Telling women to 'lean in' is not enough, says LBS expert

Firms need to shift their behaviour to encourage women in leadership roles


 women in leadership

Many firms have a leaky pipeline of women in leadership, but simply trying to ‘fix’ the women by encouraging them to stay on the leadership career track ignores critical factors, according to a London Business School expert.

Writing in Forbes, Raina Brands, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School, urges firms to recognise the cultural and organisational influences in shaping women’s career choices.

No level playing field

“First, it assumes that the playing field is level for men and women – which it isn’t,” says Dr Brands. “There’s no point telling women to ask for a seat at the table if it simply isn’t there for them.

“Men often receive higher quality, early career assignments than women, meaning men are more likely to be put on the informal path that leads to leadership than women.”

Performance management systems still aren’t gender neutral

“Second, many performance management systems are built, informally or formally, on ‘facetime’ metrics, such as billable hours, or long hours at the office. This means that women are often placed in the daily position of choosing between their career and their children.”

Lip service

“Third, firms need to demonstrate that their women leaders are legitimate and valued, by putting them in charge of key revenue centres and resources, for example. This is particularly important in firms with few women leaders, where questions about the extent to which women leaders are valued are likely to loom larger in the minds of junior women.”

For real change to occur, firms need to adopt a sustainable shift in behaviour, not one-off diversity training days, says Dr Brands.

“Organisations have to tackle the issue of under-representation of women in leadership as a long term, transformational change project. The benefits for businesses are huge.”