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Director Master of Educational Leadership and Management
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
To achieve gender equity in any organisation, transformation is required. Transformation begins with leadership. It's clear from the example that, despite the large number of women in this workplace, numbers don't solve the problem of a 'blocked pipeline'. Many believe that merit is enough. Clearly, Loan is learning about the limits of meritocracy and that being talented and ambitious is not enough.
The underlying issue here is not only how leadership responds to gender. Loan's manager is supportive, illustrating the great strides that organisations have made to meet social and legal obligations in fostering equitable working conditions for women. However, this is not enough. Organisations that value the contributions of women should understand how women contribute to the bottom line, and it makes good business sense to enable talented women to achieve their best.
Effective leadership needs to be supportive but also transformational ; that is, creating opportunities for talented women to succeed.
Loan needs to have a serious discussion with her line manager about her needs and goals, and how these can be achieved. In doing so, Loan needs to work on her leadership and influence in order to network with those who may enable her to fulfil her goals. Setting up a meeting with the Director is part of Loan's development of leadership.
The issue in the scenario is also of gender diversity. When organisations understand the value of diversity, including gender diversity, then real innovation and talent can find a place to influence the future direction of the organisation. Creating awareness of the value of gender diversity can be a good place for Loan to start building her leadership and influence. Perhaps, after all, the Director is not fully cognisant of gender and the issues of gender within his unit. Research has shown that this is the case for many male leaders. Creating awareness and education is part of the transformation of the organisation.
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Learning Solutions Design Consultant
Although Loan says she is keen to move into a leadership role, there's nothing in this scenario to indicate that she is currently demonstrating any leadership capability. If Loan wants to be promoted, she needs to look for opportunities to show that she can achieve outcomes through her influence on others. These could potentially come from her ideas to improve the workplace.
Loan needs to find out why she was rejected for the promotions she applied for so that she can develop a plan to close any capability gaps. She should work closely with her manager to understand how she's perceived by others, especially those involved in the decision to promote. If unsure, she may consider obtaining some 360 degree feedback. This will help her create a plan to change these perceptions, should that be necessary.
Finally I would recommend that Loan re-examines her motivation for a leadership role, making sure that she understands what would be expected of her and whether this is what she really wants. It's possible, for example, that she may lose some of the work flexibility she currently has, and may need to consider the impact of this on both her and her family. She should also think about how she would adapt to working with a manager who has a very different style to her current manager, with whom she gets on so well.
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Loan's frustration signals that it's time for her to try something else and open up possibilities that she hasn't already explored. However, facing such a complex challenge will require her to think differently so that she can avoid preconceived conclusions. Yet the required shift in thinking is different and more difficult than the 'problem solving' approaches that people usually reply on.
Loan, her boss, and their male leader are not problems to be solved. They are part of a web of shifting interrelationships in a system organised around particular patterns of behaviour and interaction. These have become habits, and those habits shape the way the system works and how Loan and her managers participate within it.
While it may be tempting to provide specific recommendations or frameworks to Loan, it's far more effective for the coach to help her explore what's going on, ideas that open up new possibilities, ideas that are stories unattached to particular solutions. This “rich picture of now” brainstorm will help Loan understand in as full a way as possible what is going on without narrowing any possibilities for action.
Continually seeking out as many perspectives as possible will give Loan a full sense of what actions she might take and the impact they have towards realising her goal. As Loan navigates her way through the shifting web of relationships and perspectives she has of herself, others, and their view of her, she can take effective action towards her goal. This process of getting to the heart of things would also allow Loan to explore her thinking around leadership.
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Thought Leader in Communication and Collaboration, Can We Talk
Without quality conversations, things rarely move forward . We also need to present and understand the facts in those conversations for them to be focused on 'outcomes' and not 'outbreaks'. Aside from being 'knocked back' for roles, there is little evidence of the reason why this has occurred. This information is pivotal to helping Loan understand what she needs to do to be considered for a promotion.
A conversation with her Direct Manager to understand what she can do to put her best step forward would be a start. A conversation with the Director of the Unit is inevitable. For this conversation to be remarkable, it would need to stay close to the facts. It's very hard to argue when we present proven truths . Loan could develop some techniques to stay on focus with a tough and 'fight' orientated leader. These tools would help herself manage her own reactions and the reactions of the Director.
Loan could also consider presenting her ideas for a better workplace, based on evidence of how things could improve.
I would be very careful to not point to this issue as being a male vs female scenario without knowing how people think. That would be speculation.