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Joanna Goddard, commercial growth strategist, is a highly respected business consultant based in the UK

Why the ‘Women in Business’ agenda is so wrong

OK, controversy alert – I’m going to jump right in and start with my frustration about ‘women in business’ chat.

Women in business, it’s often frustrating, patronising and small-minded. However looks like Deloitte perhaps agree, having launched their radical attempt to reframe diversity, as feature by Harvard Business Review. [read full article here]

So many big professionals services firm prides themselves on their ‘WIB’ clubs or networks. I’m endlessly invited to join WIB groups, which offer to help and support me. Help me with what? Climb the ladder? Break through the glass ceiling? Listen friends, (of both sexes), I just don’t buy this message that as a woman I need an extra helping hand. Surely in 2017 we are beyond that now?

Before I go any further – full disclosure:

  • I am a woman
  • I have three kids
  • I have founded and co founded businesses
  • I’ve been an employee and a consultant
  • I’ve worked in all male environments, including a construction site and IT Security

In essence, I’ve had a good run at seeing this from all angles.

WIB events that start with the ‘juggling school run and meetings’ conversation – thus ignoring from the outset half the women in the room who don’t have kids, and then move onto the ‘how you look and should heels be mandatory’ debate, frankly drive me insane.

However, some groups do exist that talk about strategic issues. And that has to be a good thing: after all strategic thinking and an ability to influence strategic discussion is one of the key points identified in many research reports where women apparently have less traction than men. In tandem reports however, improved economic performance of businesses with diverse leadership teams (ie: leaders of both sexes) is also reported. Horses for courses.

So let’s ditch the wishy-washy family-centred discussions when business women get together and tackle some serious strategic thinking, get involved in robust research and come up with some psychological evidential reasoning to understand why there are negative implications in the workplace and then share the results so we can make some real, measurable progress when it comes to business results and the gender gap/difference.

Let’s include men in the conversation and explore jointly how leadership needs to develop to attract and retain female talent.

Successful entrepreneurs providing strategic skills development to women at a senior level can see a company achieve serious growth and development as a result.

Take JoJo Sutherland’s company Stand Up and Be Counted, which trains the UK’s financial services sector to improve pitch, presentation and peer influencing skills. Jo uses comedy techniques (she’s a raw edgy stand up comic outwith the 9-5 gig), and this is remarkably effective in reinforcing and empowering women and men at the top of their game who want to aim even higher.

Ros Taylor, one of the country’s Top 10 Business Coaches, along with her global team (Edinburgh, London, New York) at The Ros Taylor Company, is developing leaders to dynamically lead, retain, recruit and effectively manage diverse teams. An evidence based psychologist, and author, she believes passionately that dynamic gender diversity in the boardroom leads to improved performance levels and makes real impact on the bottom line.

So before any more of you politely jump on the Women IN Business bandwagon – can I invite those of you who are well intentioned about strategic women, to leap onto the Women ON Business train instead?

Think strategic, be strategic, encourage strategic.

And if you are serious about it, hell, why not invite some men along too.

Reverse mentoring is working from an age diversity aspect so what’s with the excluding men aspect of the gender agenda?

Whilst we berate women for lack of strategy let’s all reset the strategic bar.

Who will be brave enough to rebadge their network after reading this post I wonder?

Women In Business – there’s no doubt this is a way of recruiting females into male dominated sectors.

Women On Business – let’s elevate the premise to encourage more leadership, management, directorship.

Why is this important to me?

  • I have male clients that I respect.
  • I have male business partners that I respect.
  • I’m married to a businessman that I respect.

But perhaps most importantly, I’m raising three men who I respect hugely and would love them to enter a workplace that doesn’t end up welcoming them as a new class of minority.

[Joanna is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and member of the Advisory Council to the School of Management at St Andrews University. She is a business consultant and owner.]