Article: Tina Shah on the future of women leadership

Leadership

Tina Shah on the future of women leadership

In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, she spoke about the significance of equity and equality at the workplace and the top priorities for D&I in 2020.
Tina Shah on the future of women leadership

As a senior member of the Leadership & Succession team at Russell Reynolds Associates, Tina Shah Paikeday leads the firm’s global Diversity & Inclusion advisory services. Starting her career with McKinsey & Company, Tina worked in sales and marketing at Procter & Gamble and The Clorox Company. In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, she spoke about the significance of equity and equality at the workplace and the top priorities for D&I in 2020. 

Organizations continue to report that they are highly committed to gender diversity but the ratio of women to men in their organizations barely budges. Although the business case for gender diversity is clear, the overall progress at work remains stalled. As a woman leader, do you think it's time for corporations to take bold steps to balance the scale?

Societal norms, like the important role of a woman in managing household and caretaking responsibilities, have been engrained over centuries. For those women who wish to participate in the labor force, the proximity of extended family can be an asset as it takes a village to raise a child. However, commuting challenges in over-crowded public transportation or travel requirements in more senior-level jobs may pose challenges that are hard to overcome. Some best practice companies are offering benefits such as paid commute via taxi during pregnancy or paid travel for a child under two and a caretaker to join mothers during business travel. 

These efforts are contributing towards a reduction in turnover gaps between women and men. To accelerate the entry of more women in the workforce, corporations can consider the following strategies. a) offering similar parental benefits to men in order to balance caretaking responsibilities, (b) facilitating on-boarding back into the workforce after caretaking breaks and (3) creating career paths that accommodate personal responsibilities with different roles, for instance, an individual contributor role may be better suited for both men and women during the peak child rearing years and can change thereafter.    

What are some patterns you've noticed over the years about women at work, and things they could be doing better to advance their careers?

Women at work are often the hardest and most productive workers and to fully get credit for the work they are doing and continue to advance in their careers, they might consider the following strategies:

1. Beyond doing the good work, communicate their accomplishments

2. If concerned about promotion, find sponsors to convey the message

3. When offered the opportunity for advancement, take the job  

What work still needs to be done to level the playing field in the C-suite and boardroom? How do you see the future of women leadership?

To level the playing field in the board room, a focus on grooming more women as general managers is necessary. Most women in the C-suite are concentrated in functional roles such as finance or human resources. Boards can play an important role in their succession planning exercise to identify and develop female leadership for key general management roles. We all need to check our biases about leadership to recognize that leaders may appear in different forms and styles from what we are accustomed to. This may require a different litmus test based on conscious individual assessment rather than unconscious judgments of "executive presence" or "gravitas." 

How can HR leaders work towards gaining leadership buy-in and ownership towards driving diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Human resources can develop a centre of excellence for diversity and inclusion, which should be embedded across key talent management functions such as recruiting, leadership development and performance management. 

However, D&I cannot be left alone to human resources. D&I leaders must influence every business leader through identifying their motivations and building in plans of responsibility and accountability towards goals in the same way they would run any other part of the business.  

What are the different areas of diversity that organizations need to work towards? What is your advice for leaders to build scalable D&I initiatives? 

The traditional areas of demographic diversity organizations can work towards include gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and generation. However, many invisible differences exist, which are often lurking below the surface but essential, such as socio-economic status, religion, and communication preferences, to name a few. Leaders should build scalable D&I initiatives to focus on the universal concept of inclusion that'll bring everyone along in the journey, including those from in-groups and out-groups.  

Can you tell us in one word what Diversity and Inclusion means to you? 

Diversity describes the varied attributes we each possess, which in combination, makes each of us unique human beings. Inclusion is the celebration of this diversity, which results in a sense of authentic belonging.  

What are your top priorities for D&I in 2020?

After a decade of progress in moving from a focus on compliance-related diversity to impact-focused inclusion, my top priorities for 2020 include the following:

1. A focus on clearly defining diversity, both regionally and globally

2. A complete shift from diversity to the universal concept of inclusion

3. Eliminating the need to level the playing field by achieving true equity.

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Topics: Leadership, SheMatters, #EachForEqual

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