Support Women in the Workplace by Leading as a Host

Much has been written lately about the need for more women on boards and in leadership positions. While progress is being made, it is much more than a numbers game or a need to meet required quotas. There are real business benefits to be gained from diversity and gender balanced boards — the type that make a tangible difference to the bottom line.

What seems to be important is to have a pipeline of diverse talent coming through organizations. Despite all the effort that goes into recruitment, a further challenge is then presented in retention. There are many well-documented practices that can support retention, but it can often be difficult for the diversity executive to know which mix of approaches will work best.

So what can diversity executives do to ensure everyone in the organization uses the best set of tools and approaches to maximize the engagement, motivation, productivity and retention of women in the workplace? It’s a leadership and organizational culture issue. Leading as a host is one way of achieving greater levels of diversity in the workplace and women on company boards.

We don’t simply need more women, but more of what women bring to these environments: nurturing, energy, intuition, gentle wisdom, listening and more. That’s not to say that men can’t do these as well — as some do them very well — but these things are all stereotypically, and very generally, more natural traits of women.

Male and female leadership may be considered to have generally different traits. Male leadership may be seen as more heroic, with a focus on expertise, telling people what to do and having all the answers, while female leadership may be seen as more valuing of diversity, understanding and building on strengths, stepping back, drawing out answers from others, nurturing talent and growth, not needing to have all the answers and inclusion.

The question diversity executives need to answer is what prevails in our organization? This may be very different to what the organization is saying it wants, but what is really happening in practice? What gets valued? What are the behaviours? How do we support both men and women to be themselves, bringing who they are into their work knowing it will be valued, respected and listened to?

Understanding the different roles associated with being host leader are important to tackling some of the core issues that could be stifling female talent. Let’s explore some of the roles of a “host” and why diversity executives need to move in and out of them to drive forward change in the organization.

The Initiator: Ask yourself, what are the hopes dreams and intentions of diversity? What do we want to achieve? What’s the bigger picture with this? What’s the business case? As the Initiator, what are the next small steps? Who needs to be involved? This is also about listening to what’s being called for next.

The Inviter: When looking at recruitment, ask yourself, what are we inviting people in to? How attractive and compelling is it? By understanding what you are inviting people to, you’ll have a better idea of what needs to change to get the results and reactions you want from the right people.

The Connector: This role is vital for any diversity executive as it is about really connecting with each person, understanding them and their strengths and how we can use them in the business. This is about engagement and really connecting with the individual so that their full potential is realized, not only by you, but by the organisation too.

The Gatekeeper: What rituals and routines exist in your organization that are maybe supporting or working against diversity and women? A recent comment for example, was about the ‘laddish’ culture that still exists in some places. In this instance, it was about seating arrangements in a meeting — “we’ll sit together, you sit there.” As the gatekeeper, you might need to close the gate on certain routines and rituals that are not serving the diversity challenge.

The biggest challenge for the diversity executive is a cultural one — get women to want to progress in the first place. It seems many have seen what it takes or how it’s done and don’t want it or like it. The varying roles of host leadership can help connect with women and help drive them forward to achieving their true potential.