Rethink Your Vocabulary

In managing gender balancing effectively, vocabulary is an absolutely crucial leadership tool. Leaders need to know how to talk about gender – positioning it as a business issue, which is the responsibility of all managers. It helps to be very inclusive of both men and women when discussing gender, so that it doesn’t appear to be a “women’s issue.” We suggest avoiding the word “women” entirely, and replacing it with “customers,” “talent” and “balance.” That keeps you focused on the endgame.

Bilingual Marketing: This is sales and marketing approaches that connect equally effectively with both male and female customers and end-users. An example would be the iPhone, a bilingual product whose mass customer base is made up of men and women in equal measure. This in contrast to many of the “pink” phones that many telecom operators produced for what they considered the “women’s segment.”

Critical Mass: This is the level at which any minority is no longer seen as a minority, usually considered to be somewhere around 30 percent. In companies, therefore, it is better to have at least 30 percent of either gender across all functions and levels, rather than having 80 percent of women in staff functions and 80 percent men in operational roles.

Gender Asbestos: A metaphor to describe the reality in most companies that the percentage of women relative to men begins to drop relatively early on in careers, creating a gender imbalance in senior management and leadership. This is unlike the more commonly used term “glass ceiling” which gives the impression that women only face obstacles at the top of organizations. This misperception affects the policies put into place to remedy it.

Gender Balance: The balance of men and women inside an organization that effectively reflects the available talent pool and sustainably supports its strategic objectives. As one CEO told us, “Not necessarily 50/50, but closer to 50/50 than to 85/15.” And balance all functions and levels, including blue collar, and not ending up with a lot of women in staff jobs and men in operational roles.

Gender Bilingualism: The management competency that equips ALL managers, male and female, to understand the differences between genders to be able to effectively recruit, retain and develop from 100 percent  of the talent pool, and to be able to understand, connect and communicate with 100 percent of customers, end-users and stakeholders.

Gender Neutrality: The ability to  make all communications and policies inside organizations inclusive of all men and women, without focusing particularly on one gender or the other, which often creates a backlash. So, for example, replacing “maternity” issues with “parental” issues, and “work-life balance for women” with “flexibility for all.”

Gender Neutral Targets and Tracking: Most companies track the percentage of women within their organizations. This reinforces the idea that this is a women’s issue. I’d suggest tracking the ratio of women AND men to focus on the issue of balance. And setting minimums of EITHER gender (ex. 40 percent) rather than targets for women.

Womenomics: The economic opportunity offered by the rise of women in the 21st century and the ability of countries and companies to leverage the potential benefits from both a talent and customer perspective.