This article was first published in Susan’s Liautaud Huffington Post blog
Predicting the future of women in business is not my core business. I advise companies and non-profit organizations and their leaders on ethics matters ranging from one-off challenges to ethical leadership, strategy, and organizational culture. As we approach International Women’s Day on 8 March, the prospects for women in business look outstanding. Many experts have covered targets for women and the training, regulation, and support needed to get there. Through my forward-looking ethics lens, here are a few thoughts on how we as women will behave along the way and when we arrive.
1. We will look more broadly than the corporate sector when recruiting women (and men) for the corporate sector. We will recognize the need to develop talent and recruit from the non-profit sector, academia, and government as the 2011 Davies Report Women on Boards recognized. We will actively encourage search firms, University career offices, and others involved in professional development to follow. Corollary: We will value voluntary service when reviewing women’s (and men’s) cvs for the evidence of professional experience, passion and work ethic it may offer. 2. We will broaden Sheryl Sandburg’s “leaning in” far beyond the current focus on the C-suite, the board room, and the rising young stars category. We will encourage every woman’s ambition at all levels of organizations and across all sectors. We will recognize and respect that for some women polishing the leather board chairs during off hours to enable raising a handicapped child or working anywhere for any salary doing anything at any time to keep medical insurance may demonstrate significant ambition. We will engage in professional discussions about women (and men) with more nuance than a C-suite versus stay-at-home debate. 3. We will actively quash age discrimination of women (and men). We will seek to employ returning stars who may have stepped out of the work force for a time and women (and men) whose ambitions have shifted later in life. 4. We will value and hire women (and men) on the basis of competency. We will not commit a “Reverend Flowers” and hire women (or men) who lack the necessary experience and expertise, jeopardize the organization and its stakeholders and the public, or engage in illegal or inappropriate behavior. We will not make quick assumptions about women (or men) on the basis of title, family situation, or other personal circumstances. 5. With due respect to formal compensation decisions, we will never confuse a number on a pay check with the value of a woman (or man) as a human being, or the professional value to society or to the organization. If any women (or men) disagree, please be prepared to argue why tech executives and traders have more value than elementary school teachers and cancer researchers…not to mention the workers who assemble, deliver, clean, and maintain the computers generating the tech and trading fortunes. 6. We will insist on safe work environments for women (and men). By way of example, with respect for the US military, we will not tolerate organizational “cultures” that brew thousands of unreported and unprosecuted sexual assault cases (by the military’s own admission and perpetrated on women (and men)). Or any other safety-compromised or respect-compromised work places. 7. We will promote and respect diversity of all kinds. On the other hand, we will refuse to accept culture as an excuse for unethical behavior or mistreatment of women (or men). 8. We will further ethics as a positive, strategic opportunity not as a backward-looking, judgmental exercise. We will actively integrate ethics into all aspects of the business from strategy to CSR, recognizing that ethics is critical to both business success and to the organization’s impact on all stakeholders (women and men) from the majority shareholder to the garment worker in Bangladesh. 9. If we climb a ladder, or even step up a rung or two, we will graciously acknowledge all those women (and men) on whose shoulder’s we stood. This includes colleagues, mentors, and other trailblazers from the Chairmen who support women on boards efforts to pioneering women CEOs to journalists maintaining the spotlight on women (and men) in business to civil rights activists. And we will regularly help other women (and men) to climb onto our shoulders…and surpass us. In brief, we will continue to make the business world more ambitious, flexible, professionally diverse, competent, fair, culturally sensitive, ethical, successful, and grateful for women (and men).
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