Changing Mindsets, Taking Action

5 min read | Susan Colantuono

Take a look at the nine seconds of burbling Yellowstone “mudpot” action above. Here at Leading Women, we love this video because it’s a perfect metaphor for shaking things up. And when it comes to shaking up the mindsets of managers to take action to close the leadership gender gap, we’re even more passionate. “I have taken a lifetime to create these mindsets,” said one of our clients, a European executive at a global company, “and now you have destroyed some of them in three hours.” Ka-pow!

The mire of mindsets

As humans, it seems we’re forever struggling against our own stubborn, biased brains. (Some researchers have declared that it only takes a tenth of a second to form a nearly unshakeable first impression about others.) When it comes to the workplace, mindsets are a huge part of what creates the leadership gender gap. That's why, when 27 US CEOs pledged to fill fifty percent of their top roles with women by 2030, they called on senior managers to take actions such as these:

"...address unconscious bias;  base advancement on performance rather than time in the office; promote women into operating roles with responsibility for profit and loss; set targets and communicate them; and actively sponsor promising female leaders." (emphasis added)

But even concrete actions such as these can fail because of the tricky, automatic activity in our brains.

The latest research from McKinsey again verifies that managers' mindsets are a key factor contributing to the glacial pace of women’s advancement. While almost 100 percent of the companies they studied offered anti-harassment/discrimination training, gender dynamics/bias training was much rarer. 67 percent of the companies offered training on the role of gender dynamics in hiring, while only 56 percent offered training on the impact on performance reviews.

We all (women and men) have mindsets about women and men, about leadership and careers, but what McKinsey’s research found was that when employees don’t understand gender dynamics (the ways their mindsets impact the talent decisions they make and actions they take), they have trouble taking action to minimize adverse impacts.

"Until you really hold that mirror up and see what those biases are driving you toward, it’s really hard...there’s no HR policy in the world that can actually solve the problem."

It's not surprising that only 24 percent of the employees studied reported that their managers “regularly challenge gender-biased language and behavior.”

Getting Out of the Mire

Clearly managers' mindsets create a variety of barriers to women's advancement. If you've followed our blogs on Gender Dynamics you've read about some of them. The good news is that we've had great success helping managers understand how mindsets about women, men, careers and leadership create barriers for women. If your company is undertaking or considering managers education on gender dynamics (unconscious bias), here are 7 reasons to talk with us.

  1. We focus on local dynamics. The mindsets that create barriers differ across geographies, we've uncovered patterns across the globe and our innovative techniques can go further to provide a laser-sharp focus for every location. Your managers don't waste time learning about mindsets that have low relevance.

  2. Programs are delivered to intact teams (often cascading from the executive team). This approach creates a shared experience, language and action set (see # 6 below).

  3. We start with research about leadership behaviors not brain research. Not that brain research isn’t important! But we’ve found that tackling first the actions that managers and executives recognize saves time and leads to better results.

  4. Laser sharp focus creates a higher ROI. We don't advocate spending money on gender dynamics education for everyone. Instead we target it at the levels most likely to successfully take action to close the leadership gender gap.

  5. Talking about mindsets can be difficult. We get it. That's why we take a practical, non-threatening and engaging approach. Which explains the quote above and this manager's comments about an online course based on our content:

    "I enjoyed the training course...This really opened my eyes on how to approach these situations and to keep an open mind...It was well done."  Manager Global Company

  6. Our approach drives toward commitments to concrete individual and team actions such as these:
      • Get comfortable with cross-gender mentoring – consider appropriateness and comfort with venue, timing, content of mentoring
      • Use gender lens during talent review and other talent processes/discussions
      • For succession planning require at least 1 woman. If there are none, plan activities e.g. job rotation to expand the pipeline.

  7. To make sure the program isn't a one-and-done and then back to business-as-usual experience, we offer months of ongoing, actionable and SHORT reminders to help managers remember what they learned and how to apply it.

Gender Dynamics Awareness to Action

If you want your managers identifying and taking action to minimize the adverse impacts of gender dynamics and to level the playing field for women, get in touch with us.

Back to the mudpots. I took the video in a thermal area in the back country of Yellowstone National Park - only accessible by foot or by horseback (my mode!). Thanks to Mike and Erin Thompson of Wilderness Pack Trips for the amazing adventures over the years! Lest you think it's all mudpots and mire in Yellowstone - or in the world of women in the workplace - take a look at this.


Lead ON!