Redefine what it means to be a leader

As leadership behaviours are often gendered, a key component of transforming leadership in organizations is to re-evaluate the leadership culture at your organization to determine if it supports a variety of leadership styles and encourages versatility. This means incorporating gender awareness and sensitivity, diversity of thought and inclusive leadership competencies into the existing role requirements. For leaders to champion women’s advancement in organizations means that leader’s role descriptions and criteria for success need to reflect these transformational expectations. In addition, these descriptors of successful leaders can be supplemented with leadership development programs that account for developing these competencies. It is important to ensure leadership development and assessment programs include transformational leadership behaviours, such as

Create an inclusive culture where employees feel safe to speak up

Unconscious bias training is a useful initiative to help team members identify ingrained biases are a first step towards enlisting broader organizational support for dispelling gender stereotypes. Such training is particularly important with regards to male leaders’ inability to appreciate the different set of challenges and struggles that women face during career advancement. Educating managers about conscious and unconscious biases and holding them to account for diversity decisions is an important step in eliminating bias.

\A key aspect of such education is helping managers understand when they are most vulnerable to the influences of gender stereotypes. Stereotypes that appear to benefit women (e.g. women are better people managers) come at a hidden cost because they reinforce unsubstantiated sex-based differences. By facilitating this training in a workshop format UN Women can highlight these biases and the impact they have.To create a work environment that is united and focused on meeting gender equality challenges requires translating awareness of bias into action. For all individuals at UN Women to advocate against bias in the organizations requires creating a culture where employees feel ‘Safe to Speak Up’. Making this happen requires open and 20 mentoring and collaborative decision making, as these qualities and behaviours are often overlooked in favour of more transactional leadership qualities such as task focused and results oriented.

Create work environments that leverage diversity of thought

Leaders need to actively nurture diversity of thought rather than assuming employees will naturally seek out diversity, or derive the benefits of diversity, merely by placing ‘different’ people in a room together.

Leaders have a particularly important role in creating an environment which is inclusive and open. This perspective is echoed by other researchers who have focused on the need for empathy, self-disclosure, providing an environment of psychological safety and creating a sense of collective identity or shared goals. In relation to racial diversity within global teams, researchers have also identified the explicit need for cultural competency. A leader’s actions and behaviors help create an environment in which a person with a diverse perspective is willing to speak up, and meaningfully contribute to business outcomes.

Creating environments that are safe to speak up ensure that the organization has a feedback loop in place to help identify barriers to leadership and thus widen the pool of talent Focusing on diversity of thought offers a more inclusive and engaging discussion than one focused on demographic diversity. The underlying premise that each of our perspectives is valuable is an inherently inclusive approach, whilst the focus on demographic diversity is often binary (men vs. women, white vs. black) and therefore divisive. Hence, diversity of thought offers a new starting point to the discussion of demographic diversity, one which should lead to an analysis of the psychological processes and environmental conditions which unleash or limit diversity of thought.


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Michelle King