Friday, March 15, 2019

Holding Decision-Makers Accountable: How to Reach the Next Level for Gender Balance in Management Positions

Written by Sabine Mueller

Deutsche Post DHL Group has won the 2019 Catalyst award for our “Women in Management” initiative. I am very proud that we have substantially woven a culture of diversity into our company’s fabric and were able to grasp gender disparity – especially in higher ranks – by its roots.

This is why I am even happier these efforts and our deeply dedicated work for a more diversified organization now are being honored with a Catalyst award (more info here.) The DPDHL Group is actually the first German company to receive the award.

Time to celebrate the successes – and continue the good work with vigor

As of today, more than one in five management positions at DPDHL Group are occupied by women. Although that might not sound like a lot to someone who hasn’t been proactively tackling gender imbalance for over a decade, sadly, this still has to be called a great achievement.

Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds and believe me – I’d much rather be celebrating five in ten just as much as you do. It is a start for an industry like ours though, one that is traditionally male dominated and is not seen as attractive as other industries for women. But these numbers show just how much more work there is still to be done. My main message here is: The male/female ratio for leadership positions is still not acceptable. Let’s keep the sleeves rolled up and work even harder.

Acknowledging this is one step in the right direction. But what exactly can we do to catapult gender diversity to the next level?
We need to hold our managers accountable

We as leaders need to own and drive the topic.

The notion that has to change fundamentally is how passive some leaders still are in regard to establishing gender balance. I am convinced one of the main reasons for this is the lack of accountability: Some managers’ superiors do not hold their direct reports accountable for gender disparity in their respective departments. Consequently, the manager’s motivation to take ownership for the issue naturally is often on the down low.

This also becomes apparent when you look at the fact that all-male leadership teams still are by no means a scarcity in today’s business world. The same also still holds true for our Group and yet, the voices questioning these circumstances are not loud and not numerous enough.

In my opinion, the crux here really lies in the accountability. It is crucial for change. So how can we hold decision-makers accountable?
Get it on people’s agenda. Leave it there.

Before you ask: I am actually not a fan of quotas, because I think there are other ways to establish gender balance that I am convinced will have a deeper impact on the collective business psychology.

Obviously, there is no one size fits all solution here, but decentralizing ownership for the topic is key. One step in the right direction would be to make it a topic in any review meetings you have with your direct reports.

If you want to think more along the lines of “What gets measured gets done”, I would like to introduce to you a more formalized option to make sure diversity is staying on people’s agendas: a diversity score. Let me briefly explain what I mean by that.

1) You start by defining relevant diversity objectives for your respective organization, such as gender, age, nationality, etc. Do not try to fit them all into the score directly. Focus and prioritize.
2) Then, calculate a diversity score for every organizational unit based on your weighted criteria.
3) Focus on an incremental continuous improvement of the individual scores rather than for a one size fits all target score.
4) Use the competitive landscape of the business world as an enabler – handle the diversity score with the same motivation as you do your financial targets and transfer the ambition on to your direct reports.
5) Remember to always assess and incentivize progress.

I do understand that running a business or a certain function will always force us, the people we manage and our superiors, to handle many priorities, such as cost and EBIT targets , challenging customer expectations or other urgent topics. This complexity can easily divert our attention away from promoting diversity.

Unfortunately, my experience shows that without us putting our mind to the task and continuously pushing measures gender balance in leadership teams will not be achieved.

Because on the long run, your efforts will pay off: As I have stated many times before, my experience at DHL Consulting shows that more diverse teams lead to more innovations and over all better results.
P&L and operations as doors to executive functions

Another point we need to remember is that P&L and operations functions are often predestined for promotions to leadership positions.

So if we want to build a sustainable gender balanced work force, we need to go beyond promoting more women into functions such as HR, communication, legal or marketing. We need to keep in mind that careers in operations, country- and regional management and P&L lead to positions in the executive level much more often.

Still today, line positions are predominantly held by males. Research clearly shows that women tend to hold roles in support/staff functions such as legal and HR and are underrepresented in positions with P&L responsibility. By the time women reach the SVP level, they hold only 21% of the line positions.

The reasons for this are obviously manifold, but two very probable reasons stick out for me:
Many organizations are apparently unconsciously risk averse to promote women into CEO and P&L roles.
In turn, women often seem more risk averse than men, hindering themselves to take the challenge of a P&L job. (Womencount 2017, The Pipeline)

I am convinced that if we master these two central challenges, we will be able to move the needle and make a giant step towards gender parity in management positions.

My very personal appeal to all my female readers therefore is simple: If you have leadership ambitions in today’s business world, you need to leave your comfort zones, and you need to learn to take risks and keep pushing. Becoming a CEO requires dedication, courage and confidence in one’s own capabilities, and one of my main ambitions is to inspire women to step out of their comfort zones to accelerate growth.

On top of that, companies need to develop dedicated programs to build a pipeline and consequently develop women in line functions.
Let’s keep it moving

As I have stated many times before, promoting Women in Management and different cultural and educational backgrounds has proven to be crucial for our company’s success.

It takes more than dedicated women to change the system. We as top management from Deutsche Post DHL need to set the tone and lead by example. Again, I am very happy and proud that Catalyst has honored our efforts and I congratulate my team from the bottom of my heart. But we have to keep moving.

I very much look forward to engaging with you on the topic of Women in Leadership. Please share your professional experiences and your perspective on women in the logistics sector in the comments, or on my Twitter or LinkedIn channel.

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