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]