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The corporate sponsor as hero: advancing women into leadership roles

Q&A: Changing leadership’s blueprint

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"We need multiple definitions of what leadership is and multiple paths to power." Ripa Rashid

Overcoming barriers and taking action: ultimately, that’s inclusive leadership at its best. We spoke with Ripa Rashid, senior vice president at the Center for Work-Life Policy and co-author of The Battle for Female Talent in Emerging Markets, on what the most effective inclusiveness strategies are and how to implement them.

EY: Everyone has biases; the best we can hope to do is to recognize and overcome them. What biases, conscious or not, hinder today's leaders as they look to select talent for the future?

Ripa Rashid: The main biases we see are based on a monolithic blueprint of a leadership model — generally white-male-centered and clearly a gendered and culturally specific model with years of history behind it. Some of the biases are conscious and some unconscious.

When leaders are putting together the roster of the next generation of leaders, these biases are integrated into things like succession planning, which is like a black box and not transparent in most organizations. The broader cultural impact of these decisions is that you don’t have a diverse slate of leaders.

EY: In some markets, it’s said that there is a lack of managerial talent — you hear this a lot about China, for example. Might it also be true that Western companies are missing a huge talent pool because their ability to recognize top talent is culturally biased?

Ripa Rashid: This is a bit of a red herring. We know that 53% of the global talent pool is coming out of the Asia-Pacific region and that 83% of the global talent pool consists of women and multicultural individuals.

Companies have to recognize that talent comes in all shapes and sizes. The blueprint needs to flex. We need multiple definitions of what leadership is and multiple paths to power.

EY: What can leaders do to get around cultural taboos. For example, in some cultures, a male boss can’t ask a female protégé out to lunch, or you can’t send women into the field alone because their families will object. How should companies handle this sort of thing?

Ripa Rashid: It requires creativity, awareness and education. If one-on-one mentoring is hard, do it in groups. Do it virtually. Do it by email. Companies in the Middle East have done some creative mentoring on a virtual basis, using male leaders in a group setting. There is also a generational aspect to this. We’ve heard from Gen X and younger women that they’re generally comfortable working and socializing with men.

EY: What common barriers do organizations face?

Ripa Rashid: The biggest mistake any company can make is to “fix the individual.” You can mentor and train and provide executive coaching to death, but that won’t work unless the system changes. So fixing the system and process is the first imperative.

The second is management-level education. We may overestimate the leaders’ level of knowledge of other cultures.

EY: What can leaders do to make a difference?

Ripa Rashid: Identify five individuals you can reach out to in your global operations, then visit them once or twice a year and get to know them in a business-focused way. Next, charge each of them to do the same so there is a viral effect.

In the longer term, make sure your performance evaluation and succession planning system are checked for biases. If you use an executive search firm, go to a firm that has a diverse slate. Go to a more global source. Hardwire some kind of inclusiveness into your performance evaluation system, and link it to pay.


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