AS I WATCHED MY DAUGHTER GLUED TO HER IPAD YESTERDAY, I was struck by the immediacy and constancy of her interactions with friends, using video to capture and transmit her thoughts and emotions to share each brief snapshot of her life. She expected an immediate response and more often than not got it! But does this desire for immediacy also have a dark side?
This ‘everything now’ approach can be seen in all of our lives: food, movies and shopping on demand, employees expected to be constantly available, sometimes it feels like we are trapped by our need for an immediate ‘fix’.
Psychologists have long been aware of variation in our ability to resist temptation for a more desirable outcome later down the line. In the well-known ‘Marshmallow Experiment’ in the early 1970s, psychologist Walter Mischel left a group of four year olds in a room with one marshmallow each. The children were told that if they could hold out and wait for the tester to return, they would instead get two marshmallows. Some children caved in almost immediately and ate their one marshmallow, while some managed to wait up to 20 minutes for the grand prize of two marshmallows. We are impatient at The Glass Lift, not for marshmallows, but to see more women in leadership.
A challenge that is not only a result of the barriers which we are all aware of such as a lack of flexible working, poor return to work practices, unconscious bias and the ‘hero leader architype. It’s also the rhetoric around an issue that can be politically sensitive and often seen as women’s issue’ rather than an organisational imperative. It’s a struggle to engage everyone in this agenda and ownership is often left to those who have the passion to champion the change.
Without collective support, these courageous individuals risk their words falling on deaf ears. In some organisations the ‘gender agenda’ has become a ‘hot potato’ mired in internal politics which forms yet another barrier to the development of a coherent and constructive dialogue between colleagues.
We do see organisations becoming publicly supportive of increasing the number of women in leadership, but there is a focus on short term, quick fixes such as the fashionable unconscious bias training. Maybe our impatience for quick fixes is a product of the World we now live in, but we believe it’s also an underestimation or lack of awareness of the complexity of this challenge.
Then what can we do to accelerate difference and increase the number of women in leadership? Policy and process signal the change required, but only by changing attitudes and behaviour to leadership and women will we improve the prospects of a generation of women realising their potential as leaders. This takes time, because facilitating behaviour change requires patience, focus and tenacity.
So our message is resist the urge for a ‘quick fix’ and accept that accelerating difference requires a multifaceted approach that requires a little patience.
We can’t promise two marshmallows, but the sweet taste of creating an environment where women thrive will be worth it!
Views from The Glass Lift by Margaret Davies, Occupational Psychologist and Director, The Glass Lift
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