The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Elusive Difference, Part 2

[NOTE: First published on ZoomInfo's Insight Report in May 2007, this article is now republished on The Consultant's Desk in order to preserve its access.]

Developing the Talent

As to developing a pool of qualified candidates, one recommendation is to put in place a mentoring program so that women have role models to watch, learn from, and receive coaching insights. Mentoring provides opportunities for insider education about the traditional way plus small nuances that can be applied in sticky situations where rote is not the route.

The more companies get employees involved in governance and ethics training, the more they will be developing leader thinking, and therefore, candidates qualified for the upper echelons.

One of the reasons women leaders are not recognized is because women are not allowed to express themselves as knowledgeable authorities on meaningful subjects. Open the door to more challenging responsibilities and concepts and you open the door to developing the leadership that’s required.

All of these are wonderful exercises in developing that elusive difference to serve. It isn’t helping us in the here and now to find the names.

Where to Look

Where should we be looking for these untapped leaders, the ones who are not part of the small and evaporating pool? There are government registries of qualified candidates. What I loved about working with ZoomInfo’s PowerSearch is that it allowed such ease of filtering in order to find these types of people.

One way of searching is to start by looking at the industry and then using some of the filters to limit the results by gender and position. That’s a terrific system. You achieve thousands of hits. But on a search for Finance expertise, I discovered I had a lot of women lawyers. I wanted Operations and Audit experts. Customer Support was able to offer a suggestion on how to filter these types of records out of the results.

On yet another search, still in Finance, I found it very easy to narrow results from over 11,000 records to about a dozen by simply inputting the name of an association from which I wanted to cull talent. And the extremely helpful online Customer Support helped me identify an even more efficient way of going after the pearls in the sea. Start with the name of the organization from which you want your candidate to be trained.

The other place to look is development foundations where leadership skills are taught and developed, placement statistics are maintained, and a registry of qualified candidates is held for making recommendations and facilitating connections. One obvious organization that keeps such information is Catalyst’s Corporate Board Service. The International Alliance for Women is a great source for finding qualified nonprofit candidates. There are also geo-specific organizations that serve multiple industries in training, supporting, and connecting qualified women with organizations. And then there's the Secretary of State's registry of minority candidates.

Yet another, and obvious, place to search for these elusive ladies is at MBA programs and alumni associations.

PowerSearch provided an additional advantage in finding literally thousands of hits for women who are in mid-management positions. This is where many think tanks recommend beginning your leadership development process and culling the talent that’s desired. Sometimes finding the right candidate is as easy as looking just below the surface, where the most ripe are hitting the ceiling.

Use of the PowerSearch is easy. And for someone who comes from a legal background and deep familiarity with online research through legal databases, many things made sense. So I quickly found that I’d moved from a simple search to something much more sophisticated. Customer Support made me aware of this. The professional suggested that to refine my skills and results, I may want to consider the Advanced Search training. “Is there an additional cost for this?” I asked. No, it’s included in the subscription price. What a gold mine!

I think we’re going to have a lot of Pelosis who proliferate the landscape. It’s simply a matter of knowing where to look.

[back to The Elusive Difference, Part 1]

The Elusive Difference, Part 1

[NOTE:First published on ZoomInfo's Insight Report in May 2007, this article is now republished on The Consultant's Desk in order to preserve its access.]

Wow! January 2007 entered with a landmark event. For the first time in U.S. history, a woman took the third most powerful office in the country. Although she’s maintained a stellar track record of being more than capable of handling executive-level decision making, building alliances, enforcing rules, accurate listening skills, as well as speaking and presentation agility, the wisdom of and her ability to serve in that office became a question of the day.

She firmly asserted her having merited the position by unflinchingly making the decisions that were required, based on solid reasoning. She did not waffle. She did not apologize. She did not pander for the typical “soft” persona. Well, maybe she did during her acceptance speech. But in the ensuing days, the gloves were off and the sleeves were rolled up. What the country and the office require is a leader. Nancy Pelosi advanced as one.

Finding Women Candidates - Management and Executive

If there are women in Congress who are as capable as Pelosi, most certainly there are women in all ranges of business who are equally qualified in education and training, decision making, and so on. The question then becomes one of why there are so few women in these positions.

If we use education as a filtering-in criteria, there is definitely a pool of candidates. Out of the more than 12 million women who have earned a Master’s degree or higher (in 2004), compared with only 7 million of their male counterparts, there are only 16 percent who are in Fortune 500 company C-level positions and merely 15 percent who serve on those boards. The other issue is where these accomplished women can be found because, going by the statistics, they really do exist.

Bureau of Labor Statistics analyses of men and women who have completed more than four years of college shows from 1990 to 2004, the numbers are nearly equal, and the gap is closing on an average of 1.85 percent every five years.

One difficulty cited as a reason for not finding qualified women for executive and boards positions is that the pool is too small. Additionally, nearly everyone is vying for the same candidates. It’s important to take off our blinders to means of finding and recognizing qualified talent.

A November 2006 article noted that one of the reasons there are so few women in Fortune 500 and public corporation executive positions is because the process takes so long; it tends to suffocate asserting one’s leadership skills. Women opt for fast-growing smaller, private companies or start their own in order to jettison their progression and exercise their abilities in a more affirming environment.

Importance of Gender Representation

Any good organizational consultant will tell you that having diverse views adds value to an organization’s bottom line. It stands to reason that the more perspectives you add to the mix, the less tunnel vision there is. Eliminate tunnel vision; create vision of not only the goal but multiple goals and diverse paths for achieving any one of them.

It’s been noted that women are excellent listeners, tend to be more empathetic, and are accustomed to handling multiple projects simultaneously. However, another important factor in having a woman’s perspective in executive, decision- and policy-making positions is that she can provide the insights with regard to purchasing power and preferences. In other words, women in representative positions can help an organization recognize unseen advantages and opportunities.

Overcoming the Myths

There are many objections to women’s serving in positions of leadership. It’s amazing we have any at all! But like the disabled, there are those 16 percent who have pushed through the marble ceiling and go to the war table every day. The getting there was fraught with a plethora of objections. Some of them look like:

  • They’ve been out of the industry for years while raising kids. They’re no longer abreast of current practices.
  • Allowing them to work on flex time and alternative schedules just doesn’t provide the amount of time required to be a real leader.
  • Work from home just isn’t workable for executives.
These objections (and others) pander to the stereotypes. These days, maternity leave can be as short as six weeks. The other thing is, there’s now paternity leave that can run for as long as 18 months. Additionally (and overcoming several of the objections to women as executives), a recent University of Maryland study found that over the last 40 years, women are working more hours and have also increased their number of parenting hours while still remaining quite competitive in their field.

The burnout factor of the Internet Bust and accompanying demands for overtime (sometimes as much as 40 hours per week) caused people to start taking a hard look at what’s important. Quality of life won. Work-life balance and flex schedules are equi-gender.

While the objection to working from home may be valid for some types of professions, let’s put this in perspective. The executive who’s a road warrior is just as much a type of work from home/suitcase as the telecommuter. It is doable. Many men are opting for this. Perhaps this road warrior / telecommute personality is one that should be sought.

[go to The Elusive Difference, Part 2]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Abuse: Reacting to Inappropriateness

This week on "Dancing with the Stars," there were a lot of emotions expressed by the dancers. They were more than unhappy with the inconsistency of the expressed evaluations of the judges. They were extremely annoyed with the derogatory personal comments by the judges. Although in the spontaneous feedback after the routine those objections were expressed (and were audible to the judges), reactions to the flaming critiques were curbed. Last month a recruiter posted an invitation on Facebook to attend his chat. The topic was the importance of not saying negative things about your boss. Perhaps this week on "Dancing with the Stars" was a lesson for not only him but for all of us.

One would think the season with David Hasselhoff and Michael Bolton taught the judges a lesson about using tact and diplomacy. It appears that isn't so. This week they just went over the top with personal attacks veiled as humor - humor that came off as making the contestant the victim of the barbs. This type of humor is simply unacceptable. It would be more appropriate to call it verbal abuse.

It was shocking to the psyche to hear Chaz's complaints (I missed the comments from the Monday night competition). Who would think a judge would feel it's acceptable to publicly refer to someone as an Ewok or make a comment about looking like a penguin - or even a basketball!? Verbal abuse in the form of personal attacks (even veiled as humor and laughter) is not acceptable. If these were personal friends sharing private or even semi-private sarcasm with one another, it might work. But in this case, these criteria are not true. They were quite public and recorded for as long as video endures.

Verbal and emotional abuse leave scars that cannot be seen but cut deeper than any physical injury. The words come back to you at the least expected times and are like ghosts. They bring forth fear and uncertainty; they create doubt and low self esteem. In order to break them, it's necessary to be stronger than usual to remind yourself of the things for which you didn't feel confident yet towered in the delivery of what was expected.

Reliability of Critiques
The judges' opinions after each routine are also inconsistent. Some of the dancers and even the spokespersons have made that observation. The immediate critiques are beginning to sound more like platitudes in order to entertain rather than legitimate evaluations and comments to encourage improvement. That in turn suggests there may be some form of favoritism involved in the judging. The comments after the routines also sound more like flattery in order to feed the ego and avoid having the performers feel discouraged. These days the judging does little to provide actual, understandable pointers for improvement. Sometimes they don't even hit the mark.

At the Limit Reactions
One of my favorite professional dancers is [Macho] Maks. He's a favorite because his dancing is beautiful. Not only that, he gets invested with his partner. He is not only the choreographer, coach, and partner, he is also the advocate and cheering section. The feedback from the judges is also feedback on how well he coached his star and is supervising their progress. It tells him whether he demanded sufficient discipline from them, whether the routine was creative enough, and what needs improvement. He's very invested in showcasing the best from his partner and actually teaching them, pulling from them, the best that they can achieve; it showcases what he can teach and perform.

A bit of his ego gets tangled into the entire process for the presentations. So when the judges have poor comments, Max has started expressing his frustrations. Push-back is good when it spurs conversation and promotes a meeting of the minds. On the dance floor while on air is not the time to work on having that coalescence. Max could also use a few lessons on tact and diplomacy. But sometimes emotions simply boil over. There's no taking back words. Still, his frustrations are understandable because the standard the judges are using is not consistent. How can you work on improvement when the instruction and deployment are essentially the same yet the criticism levied one week is praise while the next week it's the opposite?

Appropriate Attire
I'm so glad the show has finally gotten the dancers to start wearing more clothing. The routines were verging on becoming "Dancing in the Nude with the Stars." I'm also glad the men no longer feel obliged to rip off their jackets at the beginning of a Latin dance and then perform bare chested. There was no purpose to it except to show skin; and I don't think men in the Latin countries go to clubs and strip while they baile a la musica.

Recovery Mode
The dancers did a good job of recovering their composure for the remainder of the public reaction to the judges' feedback. They showed the traditional manner of not "bad mouthing" your employer publicly. There's a repercussion in taking that route. It leaves a taint on your character and discretion. But those who hear the lambasting also wonder about the veracity of the words. Rather than become yet another victim of the offenses, people will go elsewhere for their needs. They'll probably avoid the speaker so they don't have to suffer through what could be constant, or routine, acerbic attitude.

It's good that those insult sessions are left in the tape that's aired. Those comment sections make great training content for verbal abuse and recognizing it for what it really is. Unlike Halloween, those comments are not costumes (i.e., not real) for appropriate behavior. It is possible to have entertainment and free expression without being abusive. It is also possible to offer constructive criticism without stooping to cloying, false flattery that does no one any good.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Raising Cultural Pride

With February being Black History Month, it begs the question to call attention to the successes Blacks have made in various professions and ways they have proved themselves notable. This year a little more thought went into how to bring attention to the career inroads made by pioneering Blacks.

For a person involved in diversity issues, it's prudent to do comparisons and take note of how each ethnic group draws attention to its positive traits. For example, some ethnicities have successfully gained empathy for their situations and grown from a position of underlings. One group are Jews especially because of the atrocities their ancestors suffered in the Holocaust. Mexicans distinguish themselves through their developments various forms of art. The Chinese and Japanese (Buddhists) gain distinction in two ways: their reputation for having a quiet disposition and their skills in mastery of martial arts, one feeding on the other.

However, it doesn't seem to make a difference into what age we've advanced because Blacks still suffer from the negative stereotypes developed in the 18th and 19th Centuries. They still need to make huge efforts to overcome being judged by the color of their skin. (Mind you, Arabs and Muslims are now suffering similar discriminations but the bases are tied to fear of having a terrorist in the house.)

Compounding the state of affairs for Blacks was the rise of Jim Crow laws and practices in the Reconstruction South, cultural practices of the Antebellum South, and an attitude toward those with darker skins tones that grew out of quite surprising roots. As we learned from's "Who Do You Think You Are?" series, coloreds and Negroes were not considered to be people; they were not even thought of as humans.

Research shows time and time again that people of this race were routinely treated as children would be. Someone else, usually the slave owner, would make decisions for them or become their mentor in some business dealings or endeavors. Many had the opinion that the people were poorly educated, if at all (a throwback to the practice of not allowing slaves to be educated nor learn to read) and therefore had poor comprehension skills. It didn't matter that there were Negroes who had attended some of the most distinguished Ivy League universities and graduated with honors in their disciplines. Their names and accomplishments faded into the background until some stalwart seekers researched the matters.

Time moved forward but the equitable treatment of Blacks did not. Enter the Civil Rights Era when Martin Luther King, Jr., basing his steps toward full integration for Negroes and others on the principles of non-aggression (adopted from Ghandi's teachings), the "proper," conservative coloreds made herculean efforts to not be seen as violent savages in order to win their point. On the other hand were the radical Blacks, such as the Black Panthers and members of the early stages of American Islam, who fomented hate for hate and wore Afro hairdos, in part a statement of defiance and in part a statement of self acceptance and pride.

Throughtout the years there have been stories of the persecutions suffered by slaves and the race. In some cases, these stories paralleled those of the Jews during many of their histories. But Blacks appeared to throw these atrocities into the faces of their audiences without the benefit of lessons about their strengths and accomplishments.

As I said at the beginning of this article, this state of looking at other races and ethnicities and how they've fashioned their cultural accomplishments of one type and another into acceptance and celebration, it made me want to look at how similar stories could be told about the Black (Mother) race. I remembered the research that I did last year in order to bring snippets of Black history to a retirement community throughout the month of February, Black History Month, in order to fulfill the request to do so.

That research brought out some little-known information about American Negroes. Initially it was difficult to understand why some of the history and accomplishments have slipped into oblivion. However, celebrating these accomplishments and showing that they were the means to creating a platform for success would do two things. First, it would reveal the secret to attainment and thus carve out a means of subterfuge and destruction. Second, it would develop a way of thinking that people who are part of the race have no other natural talents. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Women in the field of early science used their traditional roles as hairdressers for the mistress to gain traction in creating cosmetics, formulating chemicals for makeup, hairdressing products, better ways to put curls in or straighten them out. Others were seamstresses who not only cut the cloth and sewed, adding the small touches to give the clothing style and flair, but also the ones to work the fine details. They were the ones who listened as the mistress mused or complained or bragged and responded accordingly. Black women were in the kitchen making some of the family traditional dishes as well as creating masterpieces that sated guests at balls and grand dinners.

These were the nannies who tended the babies and children. To the extent allowed, they taught the children obedience, respect, customs and essentially became tutors who spontaneously adapted their teaching styles to the situation at hand.

The men were noted most for being barbers, preachers, and educators. Again, not only communication but listening skills were paramount to being successful. It was very important to be good at negotiation in order to work out various types of matters. And diligence in all matters showed the grist of a good worker no matter what or where the labor. In all cases, one's discretion was the key to moving forward.

We now have large numbers of legislators, judges, scientists, and other professions with more than exceptional members of the Black race (from some part of the African diaspora). I have not taken the time to try to research their climbs to success and the stumbling blocks that were part of their path. I don't doubt that those impediments only made each person the better warrior and representative of their industry's expertise. They quietly do their work and excel at it without making waves.

Is that the example, then, that we need to learn this year during Black History Month? Just be good at what you do. Do it quietly and do it with distinction for the quality that's delivered. The trouble with that version of the lesson is that having something done quietly means no one will lift the ivy wreath of success to press it onto the head of the one who deserves it; it will fade into the shadows and few will be aware of the magnitude.

In the alternative, do the work to the nth degree of integrity and expertise. Do it to the best of your ability. Then improve upon that. Make it an example of something done in a workmanlike manner. The rest will speak for itself as others repeat the story in the right places and word spreads.

NOTE: My sincerest gratitude to Geoff Boxell, fellow writer and history aficionado, for the history of Blacks in Britain.