Women Chairs: The Time Is Now

By Helen Pitcher OBE, Chair of Advanced Boardroom Solutions

 

With more women as board chairs, business can better serve society.

Companies should benefit all their stakeholders. This is increasingly on the minds of regulators, activists, politicians, pension investors and individuals of this world. As Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Blackrock, wrote in his 2019 Letter to CEOs, “society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues”.

If we want boards to deliver benefits for a wider stakeholder group – and stop focusing on short-term profits – we need to shift the dial on women becoming chair of these boards. Failing that, the corporate landscape won’t change.

While there are excellent male chairs, too many are products of the old boys’ network. These men pay scant attention to their increasing accountability towards stakeholders beyond their shareholders. In the United Kingdom, the days of the Financial Reporting Council (the watchdog for auditors, accountants and actuaries) are now numbered after it was embroiled in one controversy too many.

Why more women chairs is a game changer

McKinsey & Company has a long history of published reports that have established the business case for diversity. Organisations with greater gender diversity outperform others, typically have a healthier risk profile and make better investment decisions. All of this generates greater client and customer satisfaction.

Based on peer-reviewed research, surveys and anecdotal evidence, we now know what makes an effective board chair. Beyond the obvious group of traits including integrity, personal strength, courage and intelligence, the critical skills are:

  • an ability to influence others without dominating
  • an engaged vision of the future
  • strong emotional intelligence
  • coaching skills.

If we schematise the skills of an effective chairperson, it may look like this:

At the base of the pyramid lie the rules-based, measurable hard skills. While they are necessary, they can be taught and learnt.

At the top of the pyramid, we find the intuition-based soft skills that require a high emotional quotient (EQ). Those skills can only be developed through experience, practice and internal focus.

EQ & soft skills are more often associated with women than men. Though differences between ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits have little bearing on the attributes of individual men and women, research does not support the notion that men are somehow better suited to the chairperson role.

It should be clear that women are just as capable as men in directing and chairing our companies. Furthermore, they have as much right to succeed, and fail, as their male counterparts do. Our reservoir of chair talent is not so great that we can afford to ignore 50 percent of the potential candidates.

Time to accelerate the pace of change

As the leaders of our companies are called upon to strengthen their engagement with society and all stakeholders, we need to better understand and articulate what a chair role entails. The “job description” must move beyond the domineering CEO stereotype, with its descriptors of drive, ambition and ruthlessness.

The soft skills of facilitation, collaboration, listening, synthesising, defusing conflict and ensuring consensus are the hallmarks of a successful chair. At the other end of the spectrum, directive, overly assertive and antagonistic are the traits of an ineffective chair.

By acting as role models, women chairs can provide additional societal benefits. For instance, they can act as a driving force for empowerment and to promote the inclusion of a broader talent pool. In the UK, advocates of increased acceleration of women in chair roles are multiplying. They include existing female directors, the Women on Boards network, the International Women’s Forum (IWF), Men as Change Agents (MACA), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the 30% Club.

While the positive pressure for more diverse boards does show results, the action on women chairs is far behind. Too many active resistors – including old-style chairmen and nomination committees – continue to reinforce the false idea that chairs must have at least a decade of board work under their belt. Head hunters tend to say that female chairs are difficult to find, repeating a narrative they used before national targets were established for women on boards. The statistics show this is not true.

Stopping the erosion of trust in business

We need a strong push to free boards held hostage by reductionist thinking. According to research by INSEAD Professor Stanislav Shekshnia, only 20 percent of boards in the UK will be women-led by 2027. This is not enough. It is time to take action to accelerate the acquisition of more female chairs, right across the public and private corporate environment.

In the UK, the new Combined Code with its cap of nine years of service on a single board will create more churn. Investment companies must start asking mediocre chairmen to step down. Women need a greater number of enthusiastic sponsors and more board-level development. I challenge more female directors to aim for the top role.

Having more women chairs will help rebuild the trust in our corporate environment and foster businesses that deliver performance mixed with social and environmental benefits. It may just be the key to a new era of sustainable long-term profit.

Helen Pitcher OBE (IDP-C) is the chair of Advanced Boardroom Excellence, which works with board effectiveness, board evaluation reviews and coaching chairs, CEOs and NEDs. She is a graduate of INSEAD’s International Director’s Programme.

Source: INSEAD

Will You End Up as Digital Roadkill?

by Caroline Rook, Lecturer at Henley Business School, and Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change |

Most of us are so digitally connected that we have become utterly disconnected.

Michelle, the COO of a multinational corporation, was one of the most respected executives in her industry. A true workhorse, she was famous for her ability to multitask and constant online presence. While her staff admired the way she worked, they felt pressured to do the same. Recently, several of them were signed off from work, citing burnout, and two others had handed in their resignation.

During a session with her executive coach, Michelle described how she exercised every day before going to the office and used that time to discuss work with colleagues over the phone. Similarly, she optimised every minute of her travel time in her car or on planes. Any spare time was devoted to maintaining a strong presence on LinkedIn and other social media. She took pride in replying to all the messages and comments she received.

Michelle wondered whether this busyness had begun to hurt her ability to concentrate and think for the long term. She found it hard to sleep at night and had a creeping sense of feeling overwhelmed. She believed this caused her to make more mistakes and be less productive than usual. “Could mindfulness training be of help?”, she asked.

The heavy toll of tech-enabled productivity

Given Michelle’s work habits, what is happening to her and her team should come as no surprise. They suffer from technostress, the inability to cope with the digital world in a healthy manner. Digital technology was supposed to make us more productive – and it has to some extent – but those benefits have not come without costs.

The combined pressure of constant virtual presence and continuous information bombardment have had negative consequences on our health. Aside from creating potential work overload, technostress has paved the way to anxiety, feelings of frustration, job dissatisfaction, poor job performance, absenteeism and retention problems. Burnout and mental health problems, including digital addiction, always lurk in the shadows.

When RescueTime (a time management software company) ran a survey on the use of digital technology in the workplace, only 10 percent of respondents said they felt in control of how they spend their days. Data from more than 50,000 RescueTime users showed that people have only 1 hour and 12 minutes a day when they aren’t using communication tools or being distracted by them. The survey also found that 70 percent of employees keep their inbox open all day and only 20 percent have a deliberate strategy for dealing with their e-mails.

The tricks our brains play on us

Why are we obsessed with being constantly connected? Why do we find it so hard to resist the beeps and alerts of incoming messages and notifications? Obvious explanations include the fear of missing out, the need to feel (or be perceived as) productive, procrastination and the compulsion to feel connected in an increasingly virtual world. The latter is especially true for senior executives who often suffer from the loneliness of command.

Underlying these motivations are deeper biochemical and psychological forces which bear a strong resemblance to those seen in gambling addiction. Just like compulsive gamblers who live for the thrill of the occasional win, we feel compelled to constantly check our inbox as it may contain a message we are eagerly awaiting or some other “nice surprise”. In both cases, random rewards stimulate the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that motivates us to repeat the triggering behaviour.

In the corporate world, there is a growing awareness that people must disconnect in order to carve out time for reflection. This shift is great news, but we must guard against quick-fix solutions. For example, a high performer like Michelle cannot work manically and then expect a few mindfulness sessions to save her from impending burnout.

Learning to self-manage

The challenge for people like Michelle is to learn how to keep technostress at bay. This requires self-control. Leaders must create environments that satisfy the human need for connection while also enabling their people to disconnect at times. It is about recapturing what was once a sacred space – the one reserved for reflection and creative thinking.

To free themselves and their staff from the prison of technostress, executives must define clear boundaries for how and when to use digital communication tools. This could include guidelines about appropriate response time to different types of contact. Some suggestions are:

  • As a rule, e-mails should not require an immediate response. Truly urgent issues should be resolved through a phone call.
  • Staff should refrain from accessing e-mail outside of working hours or whilst on holidays.
  • People should not stay in the office outside normal hours unless absolutely necessary. The same applies to virtual meetings out of hours.

Another measure to combat technostress consists of a brief, automated e-mail response indicating that the message has been received but will only be addressed within a particular time frame (e.g. at a specific hour in the morning and in the afternoon).

There is a difference between a lightning-fast response and one that really adds value.  In this context, it is also worthwhile to clarify that nobody in the office is expected to know everything.

Working smart

It is up to leaders to promote a “work-smart” mindset that advocates taking breaks for reflection. Even when it seems that we are not doing anything, our brains are often working on important issues surreptitiously.

Considering this reality, is your commute really the time to check messages or call team members and clients? Or should it be ‘news’ time, a space to disconnect from work while staying abreast of political and economic developments? Could you use this time to read some fiction or just look out the window and enjoy the scenery?

If you can’t block time alone for reflection when you’re in the office, why not step outside to get some fresh air and have a stroll? A short nap can also be very helpful, as it is a proven way to restore our alertness, memory and decision-making ability.

There are many ways to disconnect from the virtual world to create the headspace needed to engage in truly important activities, such as rethinking corporate strategy or creating a vision for the future. These moments of deliberate disconnect are a countervailing force against dopamine-driven, compulsive behaviours.

Executives should do everything in their power to avoid becoming digital roadkill. They would do well to realise that the more digitally connected they are, the more they disconnect from their fellow human beings. Although communication tools have their uses, face-to-face interactions have the most potential for meaningful and durable impact.

Source: INSEAD

The Challenges Faced by Global Cosmopolitan Women

by Linda Brimm

To tap the full potential of these agents for change, organisations must listen and push beyond assumptions.

Carolyn was thrilled when she was offered a role in China. A high flyer in her Dutch organisation and fluent in Mandarin, she believed this was the perfect opportunity to get the international experience that she wanted. However, her boss suggested that it would be difficult for a woman to lead a team for this particular project in China. While his intentions might have been good, his comments left her feeling vulnerable to concerns about gender bias and her ability to handle it.

She knew that the decisions she would have to make in an unfamiliar context would be scrutinised. Carolyn could run into difficulties related to language. While these factors risked eroding some of her self-confidence, she was determined to enter this complex negotiation and decision-making arena. Due to her gender and culture, Carolyn was used to standing out and knew how to benefit from different perspectives. She would probably need to be much better than the men who had previously held the same position to be appreciated. Continue reading

How to bond with your employees without compromising your authority

By Sadie Williamson

For any company, success is largely dependent on how well workers perform. I’ve long since learned that employees who perform the best are almost always those who are most engaged with their projects and teams. But you might be surprised to find out that one of the biggest contributing factors to the motivation and good feeling of an employee is often their relationship with their manager.

In a study by the OC Tanner Institute, 37 percent of employees reported recognition from management as by far the most important factor for employee motivation. A similar study found that 79 percent of people who quit their jobs do so because they don’t feel appreciated.

The most successful managers understand their responsibility for employee engagement and recognize how good employee relations contribute to a flourishing company.

Unfortunately, evidence also shows that companies are not taking steps to equip their managers to handle the softer aspects of the role. A CareerBuilder survey found that 58 percent of managers reported receiving no training for their current position. While there is no instruction manual or rule book on managing and leading people, my time in the corporate world has taught me that there are steps that you can take to navigate this complicated responsibility. Continue reading

Don’t Just Tell Employees Organizational Changes Are Coming — Explain Why

 

By Morgan Galbraith

Employees around the world are reporting that big organizational changes are affecting their jobs. From leadership transitions and restructurings, to mergers and acquisitions, to regulatory changes, there seems to be constant unrest in the workforce. But according to one survey of more than half a million U.S. employees, almost one-third don’t understand why these changes are happening.

This can be detrimental for any company trying to implement change. When employees don’t understand why changes are happening, it can be a barrier to driving ownership and commitment and can even result in resistance or push back. And employees’ resistance to change is a leading factor for why so many change transformations fail.

Executives and those responsible for leading change cannot assume that employees understand the reasoning behind them. You must spend time explaining the changes and why they are important. Based on my experience supporting organizational change initiatives, there are four key aspects to helping employees understand change, to drive commitment, and to ultimately contribute to your success.

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