Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Business Forum in Copenhagen focuses on Myths and Realities about Women Executives

Are women’s routes up the corporate ladder different from men’s? Do women have an authenticity problem? Are successful women in traditionally male areas generally disliked? Or are men and women getting more similar? These were among the questions discussed at a business forum in Copenhagen hosted by Dong Energy.

Ginka Toegel, Professor of Organizational Development and Leadership, was the main speaker of the event, attended by close to 90 both male and female Executives. CEO Anders Eldrup, Dong Energy opened the Business Forum and stressed that in Dong Energy they consider the diversity of the people employed as the key to continuous success. He shared personal experiences and introduced Professor Toegel. Later SVP, Corporate HR Hanne Blume shared some of the visions and aspirations behind a series of projects that Dong Energy has initiated in order to increase Diversity in general throughout the organisation. Changes in advertising and branding activities, the overall recruitment processes an HR Policies are just some of the ways Dong Energy is slowly changing the culture and mindset in the organisation.

Today only three percent of the senior leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies are held by women globally. The number is as low as 1.6 percent in European FT companies. At the board level, a diverse and interesting pattern is arising. Thanks to government actions in Scandanavia, women comprise 44% of the boards in Norway, while Holland comes in at 12 percent and Portugal has less than one percent.

What is influencing this reality and what can be done in the future? For this interactive event, Professor Toegel asked the attendees to share their views and experiences with each other.

“It is tough for women,” Professor Toegel explained. “Often times women find themselves in situations where they are in a minority situation (less than 25 %), sometimes even in situations where they are the sole female member of a team. This does not only bring high visibility but also isolation and it is not really until women make up more than 35 percent of a group that they become less salient.”

How do women’s routes up the corporate ladder differ from men’s? Interestingly men and women are often selected for different types of assignments. For example, women are far often considered great performers in crisis situations while men are more likely to be associated with growth strategies and risk taking. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Women are like tea bags – you don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.” Though this leadership positioning may look quite attractive, especially in current times, there is also a downside associated with it if women only are called on in times of crisis, but men in times of growth.

Hanne Blume shared that Dong Energy has established a management network for their female managers. Apart from traditional network meetings on relevant business topics the network has delivered 6 strategic projects to the senior management team. Each of the network groups have been mentored by an Executive Vice President, which has been a huge success.

Are women and men becoming more similar or different? Apparently, research shows that the gap between personalities of men and women in the more prosperous and egalitarian societies is widening. And what about stereotypes - do males have stronger stereotypes about women’s leadership than women do about men’s leadership? Interestingly, based on the discussions at the Forum , women tend to have a stronger bias about men’s leadership.

To maintain their authenticity, Professor Toegel offered the following suggestion to participants: “Know yourself, accept yourself and if possible even be open about your weaknesses. Talk about your weaknesses with the people that work for you, as there is a definite chance that they otherwise will discuss them without your presence and you thereby will have less control. Also, people hate ideal leaders and by discussing your weaknesses openly you come across as a confident manager.”

Is there an ideal style to aspire to? If women in some way were to find a balance between being agentic and communal then we would be on to something. Balance is the key, as can be seen in PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi, who is known to be a tough negotiator on the one hand and to give fashion advice to her employees on the other.

The Business Forum ended with lively discussions and networking, while enjoying the delicious buffet that Dong Energy has organised. Judged by the conversations it is clear that “Diversity” is high on the agenda for all the attendees.

No comments: