Conversing curiously about gender diversity

 “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.”

The quote by Eric Roth from the screenplay, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button triggers a myriad of questions about opportunities in my mind. Have you ever wondered about those opportunities gained and missed, and how the effect(s) impact how you lead, and how the decisions you drive impact the lives of people those decisions affect? Now, think of this question concerning gender parity in your organisation – at all levels firstly and secondly, at a board-level.

What comes to mind for you? For me, what comes to mind is that if we don’t address the gender gaps in business, it will expand and will result in a string of missed opportunities to close the gender parity gaps. Published by the 30% Club Southern Africa (30%CSA) on 6 November 2018, the report: The state of gender on JSE listed boards 2017: A study of the opportunities for gender balancing the boards of companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), provides board members insights into the gender gaps on boards of JSE listed companies.

The slow crawl towards gender parity has influenced the negative, pessimistic tone of discourse on the issues of women representation at board-level.

It is an opportune time for board members in all sectors to heed insights shared in the report to address gender gaps with positivity and change the discourse. If we as board members don’t address the gender gaps, we will not shift from this discourse and address gender-specific transformation issues in our respective organisations.

However, let’s first start by asking a few questions that will hopefully help stimulate conversations and thought processes on gender parity in your organisation.

  1. How curious are you about the opportunities to bring about gender diversity into the boardroom?

  2. How curious are you about reasons why the majority of boards have no women on boards?

  3. Do your teams at senior levels share the perception that there are insufficient women of the right calibre to heed board roles?

  4. How curious are you about insights on gender biases in our organisations?

  5. What initiatives can you roll out to build the women leadership pipeline in your organisation?

These questions are an excellent start to stimulate thought processes that can lead to kick-starting initiatives that will enable an accelerated shift without considering scorecards and quotas. Driving change with these questions creates opportunities for curious conversations to unfold and can provide a better understanding of how to make measurable change happen and discourage negative perceptions that may exist to manifest in narratives in the workplace.

When we don’t engage curiously, we run the risk of leading with incuriousness, disinterest, apathy and unconcern. To address gender parity, leaders who participate in curious conversations productively gain valuable insights that facilitate driving positive change. Consider creating an enabling environment for critical discussions, open debate and engagements and make a concerted to listen proactively to the women in your organisation. Show interest by asking open questions about their desired change and allow for women to be courageous, inspired and foster bravery.

Effective, 1 January 2017, all Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies are required to adopt a gender policy at board level and to report the policy plan in their Integrated Annual Report. While each board will embark on its journey to transform, those who have not yet implemented a gender policy at a board level, or gender-balancing will find it a challenge to (1) understand the need to shift into a curious-state-of-mind about gender diversity, and (2) to make this shift consciously.

Therefore, a desire to bring about change starts with the desire to learn about new opportunities, showing interest and asking questions. It is the first step to having leaders’ minds fed to engage in conversations with empathy, attention to learning and to inspire change. We have the opportunity to inspire women to unleash the non-intellectual benefits that curious conversations hold: psychology, emotional, social and health.

There has never been a more opportune time to engage in curious conversations about gender diversity and lack thereof in the boardroom. Let’s not miss the opportunities to impact lives positively.

Published in Directorship – Jan | Feb | Mar 2019