When It’s Okay To Discriminate

At a recent London event sponsored by The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) the UK business secretary let slip that positive discrimination by a client to try to ensure an all-woman short list COULD be legal in the UK.

A definitive judgement was awaited by the Government.

As someone who in business has experienced leadership by a woman as well as both clients and colleagues who are women, it is clear to me that the range of capability, competence, energy, emotional intelligence and pretty well anything else of relevance to business success are as well distributed amongst women as amongst men. Including good and bad luck!

It is also strongly argued from evidence that diversity at board level is a powerful ingredient for business success. Not sure how long ago Meredith Belbin completed his research at Henley Management College, but as an experiment in team dynamics it still seems to me to be a convincing piece of work.

And we in Cornerstone International Group have a powerful cohort of women business owners as members and contributors to Group matters.

Not surprisingly, the business benefits of having capable women as executive leaders have become widely accepted and have led in many markets to much greater awareness of the need for diversification.

This has also led to a greater appreciation of the role that can be played by executive coaching in developing women leaders.

I have found that, when coaching women executives, that some have a self-limiting belief while some of them are self-confident.  In other words, much the same as men.   But if you are engaging a certified executive coach, be open to the possibility that optimal coaching approach may differ and, in some instances, women may be just as reluctant as men to see the benefits of coaching at first glance.

The recent Mrs. MWoman In Redoneypenny column in the Financial Times was a very open admittance by a highly successful woman that Executive Coaching had greatly and positively impacted on her leadership performance. She was even open enough to admit that it was her non-Executive Director who ‘forced’ her into hiring a coach.

As trusted advisors in Executive Search, it is a test of our influence whether we can persuade our clients to positively discriminate. That may be much easier where there is self evidently a strong candidate pool of women.

Retail, fashion, health services, education and some media come to mind but, for those of us working in manufacturing, logistics, oil and gas, these candidate pools are not so strong.

So, if you are persuaded of the business argument for diversity how would you go about it?

Well, if you are seeking a candidate for an executive position, the first thing is to positively introduce your interest in seeking out both men and women when discussing candidate specification with your search firm.

Another option is to look at your leadership pipeline and see how many women are included. This can lead to exploring the role that Executive Coaching may play in supporting those women and strengthening your succession plans.

You should also take a critical look at your internal support systems.  It is said that women are good at supporting one another (women-in-business networks abound) but in some organisations they are isolated and in some support groups the true coaching behaviours you need to examine may not be evident.

So if supporting women in business is a topic which interests you, here are two easy next steps.

1) Bring up the subject at the candidate specification stage the next time you are engaged in filling a position

2) Do a thorough review of the programs and policies in place for supporting the talented women in your business and then use the example of Mrs. Moneypenny to argue for Executive Coaching.

And, if managing ‘self-limiting beliefs’ is a topic of interest then I would point you in the direction of a recently published book by Steve Peters called ‘the Chimp Paradox’ available on line.

Ian Day 09-18-2013 -250

Ian Day

Chair, Quality and Compliance

Cornerstone International Group

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