Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Women Leaders and the changing context of business organisations

On May 3rd, IMD organised a business forum, hosted by the City Women’s Network and Edwin Coe law firm in London.

Carol Alayne, committee member of the CWN opened the event by greeting the many women participants from all areas of business. IMD’s UK Director Lynn Verdina-Henchoz then warmly thanked the partners of the event and introduced the topic of the evening – Women Leaders and the changing context of business organizations. In connection with this, she mentioned that in 2011 IMD has the highest number of female participants in the MBA to date and encouraged the senior female executives present to mentor more junior women and to support them in investing in their own development, whether that be an MBA or other form of development. Lynn also introduced Professor Martha Maznevski, who then led the discussion. At IMD, Martha Maznevski is professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management as well as the MBA Program Director. Her teaching and research span a broad range of organizational behaviour topics, such as teams and leadership in global and virtual contexts, diversity and inclusiveness and the relationship between organizational and national culture.

Martha started her presentation – whose central theme was gender diversity – not by talking about the difficulties for female executives to reach senior roles, but by the present business context, with its increasing complexity and need for constant innovation. She then went on to demonstrate how high-performing innovation can be reached by increasing the diversity (here gender, but the same can be applied to cultural diversity) of innovation teams. Indeed, when the organisation is better for women, it’s better for everyone. She mentioned that approaching the issue of gender from an innovation or business perspective can often lead to better results and less resistance from organisations. Without knowing it almost, these organisations who work on improving their innovation teams also increase the number of females in their teams.
Martha then talked about the issue of empowerment: everyone would agree that when people feel empowered, they are more committed, energized and creative. However, the systems in organisations which are used to manage and empower their employees are often biased towards male systems – simply because they were set up by men. So, for example, women tend to define a successful career in terms of satisfaction, influence, making a difference, whilst men tend to define it in terms of status, power, legacy. No wonder then that women do not feel empowered in this context and leave the organisation, often to set up their own businesses, where they can create systems that are more motivating for them.
Finally, Professor Maznevski opened a discussion around work-life balance. Women still bear most of the responsibility of work-life integration, although this seems to be changing in many pockets of society today –men and companies need to take more responsibility as we see business and society needing to be re-integrated to create more sustainable organizations and societies.
Throughout the evening there was lively debate – indeed as Martha noted later “the group was so positively engaged, curious and open, very high-level discussion”.

The evening ended with cocktails and networking.
Many positive reactions were received in the following days – here’s a selection! “Martha had the whole room engaged in the conversation. Particularly enlightened was the way she used the chart of typical male and female organizational paradigms and leadership styles to flesh out what makes a good leader and how the system affects which gender advances”, “I loved Prof Maznevski and see why students become faithful alums” “I found it hugely inspiring and motivating; I came right into work today and volunteered for the Diversity Council”.

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