A beautiful Saturday day. Sun shining in Rome. All’s great. And, an article, a truly amazing article by the McKinsey Quarterly. It got my brain firing on a number of issues. It resonated with both my mind and heart.

The article is about women at the workplace, the challenges and the opportunities. It talks about why, despite decades of talking about the need to have more women in senior positions of management, this is yet to happen. There is the general notion we urgently need to strike a gender balance in senior and at all levels of management, and yet there are (often unconscious) barriers that stop us from doing so.

Here’s the article:

Changing companies’ minds about women

Leaders who are serious about getting more women into senior management need a hard-edged approach to overcome the invisible barriers holding them back.

On Mindset …

So, let’s talk about mindset first. On a metalevel, I was struck by how often the notion of ‘mindset’ comes up in the article, directly and indirectly, as well as the need to change that ‘mindset’. Struck and pleasantly surprised. If McKinsey talks about it chances are the corporate world is thinking and talking about it too. And that is a good thing because tackling mindset in the context of change is what wins us the change.

A synonym for mindset is approach, motivation, belief, inspiration. Mindset is exactly what we have deeply ingrained in ourselves which drives us to feel, think and behave. It is complex and over-arching. To put it bluntly, mindset creates our world. And if we change it, our world changes. We have the power to play with our mindsets and in that way change our contexts and what we attract and happens to us. And when we do this, and if we pair in sustainability, love, openness, fairness and justice values, powerful transformations at personal, interpersonal, organisational, systems and other levels emerge.

Therefore, tackling mindset as we seek to effectively address challenges at every level is important. For this, we don’t need to understand mindset in all of its components as it will be different each time we look at it. Still, models like the below are helpful tools in diving deep into mindset and becoming more conscious of how it works in us. It is the journey (motivated by the need to transform for the better) that matters more than the result.

(The image is courtesy of Paradigms, Mental Models, and Mindsets: Triple Barriers to Transformational Change in School Systems.)

Despite the power we hold through creating and leveraging our mindsets, I have seen mindset being somewhat overlooked in the context of change in the corporations and organizations I have worked with. What is more, people resist talking about mindset. It is too general they say, too intangible. There is nothing we can do about it because there is nothing to hold onto. And, if we try to change the mindset underlying what we do, it won’t work because people resist change …

Well, to be frank, I’ve often felt like an alien hearing such thoughts and comments. I guess I am often overly idealistic! But that doesn’t mean there is no truth in the notion that mindset is our greatest power and asset, our greatest tool in changing our world, and organisations, and communities, for the better.

Also, mindset is not at all that intangible. We can often feel it, taste is even as it is coming across at us from people, teams and organisations. The point is how aware we are of these waves of meaning constantly conveyed to us. And, if we are not aware, how to develop that awareness. Because if we are aware, we have to power to change our world.

For example, research on the development action logic of sustainability leaders by Barrett Brown explains how leaders of large-scale sustainability initiatives approach, understand and engage with the world in order to enable sustainability changes in their organisations and society. Barrett has found out that effective leaders for sustainability, i.e. leaders who are able to foresee and drive large-scale sustainability transformations, tend to be at later stage of development action logic or cognitive development/meaning-making capacity. According to the Washington University Science Completion Test, they are Strategists, Alchemists and Ironists. The descriptions of these cognitive profiles make mindset sufficiently tangible for a leader, a trainer, or anybody else, to work with and develop.

And so, mindset is not only important, it can also be sufficiently tangible for us to develop and cultivate.

On Mindset and Women in our Organisations …

So how does the McKinsey article I refer to above entertain the notion of mindset? It generally assumes it is something we all know and are aware of but often choose to ignore in the way we work:

”Subtle changes in these attitudes toward advancement are another powerful benefit of changing how companies “think about women around here.” By addressing the mind-sets holding women back, corporate leaders can reshape the talent pipeline and its odds, increasing the number of women role models at the top and, in turn, making it likelier that more women will retain their ambition.”

”This is a powerful idea that resonates with our experience: strong as the general business case for women is, companies are more likely to transform mind-sets if they build their own case. That case should be grounded in the impact women are having at your own organization—whether hard business results or indirect benefits, such as building better teams.”

”When the findings are impossible to overlook, leaders can use them to make the invisible mind-sets visible and then manage these mind-sets to remove their influence.”

”If you’re ready to start challenging the broadly held mind-sets holding women back in your organization, first become conscious of your own beliefs and how they affect your behavior and decisions. Then, as you help your company move forward, remain vigilant: every time a senior executive leaves or enters an organization, its culture can—and does—shift.”

The article gives some interesting facts:

For example, with the corporate world being predominantly male-oriented, it can be hard for women to move up the corporate ladder simply because they are of a different kind. In order to move up, anyone, not just a woman, needs dedicated sponsorship, feedback and support. (Coaching, yheah?) Tough feedback men tend to give to men is well received by men but is not always appreciated by women. Support on the other hand is well appreciated by women but tends to be shunned away by men. With male and female brains being wired differently, and not many men in the corporate world being able to coach and support women in a way that women find useful and constructive, even if opportunities are available for women to move up, they either do not take them or do not perform in a way that is perceived as impactful and successful. And, in this way, the corporate system is not being transformed because the most powerful lever in it, i.e., the mindset, is not being pushed in order to enable all-encompassing transformations.

Another point the authors of the article make is that it is not just whether there is the ”right’ mindset in an organisation. It is also where it is if it is there. Because our organisations are still largely hierarchical, unless there is the ”right” (in this case, a mindset that sees the barriers that stop women from moving up the corporate ladder and also a mindset that is able to cultivate confidence and skill in women) mindset among senior executives, change won’t be rippled down and across the organisation.

In a nutshell, mindset is our greatest asset and resource. What we do with it determines our future. Allowing women to assume senior management positions and blend into the senior management of our organisations determines our future too. The more balanced the gender outlook of our organisations is, the more sustainable our world can be.

Beautiful ”Sweet Synergy” by amazing artist Josephine Wall:

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