Isolated at the Top

Join the conversation

We’ve never been shy to call out the exclusion of women in the workplace, especially when it comes to the mistreatment so many still face today. When females are placed in a leadership role, they are facing higher expectations and higher risk of replacement than their male counterparts.

Last week we celebrated International Women’s Week – it was heartwarming to see the incredibly well-deserved praise for the women in all our lives, personally and professionally. I am privileged to have a role that specifically encourages our clients to establish environments that embraces everyone. I have been fortunate to have met many extremely talented and inspiring female leaders – but I am struck by how many of them still worry about still being excluded, even when they are at the top of their professions.

When giving talks about Inclusion, most of the conversations I have immediately afterwards are with women from the audience. Most of the questions during the keynote are asked by women. They are always relevant, thoughtful and many of them are troubling. It is obvious that there are still far too many toxic and adversarial issues they unfortunately must deal with on a regular basis.

As much as I desperately try not to compare any of my clients, it’s tough not to notice the obvious and quite dramatic differences in the ‘lived experience’ between the male and female chief executives I have worked alongside and the journey they’ve been on. I am still spending far too much time supporting strong and brilliant female leaders who still struggle with an environment that does not support them in being their authentic selves. This must change.

The extremely high and unreasonable expectations set for newly appointed female CEOs has continued to take its toll in terms of the highly pressurized and unrelenting demands they constantly face. Continually being asked what it’s like being a woman at the top, and having many decisions openly challenged and undermined by the industry commentators.

Most of the male CEOs we work with do not have this extra level of scrutiny or pressure to deal with. It is no surprise at all to me that male CEOs are lasting significantly longer in their roles than women are.

There’s nothing wrong with staying, nor am I saying they should consider leaving – but it’s intriguing to understand why, despite being so good at what they do, are women leaving so often and taking on something new. For some, it’s a simple answer of wanting something different, wanting to achieve another dream – but for even more, it’s out of their hands and they feel they are forced out, or need to get out before they’re pushed.

The claim seems bold at first, but previous studies have shown women CEOs tend to last an average of 6.6 years, but for their male counterparts, its much nearer 10 years. This is no coincidence, nor is it a sign that one is ‘better’ than the other – experts have cited that in many cases, women are facing a ‘glass cliff’ upon their appointment, they’re appointed during turbulent times that has them facing failure from the get-go. Enrolling a female into a leadership role is not enough to say you are an inclusive team – it’s not just about diversity, it must be about inclusion too. They need to be offered the same support, the same backing, and the same trust as anyone else. There’s been an unhealthy mistreatment towards women in the workplace for what seems like forever – but there’s no excuse for it to continue, nor was there a reason for it to begin – it is time to change.

By no means should we take away anything from those in senior positions doing a fantastic job, male, female, white or person of colour. Alongside that, we are not saying to exclude someone else now, the focus will always be inclusion, for everyone. There is a reason everyone is given their role, but what we always refer to is the support around them, and the environment they must operate in, which has evidently been lacking when women take on these senior roles.

In the world of inclusive leadership, experience beats theory – statistics give us some insights, it helps bring to life just how good, or bad, we are doing, but it isn’t enough. Listening to your colleagues’ stories will teach you much more, it will allow you to understand just how important inclusion is. We need to walk in each other’s shoes to understand what it is we should be doing to support and include everyone around us.

It was just recently that we saw another unfortunate inappropriate incident between an executive man and a female colleague at Red Bull – actions like these deter our female colleagues too, it keeps them silent and unable to push for the career they want because of a lack of protection – it’s about time we make the top positions look desirable and welcoming for the women of our world. Those that become mothers should be celebrated and recognised with applause, not demoted for not being around in the office. A female colleague, nervous about her new executive role should not be deemed ‘unfit’ for the job, they should be reassured that they are there for a reason and will receive the backing from everyone. An outspoken woman should not be seen as ignorant or a threat, they should be congratulated for speaking out about what is important.

We have heard the disgraceful comments from Frank Hester about Dianne Abbot. Whilst these reprehensible and repugnant comments are bad enough on their own, we then saw Abbot ignored after trying to have her say on the discussion in the House of Commons about her after over 40 attempts to speak. Unspeakable behaviour from all parties and the Speaker of the House. Simply disgraceful and there for all to witness.

How honest is the House of Commons about its own prejudice?

It’s only when you have been left out that you learn the true power of inclusion.

Leaders today should represent society, with passion and purpose, serving their team before thinking about themselves – we should always be looking for the best person for the team, not the job.

Thought of the week:

Everyone has access to knowledge; it doesn’t mean they have wisdom

Tips for becoming an A player:

  • Create an environment for everyone to be their authentic selves
  • Learn to embrace difference
  • Never be afraid to take risks
  • Anything you can imagine, can be your future
  • Listen to others and join their fight

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *