Thursday, 31 March 2011

Two halves equal a whole

I recently read @sarahwelfare blog “Is there always a pay penalty for working part-time?” over on XpertHR.  This raised some interesting comparisons of earnings, highlighting gender differences.

However, looking at the related data in the Equality & Human Rights Commission's “Gender Pay Gaps” briefing I was struck by 2 tables showing the mean & median earnings of full-time employees by age in the UK for 2010.

What these showed quite starkly was that full-time earnings stay largely similar until our 30’s.  Thereafter, men’s average earnings continue to grow for another 10-20 more years, whereas women’s actually start to decline.  The effect of this is a significant gender pay gap for those over 40, but significantly less so for those under 40.

It can be hard to relate the macro to the micro, and even compare like for like but I'm really struck by this dynamic.  I actually thought that the gender pay divide was more evident across the generations.

Two halves perhaps?
I’ve never believed that gender should make a difference in terms of pay or opportunity.  However, there is an evident gap which many of us are keen to see made transparent and the gap closed.

My immediate reaction to this data was to assume a primary relationship here with parental responsibilities, especially as the average age of first time mothers is now close to 30.  In fact I’m certain there is an impact here playing out in the data.

But looking at the dynamics between these age groupings could there be more… What about generational differences?  Could there be another longer term influence playing out?

The opportunities that founded women's early careers have changed over the years with a growing expectation of equality in the workplace.  For those people now in their 30's (born in the 70s & early 80s), their career opportunities and aspirations were quite different than a decade before or possibly even now.

Investing for our Children
We don’t know how the impact of changing generational attitudes of both men & women could manifest itself over time.  I also don’t want to detract from dealing with the issues of work-life balance & childcare and existing male cultural environments.  However, perhaps we’re starting to reap what previous generations have sown a bit more than we realise.
So what are you going to sow for future generations?

"The most unselfish thing you can do with your life is to plant a walnut tree. If you plant a walnut tree, you won't see it fruit for many years - you're investing for your children. You are planting something for generations yet to come. At the end of your life you need to be able to say, 'I planted a walnut tree."  Trevor Waldock

Friday, 25 March 2011

Appreciation of Authenticity

Twice this week I’ve been bowled over by messages of appreciation.  Neither occasion was it expected.  I hadn’t tried to please or garner such feedback.  In fact I’d not even been sure that I was right.

However, I had trusted my own intuition, thoughts and experiences and had spoken from the heart.  I had just been myself – my inner self.  I had also been willing to risk being wrong.

Authenticity suits you
Sometimes the question of “being authentic” at work feels a little abstract.  How do I achieve authenticity, the real me, my inner self?

Looking to Wikipedia there’s a great initial definition which for me captures the broad essence of authenticity :

“Authenticity refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions.”

Not your common business parlance is it…  However, doesn’t it capture the essence of how we’ve been raised to live our lives?  I’m not talking about righteousness but about being true to ourselves; being sincere; upholding our commitments; ensuring our intentions are good.

So actually being authentic is very straightforward – we’ve been raised to be authentic.  Most of us will live our social lives exactly in this way.  All it requires is for you to speak and act truly about your own feelings, thoughts, and intentions.  That can’t be hard can it?

Am I willing to risk being wrong ?
Often what stops us being authentic is the fear of failure, the fear of being wrong.

In today’s business environment the immediacy of knowledge and the “fight to be right” can sometimes suppress instinct and even wisdom.  We strive to eliminate errors and reduce risks through carefully planned processes and procedures.  Failure is seen as weakness not a learning opportunity achieved.

As a consequence, we are cautious, we conform, we find safety in numbers.  We are less willing to risk being wrong.

Yet all our learning has been through trial & error.  We have learnt through taking risks and trying to get it right but willing to be wrong.

Ask yourself “Am I willing to risk being wrong?”.  Check that you are not suppressing your own intuition, thoughts and experiences with the fear of failure.

When you take that risk not only will the authentic you be more apparent but the chances are you won’t be wrong!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Being Human

Reflex Praise
A recent blog from Doug Shaw on Employee Recognition talked about the importance of immediacy and authenticity in recognising achievements at work.

I think that at the heart of employee recognition is a true appreciation of the individual and a need for reflex praise from the organisation.  Reflex praise is akin to the praise and feedback that we all received as children as we took our first steps or uttered our first words.

Reflex praise is about being human and recognising in others what they can achieve as much as what they have achieved already.

Are you being human?
So as a manager or leader what do you think of your employees?  Are they just a resource to manage your business processes or have you chosen to work with other humans with potential?

Your view of your employees is fundamentally this simple.  It will drive your actions and behaviours and ultimately the performance that you can expect from your organisation.

“My people are just a resource.”
We are often employed to perform a particular range of tasks or business functions but do you see your employees just as resources to achieve these needs?  Do you behave and act in this way?

If this is how you see your employees, then aren’t the softer aspects of organisational management irrelevant?  You will want to monitor and measure performance of course.  After all you want to know that your employees are managing the business processes properly.

However, wouldn’t anything further be unnecessary?  An Employee Engagement survey wouldn’t be of any benefit would it?  You won’t be great at it, as you don’t believe in it, and your employees will see it for what it is - irrelevant.

If you think that you employ people as a resource to manage your business processes, then why would you try to behave as if you don’t?

If you don’t believe that you employ people as a resource to manage your business processes then don’t act as if you do…

“I’ve chosen to work with other humans with potential.”
It might feel like a fluffy statement but actually it’s a fundamental statement, especially for a manager or leader.

We choose who we work with.  Sometimes the choice might be compromised by circumstances, lack of information or even our own poor decisions.  However, we do make that choice and must take accountability for it.

The people we chose to work with are human like ourselves, like our family, like our friends.  Our relationships are not the same but they are human, have needs and enormous potential.

So why wouldn’t we behave in a way that recognises employees as humans with needs and potential?  Why wouldn’t we behave in a way that recognises the consequences of the choices we make as managers or leaders?

Yes, it requires that we are to some extent open and vulnerable but we can still maintain the professional relationship that we’ve chosen to undertake.

More importantly we can be human.

Three tips for Leaders & Managers
  1. Think about your organisation.  Will it achieve its best results by seeing employees as resources or by treating them as humans with enormous potential?
  2. Look at the way you manage & lead and think about how your actions are perceived.  Are they congruent with your beliefs?
  3. Look at the processes your organisation uses with its employees.  Do they support the above or are they in conflict?

Monday, 7 March 2011

An Expectation of Equality

The Institute of Leadership & Management recently published their member survey on “Ambition & Gender at Work”.  The responses of nearly 3,000 practising leaders and managers provide a meaningful reflection of gender issues in the workplace:
  • 73% of women managers believe that there are barriers preventing them from progressing to top levels compared to 58% of men;
  • 70% of male managers have high or quite high levels of self-confidence, compared to 50% of women;
  • 17% of women believe that raising or caring for children has presented barriers to career development, compared to 7% of men.
We all expect organisations to provide fair and equal prospects for both men & women.  However, women currently account for only 12.5% of FTSE100 board positions.  At the current rate of change it is expected that it would take over 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK.

A Question of Balance
We know that the issues around gender inequality in the workplace are complex.

The most significant of these issues revolve around work-life balance & childcare, which is a constraining factor for women, and existing male cultural environments which accommodate men more than women.

Working to counter these long standing issues are positive, enabling actions focussed on supporting women in the workplace, as well as modern expectations of equality.

Increasing workplace opportunities and support for women through networks or tailored development activities are the right things to do.  However, they will be working against the constraints that are imposed around work-life balance, childcare and existing male cultural environments.

Addressing gender inequality is a question of taking action on all of these aspects to create greater balance.  This means taking action to reduce the effects of the constraining aspects as well as promote and nurture those actions, attitudes and behaviours which support women in the workplace.

An expectation of equality
Whilst I’ve been writing this, Lord Davies report ‘Women on Boards’ has been published.  Calling for a greater focus on gender diversity in the boardroom, it is expected that women in board positions should exceed a target of 25% by 2015.

Although this expects to double current boardroom gender diversity, it also represents an ongoing expectation of gender imbalance in the workplace.  Is this the expectation of newer generations of managers?

Actually, there is a marked differences in the ILM survey responses between the over 45s and the under 29s, the Baby Boomers (over 45s) and the children of baby boomers (Millenials).

I think this reflects a combination of optimism as well as a generational difference.  My own experience of working with younger generations of managers in particular is that there is an increasing expectation of equality that is held by both men and women alike.

This expectation of equality, especially in men, is going to be significant in creating greater balance and in particular countering existing male cultural environments.

"What gets measured gets done"
Targets & quotas can force change but rarely ever address underlying behaviours.  At best they suppress old negative behaviours during a period of transition.  Indeed, this in itself can be valuable as new behaviours are allowed to flourish.

In the worst cases, old negative behaviours perpetuate in greater secrecy with targets achieved through careful manipulation.  We can all think of failures in highly regulated industries where this has been the case.

Measuring the gender diversity of FTSE100 boards will I'm sure meet the 25% target by 2015.  Perhaps having more women on the boards will in itself reduce gender inequality further across their organisations.

Ultimately though, it will take both men and women to create an equal environment through an expectation of equality.