Tag Archives: #Gender

The Leadership a-Gender — 1

After competence, are certitudecharisma and chutzpah the 3-Cs of research leadership?

An image encouraging positive thinking to overcome self-doubt. Just make sure there are no large dogs about.

When Rob Moodie was the CEO of the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) he started a “conversations in leadership” series for the recipients of VicHealth Public Health Research Fellowships. The idea was to begin an explicit process to develop research leadership in public health, drawing us together to think about the qualities that were necessary.

There were ten of us at the first gathering; two men and eight women. Beyond the fact that it was a meeting for “future leaders”, none of us knew what it was all about. Rob went around the table, asking each of us in turn to introduce ourselves; he also asked how we felt about being identified as a future leader in public health research.

The gender divide was immediately and starkly revealed. When Rob asked Paul (the other man in the room) and me how we felt, we gave suitably immodest responses. I can’t remember our precise answers, but they would have reflected in some way on the appropriate recognition of our talent. Then the first woman spoke. She told, hesitantly, of a gnawing fear that she would be “found out”. Someone, probably sometime very soon, would realise that she was a fraud. She had no right to the VicHealth Fellowship, and she had even less claim on being a leader. Paul and I glanced at each other. Who were we to say that she was wrong? And then there was a visible sigh from the other women in the room. Each one, in turn, expressed an almost identical fear of being found out. This is a well-recognised phenomenon in the gender and leadership literature, described as, “imposter syndrome“: the fear of being found out.

Notwithstanding my bravado or Paul’s, I suspect neither of us felt quite as sure of our place as future leaders as we expressed. I know I didn’t. Nor, however, did I fear being found out in quite the same way the women had expressed. I may have worried a little about whether my performance would be good enough (was I leadership material?), but I did not experience the depth of self-doubt expressed by my colleagues. I had been invited into the room and, therefore, I had a right to be there! They received the same invitation but doubted their right.

An article in the Harvard Business Review on overcoming the feelings of inadequacy associated with imposter syndrome described individual, cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT) to help people manage the sense. If these techniques work, that’s great! The solution, however, reveals at least as much about organisational gender bias as it does about ways to overcome it. Underlying the CBT approach is not simply a view that self-doubt is misplaced, but that there is a deficit in the way a person’s brain works if they have that self-doubt. In other words, to succeed in leadership, you need to think more like me! The obverse problem, having an over-inflated and unrealistic view of one’s own excellence, is often rewarded in organisations, and the sufferer (or more likely the insufferable) is never referred to a Psychologist for therapy “because you’re not thinking right”. Having the 3-Cs of certitude,  charisma and chutzpah — typically identified as leadership qualities and never as leadership deficits — means that you are thinking right.

It is worth noting that although the women expressed the fear of being found out, they had all applied for and won highly coveted VicHealth Fellowships, and they were all in that room — even with their doubt.

The researcher, Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, suggests that many of the 3-C style traits that are traditionally associated with great leaders may in fact be emblematic of leadership weaknesses. Being quieter (a listener), more thoughtful (open to new ideas) and having some self-doubt (seeking out a diversity of expert advice) can be valuable traits in good leadership. These are traits often associated with women who are passed over for leadership positions because they have not yet had their “deficits” corrected.

There are some clearly terrible traits for research leaders to have. Being a bully, mean, harassing staff and being incompetent would be high on that list. In research leadership, raw incompetence would be unusual. The others, sadly, are not. Research organisations need methods for identifying good research leaders that do not fall back on tired tropes, and provide women fair paths of advancements. These are organisational systems issues, not individual deficits to correct. Almost two decades ago, Rob Moodie’s conversations in leadership was a gentle step in that direction: making us all ask the question, what is it to be a great leader? He never said, by I suspect that he hoped we would carry forward some insight into the leadership a-gender.

Covid Economics

“Governments will not be able to minimise both deaths from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the economic impact of viral spread.” [Anderson et al.]

A soup kitchen during the Great Depression. Apparently it was only men who were hungry

It is easy to see that the economies of the world are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Share-markets have tumbled. Airlines are flying empty. Except for bizarre panic buying of toilet paper, malls and shops are more deserted. And if you have an employer with a large cash reserve and a bit of heart, you will be OK. There are many companies, however, that are at the margins and they are already failing because of the impact of COVID-19. Households are hunkering down: not spending, not going out.

These are the consequences of containment.

Now think about the daily wagers and piece workers, the sex workers, couriers, garbage pickers, rickshaw drivers and maids. Who will pay their bills, put food on their tables and ensure the same for their children?

Workplaces are instituting attendance rules based on health guidelines. Fevers, coughs, headaches and myalgia? Stay home! Recently been with someone who tested positive. Stay home! Etcetera.  That’s fine for me. I will apply for sick leave. In all countries, but disproportionately in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, large numbers of people in the workforce are in the informal sector. They are vulnerable. Even in the formal sector, many workers have no financial protection.

Think again about the daily wagers and piece workers, the sex workers and couriers. Their capacity to pay the bills and keep food on the table is proportional to their capacity to keep working. No matter what.

Death is not everything.

The obligation of countries who have committed to sustainable development goals is to “leave no one behind”. Governments should implement their public health measures to limit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the poor should not have to carry an unfair burden.

A street sweeper in Mokhali

To share power, someone has to give up power

Over the past few years I have been peripherally involved in various discussions with male colleagues about gender equity. The conversations have had a predictable ebb and flow.

Women’s empowerment. It’s great in theory, but who wants to give up power? Not these men. [source: reddit; https://bit.ly/2wd2AJC]

The consensus, at least among my colleagues, is that gender equity is a good idea. In the abstract, we fully endorse it. The practice is another matter. It is not that we don’t want to share power. We’re enlightened! We know there is a problem, but can it be someone else’s power that is shared?

The reasoning goes something like this. I should not have to share power. I’m talented, I got here on merit, and I deserve everything I achieved. It is an absolute social good when I have power. For me to give up power would not be good, because I wield it benignly and actively promote gender equity. It would be great if another man gave up power because that would support gender equity.

At a fundamental level, power is a zero-sum-game. There are only so many seats around the high tables of power, and if someone gets a seat at the table, someone loses a seat. Sure, we can squeeze an extra seat in here or there — but there are limits. If someone sits on a panel, someone else cannot sit on the panel. If 50% of the world’s population suddenly achieved fair access to power, power that had been largely controlled by the other 50%, competition would increase sharply.

In 2017, the World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, tried to fudge the arithmetic [it has since changed]. He appointed a substantial number of women to senior positions in WHO. He did this by increasing the pool of senior positions, and he appointed women to the new positions. Unfortunately, many of the new positions were without substantive portfolios, and without real power. In effect he dragged some extra stools to the table. Chairs for men. Stools for newly appointed women.

The strategy had all the right visuals without the structural capacity to support gender equity; i.e., the fair distribution of power.

Gender equity is a good idea. It will be achieved through structural changes that share power and resources, not through appeals to people’s better nature nor through empty gestures. The test of whether one person’s power has increased is whether another person’s power has been diminished.