Diversity, Inclusion, And Women In Management
December 1, 2020
Diversity and inclusion is crucial in business. Dr Bleistein discusses the importance of women in management.
Diversity and inclusion are good both ethically and for business, as long as you do things right. Below is a summary of practices that successful leaders I know have in common in increasing numbers of excellent women in management roles. While I address only women here, you can apply the same principles to all types of diversity and inclusion in your business.
- Never compromise your standards for expediency. A CEO client of mine seeking to fill a vice-president of sales position, one that oversaw half the revenues of the Japan business, insisted on filling the position with a woman. Five executive search firm consultants each from five different Tokyo-based firms advised him to lower his standards. A woman with the requisite qualifications is simply impossible to find they said, and turned down the work. A number of women candidates were working in other positions in the global company were proposed by Human Resources (HR). Yet had any of them been male, they would have been viewed as not yet ready for the position. The CEO refused to lower his standards merely to meet a KPI. Executives at the head office advised him to select from a number of acceptable male candidates, but the CEO remained undaunted. Ultimately, he found his candidate who was imminently qualified, a Chinese woman working elsewhere in the global business. He hired her despite prognostications of doom by other executives in the company.
“Ours is a conservative industry! Japanese customers will never accept a non-speaking Chinese woman!” they warned. “Our male sales team will never accept a Chinese woman as leader!” others cried. The CEO was unfazed.
The Chinese woman who spoke no Japanese delivered the best sales results of anyone who had ever held the vice president role. Customers loved her, because she listened to them, albeit through a translator, and helped them improve their businesses. The mostly male sales team was fine with her as leader, and improved their performance under her leadership. None of the dire warnings came to pass.
It took the CEO three months longer than usual to fill the role, but who cares? Had he compromised and heeded the advice of search firm consultants or hired an internal male candidate for the sake of expediency, no one would have complained. I’m sure the business would have performed just fine, and no one would ever have known what could have been. However, the CEO, his staff, other executives in the global firm, and customers in Japan do know. And now so do you.
- Recognise that you fill at least three positions when you fill one, if you do things right. The CEO of another client company of mine boasts that half of all management positions, including executive management and the CEO herself, are held by women. The company continues to maintain that rate, and this does not surprise me. Diversity accelerates growth in diversity, because every time you fill one management role with an excellent woman, you really fill at least three because you also retain the excellent women in the business who see evidence of a path to the top, and you attract excellent women candidates who see the same.
- Accept that excellence is rare. The most common excuse I hear for giving up on filling a senior role with a woman is a dearth of qualified candidates. However, I can assure that there are more excellent women candidates for your business than you could ever possibly hire. Excellence is rare by definition. There is no path to an abundance of excellent women managers in your business through hiring the less qualified for expediency’s sake. Take the time, and put in the extra effort if you need to.
- Business strategy, not HR strategy. A diversity of people in management roles in your business, women or otherwise, is a strategic issue for the CEO, and not just the domain of HR. Businesses with a diversity of people are more innovative, grow faster, and deliver superior results. One of my most successful Japanese SME clients deliberately targets women for employment, precisely because they know that other Japanese companies often foolishly give women short shrift.
- Treat women in management in your business like you would any other strategic performance issue. You as leader decide the ‘what.’ Get help with the ‘how.’ That is one of the reasons why you have a leadership team.
- Reject so-called Asian/Japanese culture as a justification for any decision. You would be surprised how often a CEO asks me if it is alright to name a woman as successor or put a woman in a significant executive role because of misogynistic elements of Japanese culture about which he has heard. Will customers take her seriously? Will staff follow her lead? Will her leadership team accept her? In theory, yes, these are all risks. In practice, I have never seen them come to pass. Hold the so-called realists at bay.
What are your best practices? If you care to share them with me, feel free to drop me a line.
Mr Steven Bleistein is CEO of Tokyo-based consulting firm Relansa, Inc, and the sought-after expert on rapid business growth and change. He is the author of Rapid Organizational Change (Wiley 2017), and writes for The Straits Times.
Copyright © 2020 Singapore Institute of Management
Article Found In
Issue 4, 2020