LINKAGE Q1 (2021) - Choose To Challenge
by Dr Debra L. Brown
CEO, Governance Solutions
When I was five years old my father took me out to the fields and put me behind the wheel on his tractor—for me to drive that tractor! It didn’t matter that I was too young for such a task. It also didn’t matter to him that I was a girl. I was oblivious to the fact that men ran the world. It was injected into my DNA that a girl—and one of pretty much any age apparently—could do whatever a man or a boy could do. That lesson, which I am profoundly grateful for, was deeply ingrained early on.
Unfortunately, not every woman has learned this lesson from such a young age, and not every man is like my father, promoting genders as equal in value. Also unfortunate is that discrimination of women remains a serious problem around the world, across society and the workplace, including the C-suite and in the boardroom.
The good news is there is renewed pressure and consideration for enhanced diversity within organisations in leadership and on boards. At Governance Solutions, we have long been advocates for board diversity, not just because it is the right thing to do societally, but because the research clearly shows that it enhances and improves corporate results and governance performance.
The question of women having a positive impact on the bottom line has been proven by the data for more than two decades. In 2002, I was part of a team that wrote a seminal research report for The Conference Board of Canada, called “Women on Boards: Not Just the Right Thing…but the Bright Thing”. We found that companies whose boards have a least three women enjoy higher asset growth and returns. This is just one of several significant benefits and evidence we identified.
There have been numerous reports since that have confirmed and built on this work, so the question about the positive impacts of women in leadership was answered and put to bed a long time ago. However, the access and opportunity problem has not yet been solved. Why is this?
While a complex issue, the main thing is that until recently, there have been few obvious or apparent consequences for gender and most other types of discrimination. We had the carrot, but not the stick. For real change to take root, it will take both the carrot and the stick. The carrot is that our bottom line and overall performance will be improved, however, we often don’t do what’s best for us without there being a stick to prod us along. The stick is understanding the consequences of not going after the carrot.
Here are some of the sticks that are prodding awareness of the consequences of gender discrimination:
At its core, this is an issue of injustice. And when I say injustice, I don’t only mean the injustice of gender discrimination and what that means for women. I mean the injustice this perpetuates on the corporation. A corporation is a person under the law. It is a helpless child but for the directing mind of the corporate body, and that is the board of directors. Corporations all over the world are being robbed of the enhanced value women bring to the boardroom. This is an injustice to the corporation, the helpless child.
Now that we understand the problem, know the benefits and are clear on the consequences, what can women do to help rectify this injustice?
Here’s some advice:
Find Your Value and Your Voice If a woman feels she isn’t good enough or as good as a man, this is reflective of self-image—how she feels about herself, rather than how men feel about her. If you feel less about yourself, others will pick up on that and feel less about you. Finding your own value and voice takes intentionality. Be intentional in your own growth, competence, focus, and purpose.
Be Prepared for the Moment Every woman can take these steps to be prepared for those many moments in life where she can add her own unique value and voice:
Don’t be Shy! The collective voice of women calling out injustice can change the narrative. This is not the time to be shy. It also means helping your sisters find their voice. You can begin by helping other women see themselves in a true light, to help them see themselves as good enough. The best way to do this is to encourage them. The word ‘encourage’ literally means to give courage. Similarly, when we discourage people, we literally take away their courage. When we encourage other women to be all they can be, we are giving them the courage they need to be just that.
Be a Role Model Research shows that the more women there are on a board of directors, the more women there are in senior management. The more women there are in senior management, the more women there are in middle management, and so on. It begins at the top. When we know ourselves and step away from false humility, we will know we are enough, and we can be role models to the women who follow us. If they can see it, they can be it.
Change the Narrative! How we change the narrative really is the million-dollar question! Here are four actions you can take:
Be the Woman You Were Meant to Be! Who are you going to be? Will you be the woman that fits into the mould of those who would discriminate against you based on your gender? Or, will you find your voice and your value and be the person you were created to be, then fulfil your unique and invaluable life’s purpose? Should you choose the latter, focus on being:
Whether you, like me, learned early in life that while there are different genders, there is equality among them, or whether you are learning the lessons of equality later in life, the important thing is that the lesson is learned, the narrative is changed, and justice prevails.
David A. H. Brown, Dr. Debra L. Brown, and Vanessa Anastasopoulos, “Women on Boards: Not Just the Right Thing…but the Bright Thing,” The Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa: 2002.
Dr. Debra L. Brown is the CEO of Governance Solutions, a professional services firm that helps organizations around the globe strengthen their governance practices. Author of Governance Solutions: The Ultimate Guide to Competence and Confidence in the Boardroom and Governing In Scary Times: The Board’s Roadmap for Governing Through and Beyond an Emergency, Debra shares from her vast experience in and out of boardrooms to help others step up in competence and confidence to lead and govern their organizations to success.
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