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Getting ready for a shift in attitudes

Jul 17th

We ask, what exactly does it take to achieve a shift in attitudes towards equal pay? This issue also includes: the rise of the social enterprise; five minutes to better brainstorming; and speaking up without getting shot down.

Editor’s view

A shift towards achieving equal pay

Controversial lawyer Stefan Cross recently secured 4,000 female workers equal pay rights. So exactly what does it take to achieve a shift in attitudes towards equal pay?

Recently the Guardian published an article about maverick lawyer Stefan Cross’ latest victory – achieving equal pay for 4,000 female workers at Birmingham City Council. Curiosity piqued, I stumbled across another article about a Merseyside Law Firm who warns small businesses about similar lawsuits with the words “not only would such claims be cripplingly expensive they would also be a huge distraction, incredibly disruptive and dreadful for morale.”

Dreadful for morale?

Not only do female managers earn about 20-30% less than their male counterparts in the EU, but also only a mere 3% of Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO – welcome to the infamous ‘glass ceiling’. So here is a deliberately provocative question for all male readers: What would you think about a 30% salary reduction and your chance of landing the top job suddenly only equal to the odds of a bet on a single number at the roulette table? I am sure you wouldn’t entertain this idea…so why should women?

Moreover, why is this issue so difficult to solve? It is one of the big adaptive challenges of organisations of any kind: because it is perhaps THE easiest way to save cost, and because any positive changes to one gender will be seen as a loss for the other – even though they won’t earn a penny less, but the perceived power gap will narrow.

So what does it take to shift attitudes and underlying power bases?

It’s not enough to get your horse to the water, you actually have to make it drink. For a true culture shift to happen, the opposing decision makers who have a stake in the equality agenda need to come together and find the right solutions together (bankrupt local authorities are no good either). The ‘Coalition for Better Health’ could be a role model where government departments, NGOs and commercial enterprises tackle the big health issues of our time including obesity and alcohol abuse. So where is the national leadership on gender equality?

In the news

The rise of the social enterprise

A new hybrid organisation is emerging, carving a niche between profit driven and non-profit models to achieve social purpose. This month’s editor, Marcus Druen, takes a closer look at the new player.

I recently read about a new organisation form coined ‘social enterprise’ in the book Hybrid Organizations – New Business Models for Environmental Leadership.

The concept says that between a company like BP who maximises profits for their shareholders at the expense of a healthy planet and safe workers, and a charitable pure-play like PETA, there is a spectrum of hybrid organisations that blur the boundaries between traditional not-for profit and commercial organisations. Take for instance Oxfam, which is a well-known example of a non-profit with income generating activities.

An inspiring example of genuine corporate social responsibility is Balfour Beatty, a global leader in construction and engineering, where the health and safety of their workers and the public is top priority. Their ‘Zero Harm’ programme aims to achieve this extremely ambitious target by 2012, which is nothing short of a revolution in this sector. However, construction by and large is still more about being ‘less bad’ than ‘doing good’, which is the mission of the next hybrid: the social enterprise.

One of the iconic leaders of this hybrid organisation is Ray Anderson. Back in the 90s his carpet manufacturer, Interface, polluted, exploited and harmed. Today, it is a role model for doing good, e.g. the water used in the process leaves the plant cleaner than when it entered. So if you can make great and clean products, earn ‘enough profit’ and write a best seller on the back of it all (Confessions of a Radical Industrialist) then why hasn’t this hybrid form become more mainstream?

In the harsh light of day, it boils down to two sides of the same coin in a capitalist system: most investors want maximum return and mainstream employees want the highest salary. Most of us want change, but we are seldom prepared to incur any loss, or would you be satisfied if your ISA invested in social enterprises which only yielded 3% would you join Burt’s Bees and work for a ‘liveable salary’ of two-thirds of what you make today?

I don’t have an answer, but I do know this – if we really want to develop more of these types of companies, then we can, because we are the system. And incidentally, social enterprises don’t need much regulation because they already surpass what the law requires. So Mr Cameron/Clegg – subsidise social enterprises to render relevant bureaucracy obsolete and deliver your promised cost cuttings!

Tip of the month

Five minutes to better brainstorming

We’ve all witnessed seemingly productive brainstorming meetings that generate a load of ideas to write up, but no further actions. Find out how to transform your meetings in five short minutes.

Many brainstorm meetings produce the same old ideas simply because they are facilitated to produce exactly what it says on the tin: a storm of several brains that – unwittingly or not – produce competing thoughts prone to the creeping “yes, but…” disease.

Instead, I encourage you to try out the “yes, and…” technique where you listen to someone’s thought, and then build on it, expand it and bring it to life until it is a ‘shop-ready’ idea, ready for implementation. This five minute energiser is a great way to practice productive creativity at the beginning of your ideas building session.

1. Split a group of any size into pairs and ask one person to pitch a ridiculous idea for a flamboyant party they are fictitiously planning e.g. a black tie dinner on Mount Everest…

2. In the first round (lasting 30-60 seconds) the partner is supposed to kill the idea with any reason they can think of as to why this wouldn’t work. In the second round ask people to respond with a diffusing “yes, but…” while in the last round they have to build on the ideas by saying “yes, and…”

3. Ask how people felt after each round (it is best not to swap roles within the pairs). You are likely to observe that the energy only relights in the “yes, and…” moments. That’s where the most inventive ideas are born, as the same people who will implement them have also had a chance to nurture them. Now have your ideas generation on your business issue.

Regular “yes, and…” practice will also make a “not invented here syndrome” go away.

Your questions answered

I am in a meeting where people avoid talking about the elephant in the room. How can I put the real issue on the table whilst preventing being marginalised?

First of all, you need to be prepared to take the heat because you are about to increase the temperature in the room. But the good news is that your instinct is most likely to be right and this presents an opportunity for you to practice real leadership. Here are several techniques you might try out:

  • Make an observation: it’s the least threatening intervention, because you simply make a snapshot of the current conversation, which causes people to pause for some instant reflection, and either fill the void or let it rest
  • Pose a question: going a step further, a question along the lines of “What’s really going on here?” will urge the group to address the issue but it keeps you out of the line of fire
  • Offer an interpretation: a bolder move, where you inherently provoke people to react to your assessment; the tone of the response however, will usually reveal a richer set of data on the real issue
  • Take an action: here, you put yourself directly on the line, because your action sends a message, e.g. walking out of the meeting communicates “You are not addressing the key issue and are wasting my time”

Whatever intervention you take, make sure you don’t sound judgemental, and don’t take the response personally – hold steady and think of the price you might pay in the moment as a service to the group and its way forward.

This article is filed under: business capability, employee motivation, , leadership, organisation, organisation design, people, reorganisation, team leadership, time management, transformational leadership, workforce management

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