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2 posts from April 2010

15 April 2010

Do women’s networks speak to younger women?

Bonjour all!


As mentioned in last week’s blog, I first connected with today’s guest writer, Dr. Elisabeth Kelan on LinkedIn due to our shared groups on the site and mutual interest in gender diversity.  I then saw her speak at the World Diversity Leadership Summit in Vienna on a panel which discussed age diversity in the workplace and managing young talent.  Elisabeth was in Brussels recently for a meeting and we had dinner together while she was in town. 


Our introduction to each other was punctuated by the usual ambiguity of working in an international environment.  How do you say hello?  Do you kiss once, twice, or three times?  Do you shake hands?  Whose cultural ‘norm’ takes precedence?  Does it matter that I come from an American background where kissing in any professional environment is at best odd and at worst illegal?  Well, as it turned out we did a sort of one-and-a-half cheek-kiss greeting and then laughingly discussed the fact that in a globalized world, you just have to…play it by ear.  Elisabeth and I had an enthusiastic conversation over dinner about how the gender debate has progressed and what the future holds.


One of the issues I have been keenly intrigued by is the lack of focus on younger women in corporate gender initiatives and dearth of research in the field.  After all, the pipeline starts with new joiners – this is the population we must focus on in order to develop the right skills and experiences so that they are primed for leadership roles later in their career.  Due to demographic changes, young professionals make up an enormous cohort of our workforce and young men as well as young women have very different world views and expectations than those of previous generations. 


In many cases, some of the roadblocks that women experience later in their career – for example the ability to travel frequently, or participate in a time-intensive leadership program, or even a secondment – don’t exist for younger women, who are often unhampered by the considerations that having one’s own family can understandably create (although this is slowly changing, the bulk of domestic labour still falls upon women).  And I wonder too whether young women – who have come from a university environment where they comprise more than half of the population, are even aware of the fact that women still constitute a vast minority of leaders in the corporate sphere and earn less than their male counterparts in every country in the world. 


Could women’s networks play a role in educating younger women – early – on the Unwritten Rules that will help prepare them for success in the longer-term?  Or do shifting social realities and perceptions mean that it’s time for the conversation to change altogether?


This enlightening piece of research from The London Business School (written by Elisabeth and her colleagues), entitled: The Reflexive Generation: Young Professionals’ Perspectives on Work, Career and Gender probes the intersection of gender and generation at work; if you have an interest in gender, generational issues, human capital, employee engagement, or talent management, I would highly recommend reading it for insight and strategy tips.    


Below, Dr. Elisabeth Kelan discusses findings from her research about what women’s networks and gender diversity mean to younger women.  And indeed, how their voices may change the game.


à bientôt,




Dr Elisabeth Kelan is lecturer (assistant professor) in the Department of Management at King’s College London. She was Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Women in Business at London Business School. She also worked at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Zurich. Elisabeth is a leading scholar on gender and generational relations in organizations. Her specialism is in the use of qualitative and ethnographic methods. She has presented her research internationally, published widely, and has received various awards for her research.



“When conducting research on Generation Y, those latest entrants into organizations who are below 30, we often heard from young women that they did not feel at home in women’s networks. Women’s networks were seen as a place where women from their mother’s generation met to discuss work and private life. However these younger women felt that these networks were not for them.


Women’s networks have played a key role in showing women that their experiences are not their individual problems but rather shared by many other women, too. Women’s networks have traditionally been used to make these commonalities in experiences visible and to find strategies for overcoming them. Women’s networks also had very negative press and are regularly portrayed as places for whinging and whining. Women’s networks are today often seen as talking shops that do not really help women to advance in corporations.


For young women of Generation Y these women’s networks were no longer seen as timely. They seemed like a relict from 1970s feminism which no longer speaks to the younger generation. Young women often felt that women-only groups were separatist. Their experiences of women’s networks was that they were told how to be and behave to have a corporate career. Instead they wanted to be seen as competent workers who have to do certain things to have a career but there is no ‘special training’ needed.


This view is interesting from two perspectives. First of all, gender was no longer seen as an issue for women. This in itself can be a very positive sign. Generation Y assumes that issues such as work-life balance and flexibility are relevant for women as well as men. If that is the assumption such topics should be discussed among all employees and not just women.


Second, and more worryingly perhaps, this same sentiment might also lead to a situation in which a whole generation might lack a language to talk about gender equality. If gender equality is seen as achieved, any movement to bring it back on the agenda, such as through women’s networks, will be met with resistance. However if this generation loses the ability to talk about gender equality, the subtle and less subtle forms of inequalities that continue to exist in the workplace will go unnoticed and will remain unaddressed.


But maybe this generation gives its own answer to these challenges: integrating gender and diversity into wider debates within organizations. Rather than making gender an issue for women only, this generation might want to see that gender and diversity become an issue for everyone. Only if men and women realize the power of gender diversity will it be possible to see true gender change in organizations. That doesn’t mean getting rid off women’s networks. They certainly have a role to play to have sustained focused on gender and they provide a lot of support for women. However they will only speak to some women. It is therefore important to include more mainstream debates that include women as well as men from different generations.”

09 April 2010

Wake up and smell the 21st century…please

Happy Spring Break to those of you who have taken time off for the Easter holiday (and for those of you who don’t celebrate it – go on and eat some chocolate, anyway). 


A plethora of studies cite a lack of formal / informal networking as one of the largest impediments in progressing women to leadership positions.  A plethora of OTHER studies cite technology as one of the key tools in advancing women economically (check out the ICRW’s excellent Bridging the Gender Divide for information on how technology has empowered women in developing countries). 


Women can and should use technology to cultivate their knowledge and global networks (note: minimal effort required).  Your age or occupation doesn’t matter.  And I believe those who avoid social networks are looking a gift horse in the mouth (one of my colleagues in technology took this a step further – he actually told me that refusing to participate in social networks is ‘irresponsible’ for today’s professional – like ‘refusing’ to read an HBR article on developments in your niche area).   



Here’s the thing: social networking is free.  It’s also simple and easy to use (I promise).  My colleagues and friends who refuse say that social networks are distracting, time-sucking, and too public. 


I disagree.  We anthropomorphize social media as if it’s a living breathing baby-monster screaming for our constant attention.  Wrong.  We have free will. We can CHOOSE whether to start that new novel we’ve been meaning to read or gaze at photos of our long-lost high school sweetheart on Facebook (hey, not that I’ve done that; he’s not on Facebook).


Employed with a modicum of discipline and common sense, social networks can substantially enhance and enrich our personal and professional lives.


I probably average 30 minutes on social media per day – some of this outside of working hours (Facebook mostly) and some of it within the workday (checking Twitter for diversity developments and adding connections on LinkedIn or posting PwC diversity-related content).  Here are some examples of how social networks have served me and a few of my favourite sites that I recommend you check out.


Let me start with Twitter.  Don’t despair – I too, grimaced and shook my head for a long time, swearing I would never join “that time-sucking thing” (I didn’t really even know exactly what Twitter was – if you don’t either click here for a mini-tutorial).  I was converted at a recent writers’ convention when it was suggested to me that I could try it for a week and if I didn’t like it, I could just deactivate my account.  Like the good American-bred person that I am, I succumbed to this cheap marketing ploy of a free trial with money-back guarantee (although admittedly, the only cost would be my time). 


To be honest, it took no more than five minutes to set up an account.  I immediately subscribed to a very few number of feeds related to my professional (PwC_Press, PwC_LLP, Catalyst) and personal (O_Magazine, nytimesbooks) interests.  I was shocked to find the following ‘tweet’ from Catalyst that very day:


“How do we get past talking a/b the gender gap…to action? Dennis Nally, Global Chairman, PwC”


I gasped.  I sat up straight in my chair.  Catalyst had culled a quote from the Gender Agenda CNBC panel debate and posted a tweet from…my boss.  Hmmm.  Seemed relevant.  It was my first inkling that I would be following Twitter long after my ‘trial subscription.’  By the way, the Catalyst Twitter feeds are great for those of us with an interest in gender diversity and I highly recommend subscribing.  Some other gems from their Twitter stream recently:


“Climbing the (male) corporate ladder: ‘Whatever progress I have made was because of pain I inflicted on someone else.’"


"’Pay your daughters less pocket money than your son–get them used to working life!’ -Slogan educating on gender pay gap”


“Erotic capital responsible for ‘a 25% point difference in average earnings b/t unattractive & attractive minorities.’”


Thought provoking stuff, right?  (I didn’t even know what ‘erotic capital’ meant until I clicked through to the Guardian article – worth a read; it is très disturbing).  I also watched this very short Catalyst video which they tweeted, on the harsh reality of the gender pay gap – it cuts to the bone, no sugar-coating here. 


All I’ll say about Facebook is that although it’s mostly a personal tool, businesses ARE using it.  Some of our PwC firms employ it for recruitment and on boarding, as well corporate responsibility initiatives.  Most registered users on Facebook have their employer listed as one of their primary networks.  Personally, I don’t connect with every PwC professional that I work with, but I have linked to certain individuals with whom I’ve struck up a particularly deep connection.  I find it adds texture to our professional relationship.  This blurring of the lines between work and personal life can be grey, but for those comfortable enough to do it, I think the details of what makes us who we are (our favourite books, our vacation destinations, photos of our family, our commentary on world events) deepens professional relationships, makes them more authentic, and (for me) more enjoyable, especially because I work with so many virtual teams across the world.  And here’s a thought for you, as told to me by a PwC partner when we were discussing this:  “In ten years, most CEOs will be on Facebook.” 


And finally, there is LinkedIn, which is fully dedicated to professional networking and job searches (available in multiple languages – I have an English and a French profile).  There are many things I love about LinkedIn.  I can connect with people from all facets of my life (high school, college, extended family, previous professional positions / jobs, recent conferences, etc.) and unlike a business card, when the person changes jobs or moves, the information remains current since they are updating it in real time.  The minute I come back from an event, I transfer all of my business card contacts to LinkedIn; in fact LinkedIn is making business cards almost obsolete – these days many people will say to me, “Let’s save paper and just connect on LinkedIn.”


My brother told me he was ‘too young’ for LinkedIn, and my father told me he was ‘too old’ for LinkedIn – they are both wrong.  I have contacts young and old – make-up artists, diversity professionals, journalists, lawyers, teachers, writers, retiree-aspiring-authors, etc.)  I’m a member of groups where I can control which news alerts I receive and how frequently – I learned about an excellent diversity conference through LinkedIn and connected with Dr. Elisabeth Kelan, a professor at King’s College London – who I subsequently had dinner with when she was in Brussels on a business trip, and who will in fact be guest blogging next week.


Apart from a number of professional groups I’ve joined on LinkedIn (one for PwC employees on international assignment with great tips and websites for expats; a few for global diversity & inclusion, Catalyst, etc.), I also get updates from my alma mater, where I connected with a current honors student who is doing work on gender identity in India, and a former classmate who works on CR initiatives for women around the world. 


You just never know when a connection will become mutually beneficial.  But please – if you do sign up, make the minimal effort to fill in basic profile information.  While it’s very cool and existential to have a big question mark where your photo should be and/or only your name to give us a hint as to who you are and what you may do, it sort of defeats the entire purpose.  If you’re new, here’s a quick LinkedIn tutorial.  A colleague said to me recently, “can you imagine how powerful our network would be if each employee was required to be on LinkedIn?”  I must agree.  The six degrees of separation principle dictates that if I’m looking for a very specific specialist to speak with, there is probably someone in the PwC network who knows someone…


Also – if you’re reading this, and we’re not connected on LinkedIn – let’s connect!


Here are a few more of my favorite technology tools that women (and men!) can use to expand their horizons:


TED – I like to incorporate audio / visuals into my presentations and this is a great place to mine compelling clips that will engage an audience.  You can view and download short, riveting speeches – check out this female child prodigy delivering a breathtaking 8-minute speech about what adults can learn from kids.


iTunesU Podcasts – You can download free lectures from some of the world’s most respected thinkers and academics.  I’ve heard Gloria Steinem talk at Yale about how the gender debate has changed (and not changed) in her lifetime; Muhammad Yunus discuss microfinance and women’s empowerment; and a lecture on how diversity has been the key to the rise of every major super power in history. 


Qlock – You can download an application to your desktop which shows the current time in the global cities of your choice.  Very useful if you work on a virtual global team as you can instantly determine whether it’s the right time to schedule / make a phone call or when to expect an email response (I have: Beijing, Paris, London, New York, Calcutta, San Francisco, and Sydney on my desktop).  Thanks for this one, Michelle!


Finally, below are links to more articles referencing social networking from The Glass Hammer:


Women and the Boardroom: Practice effective networking at all levels of your career to be on track for the boardroom


Networking Your Way to the Boardroom


10 Tips for Managing Gen Y


Ask-A-Recruiter: How Do Recruiters Search and Screen Resumes? 


à bientôt,