An outside perspective from an ED&I professional on diversity in science.
Carol was a head-hunter for 20 years recruiting CFOs, CEOs and MDs in a huge variety of organisations and hadn’t really noticed they were pretty much all men until she stood up to speak at an event one evening and realised she was the only woman in the room apart from a waitress. And that’s how Inspire, her global network for senior business women came to be. Over the next decade she took it global and it connected 8,000 of the most senior women worldwide. It gave her a unique insight into the many differences between men and women and how unlevel the playing field actually was and still is. As a consequence of her introduction to gender diversity and becoming an ardent campaigner she ended up in the D&I space for the last 12 years. She also runs her own coaching business and sits on 3 Boards.
In Carol’s experience, there is a striking lack of women in top positions in all sectors, not just science. But times are changing, and she is optimistic that things will continue to steadily improve for women in leadership positions.
What is holding women back?
- The hierarchical structure of management. This type of management gives your manager a lot of power over your opportunities and your career advancement. It also promotes the status quo and makes it unlikely that a culture will change, will encourage group think conformist behaviour which is likely to be detrimental to anyone who challenges the norm or doesn’t fit with the accepted idea of an ideal candidate.
- How you communicate. Don’t ask, tell. Learn to say no effectively. Ask for what you need (in order to do X, I need Y). Don’t wait to be praised for what you have done – tell people!
- Promote yourself. Get comfortable with self boosting it will accelerate your career. What are you proud of? Tell people about it.
- Make sure you spend time investing in your network as you progress through your career. So many opportunities come from people who you meet along the way.
What is needed for positive change at work?
Improving inclusivity requires the government, organisations and individuals to work together to provide a positive work culture and opportunities for advancement. An opportunity to improve work culture is to include early career staff members in senior level meetings or to have reverse mentoring where junior members of staff explain their experiences with a senior staff member. This is typically illuminating for the senior staff member and highlights issues within the organisation, without early career members feeling like they are comprising their career by speaking out publicly.
Do I need to act more like my male colleagues?
No! Women are perfectly capable, intelligent and experienced as their male colleagues. If you feel pressure to act more like your male colleagues, this reflects a negative working environment. Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking women need fixing. They don’t. What we need are people working to their strengths and training opportunities to excel in areas they enjoy. A positive thing from COVID has been the recognition of soft skills – collaboration, interpersonal skills, wellbeing have all come to the fore and finally rated as valuable skills to have – and these are often associated more with women.
Women tend to exhibit less confidence and sometimes less resilience than men in the workplace. By becoming more confident in their skill sets and abilities and actually starting to tell people about them, they are more likely to get noticed.
What do I need to get ahead?
What you really need is an advisory group. Ideally a mentor, sponsor and coach. Even more than one of each if possible. So what is the difference?
- A mentor talks to you. They help you set goals and plans for the future.
- A sponsor talks about you. They advocate and promote you.
- A coach talks with you. They believe in you and help you feel positive about your choices.
These people do not need to be at your current place of employment. They may be colleagues around the world. The goal is to have several people looking out for you and helping you succeed. Don’t forget to pay it forward as you become more senior! Carol’s favourite saying is “ We need to lift as we rise”
Do you fear what will happen if you speak out about bad behaviour?
Be brave and speak out. There is safety in numbers. If more people speak out then it is harder for it to be ignored. Get your sponsor involved (if your sponsor is employed at the same location). If you find yourself getting burnt out (from always being the one speaking out) then engage others around you to help amplify your voice. Get help and don’t take everything on yourself to fix as this can be detrimental to your wellbeing.
How do I know if a missed opportunity is because of a protected characteristic?
Ask. If you don’t get an opportunity (a job, grant, talk at a conference), then ask for in-person (or digital face-to-face) feedback. Ask questions and assess their response. Interpreting their response is not just about what they say, but how they say it. You will have to judge this on a case by case basis.
Challenge your organisation. Do you have access to a women’s leadership program? Is there mentoring available? Do you have access to training? Are you being supported for advancement?