Gender Parity – we’ve read the stats…now what? 

by Sandy Burgham

So, the research is in and NZ is sliding in the statistics regarding women in leadership. Why the surprise? International Women’s Day’s theme this year is #pressforprogress. It seems the only progress we have made is admitting there is a problem, which I guess, to be positive, is like the first step in the AA’s hugely successful Twelve Step Program.  You see, we are addicted to the system that has given rise to the problem. And that is a system that favors not just men but the masculinized behaviors associated with what it is to be successful.

But the next 11 steps are going to be challenging because it will require individuals and organizations to actually shift out of their comfort zone and address the issue in new and uncomfortable ways.

The biggest mistake people make in this whole area is to think that diversity and inclusion is the issue, hence the fetishizing over numbers. This leads to would-be champions of diversity and other stalwarts becoming merely battering rams within an immoveable system. So calling out ‘sexist men’ and ‘women lacking confidence’, as if this alone is going to change things, becomes the version of action that even well-meaning people default to.

“Oh, if it were so simple” to quote the Ralph Fiennes character in that patriarchal romp ‘Hail Caesar’.

So if you want real progress, here are Play Colab’s 12 Steps to a better, fairer future where all will flourish whatever their gender

  1. Admit you are powerless in the face of the system that keeps, year after year, losing good women. And that the situation has become unmanageable and untenable.
  2. Understand that the issue is not diversity per se but the culture and the power system that this is an expression of, that has given rise to inequity
  3. Thus reframe diversity and inclusion as a natural outcome of another process which is about understanding how culture works
  4. Take a fearless moral inventory of your own and your organization’s culture.
  5.  Admit and declare that despite your best intentions, things are not that good.
  6. Be up for things to heat up before they cool down.
  7. Humbly announce that you’re not perfect but are willing to have the conversations that count – with yourself and within your organisation.
  8. Make a list of women that who have left the organisation and talk to them in an open way about what would have made the difference.
  9. Make an explicit effort to promote women and be brave enough to say that while their gender was part of it they still are the best person for the job.
  10. Encourage these women to understand that as much as they want to be promoted on the basis of merit, they probably won’t be, so take it on the chin if gender is part of the mix.
  11. Look to raise the consciousness of leaders who are often not necessarily the most senior people in the organisation. This requires you and them to go ‘under the waterline’ to examine not just biases but deeply held beliefs that they assumed were facts.
  12. Spread the word.

Play Contemporary Leadership Colab is deeply invested in raising the consciousness of leaders around issues relating to culture and thus diversity and inclusion. We’ve blended social anthropology with leadership development to collaborate with organisations willing to a) shift their culture b) have the hard conversations with themselves and each other, and c) learn about how gender works, how culture works, and how unwittingly they are probably part of the whole problem despite their best intentions.

True progress can only happen if we deal simultaneously with the system and the people that populate it. Yes, #pressforprogress, but just make sure you understand the real lie of the land so that you can press the right buttons.

Happy International Women’s Day


Sandy Burgham


Play Contemporary Leadership Colab



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