves and others accountable for doing the same. They inspire their leaders and their organizations towards positive actions that create an environment where true equality, partnership, and collaboration can take place.

We hope to see you in our session, S3-E, at the Multicultural Forum Conference. Together we will explore in greater detail how these leaders identified and communicated their authentic commitment, and the results that they’ve created.

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