Let's fix the environment, not women!

Gender diversity in organisations’ leadership has been the focus of attention for over 15 years, yet progress remains slow and variable. The mistake is thinking that gender diversity in corporate top management is a ‘woman’s issue’. This is not the case, at least not in its entirety.

First and foremost, gender diversity is a matter of good talent management, a skill that the leaders of today and tomorrow must understand and master. Central to the issue is the vision of a woman’s place and her responsibility within the family, which ‘historically’ falls on her as she enters motherhood. The corporate world was built for men, by men, and they never experienced fatherhood as competing with their careers, nor do they feel compelled to make a trade-off between the family and professional sides of their life. Thus, it’s no surprise that pursuing a career may be unsuitable for women who—more often than men, carry a double, or even triple burden. The success model was not designed for women and it doesn’t work for those who do not fit into the ‘historical model’.

There is no miracle solution, but we are already well aware that progress does not happen ‘naturally’; the path forward requires a perspective and culture change that can only be solved through systemic action and inflection points on all levels, including governments and businesses.

Establish fair processes at the recruitment stage

For a long time, the latter have favoured coaching programmes or leadership training aimed at helping women ‘navigate’ in an environment that did not support them well, nor consider the constraints they face. Of course, this type of training is useful in building the self-confidence and assertiveness that we know women sometimes lack, due to the cultural and operational roadblocks that they face. However, women’s capabilities and leadership skills are not the problem. The flaw to fix is in the system: a biased model and an uneven playing field that is often more demanding for women. So rather than ‘fixing women’, the effort should be more about ‘fixing the corporate environment’ and ways of working: establish fair, bias-free hiring and promotion processes; eliminate the stigma and discrimination associated with motherhood; and provide the flexibility and support that all women and parents need to combine a demanding career with family responsibilities.

Change views on leadership and performance

We must allow all those who do not feel suited to work under the ‘dominant’ model to fully contribute and succeed. It’s all about changing the codes, our views on leadership, the way we work and the way we think about performance. Ultimately, it is not about creating exceptions and specific measures for women in a challenging world, but rather making this world resolutely better for everyone, including the younger generations whose aspirations are already shaking up the codes we live by.

A world where moms and dads can succeed without struggle or a guilty conscience, where emails and conference calls do not intrude on bedtime stories or school drop-offs. A model that allows for different lifestyles and takes into account the needs, styles and constraints of all talents, not just the habits of a dominant group. A place where everyone, regardless of gender, physical attributes, ethnicity, or religion, is and feels welcome, invited to participate, and has a voice.


About the author

Cécile Kossoff is Chief Brand, Marketing and Communications Officer and Global Diversity & Inclusion Leader at Mazars Group. She also teaches Diversity Management at HEC, Paris. As an expert in gender diversity and inclusion with fifteen years of experience, she directed and published the 2022 Mazars study in collaboration with the Observatory for Gender Balance (‘Observatoire de la Mixité’): Myths and barriers preventing the progression of women.

This article was published in French by Focus RH on 8 March 2023. Click here to read the French version.