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What women talk about when they talk about work

By Cheryl Vardon | January 29th, 2015

Occasionally I am asked to write something just for women, as if there is another language for women about work different from a language for men.

There is a separateness about this which makes me uneasy. Consider the conversation of a small group of women chief executives and senior executives at a networking function I attended recently. About 20 were seated around the table complete with a drawcard speaker. After introductions we were asked to talk about our motivating passions for work. Most women identified as either having children or not having children and spoke easily and with enthusiasm about their work. Conversation was animated about the dearth of women in leadership and political roles. We moved on to politics, policies and the budget and shared contacts.

Shortly after I attended a similar event for male corporate leaders, with a couple of women thrown in, myself and one other. (We were seated together, some things never change.) Conversation flowed about the economy, where they had been, recent successes and sport. Questions to the speaker were about business growth and opportunity. No mention was made of children or family that I could pick up. Both functions were fun and informative and mercifully short.

I wondered what it would take for men to talk about family if they wanted to, and for women to feel free not to talk about family. In reality though the language of both groups was a shared one, focused on identity, opportunities, ideas and positioning. But what topics and language flow when the noise of competitive networking is dialled down? What happens in one-on-one mentoring with corporate leaders both men and women? Are there differences in language and what they want to talk about?

Not in my experience.

All want a confidential second pair of eyes to look over strategy and direction for career and business, and most importantly from someone who is experienced and with sharp insights into what may have been overlooked. Most know and understand their own pattern of working and have had a solid grounding along the way in policy and business strategy. As we know however there are more men than women in these roles.

What about senior executive leadership meetings? There the discussion is about policy and strategy, the progress of projects against budget and managing emerging contentious issues. The numbers again show fewer women around senior executive tables compared with men. In short there is not much about work language for women at top corporate levels which is different from men. There is a shared language about the business and an assumption that the skills to run the business are in place. There is just a striking imbalance in the numbers of men and women doing the talking.

So what happens to the language of work for women at the career “bottle-neck” period around the mid-30s when many walk away because it’s not worth it or feel just plain stuck and written out of a senior management career? We know women are still doing most of the heavy lifting with parenting and caring despite some pioneering workplace changes. We know too that work at the top level requires long hours and weekend work. However, the perceived conflict between senior roles and family responsibilities is not the only explanation for disillusion. Women without children feel the same.

The mid-30s is the time when women, in particular, need encouragement. The language we use at this time when we talk to women about work is critical. A great beginning is this comment:

“Susan Colantuono (Womens Agenda, December 4, 2014) is fed up with seeing women being continually told to do things they are often already doing, and will actually only get them so far – such as being assertive, speaking up, setting career goals, networking, honing their people skills and self-promotion. Colantuono believes that the answer is providing women with opportunities to learn the importance of understanding business and financial acumen in order to reach executive roles.”

But it’s time to look at all opportunities for development offered in the workplace and consider the language and program content with fresh eyes. A big step would be to provide rigorous leadership and executive development programs for both men and women at their career mid-point offering the same access to knowledge, mentors and opportunities.

Instead of “women in leadership programs” let’s have programs with equal numbers of men and women in small groups to tackle the hard stuff of work and leadership. All would benefit from programs which develop ease and familiarity with that shared language early on.

The programs could:

– provide financial analysis training on the company or firm’s annual results, making market comparisons;

– involve planning on how to improve the results;

– offer ideas on coping strategies for long hours at work;

– plan for introducing internal quotas for women in leadership positions.

Men and women will continue to network separately, but let’s make sure that no one is missing out in the workplace because of the perception that women need a language which is different, especially at that critical career mid-point.

Cheryl Vardon is an experienced chief executive and has led public, private and non-profit organisations at state and national levels.

This article was originally published at the AFR: http://www.afr.com/p/opinion/what_women_talk_about_when_they_jCpFc9JFLpJXruGV3Dr5vM#

Sectors: Business

Why tech should give back

By Raji Ambikairajah | November 26th, 2014

Amazon, Google, eBay and Facebook. Household names and some of the most disruptive technology businesses of their time. Everyone in the ICT industry has a wealth of knowledge on the technology behind these organisations, but how much do you know about their giving? And does it even matter?

As it turns out, it does matter, if you want to attract and retain top talent and have a competitive advantage. In 2014, PWC reports that 65% of people globally want to work for an organisation with a powerful social conscience. This shift has largely been driven by the rapidly growing numbers of Gen Y entering the workforce every year. Top Gen Y talent places strong expectations for their jobs and careers to have a clear sense of purpose and impact in the world. In addition, emerging markets like India, Vietnam and China, all of which have strong impact on the ICT industry, have workforces that increasingly want to be engaged with organisations that have a core philosophy around social good.

Companies like IBM have taken the lead in recognising the business sense in service and social responsibility. They have established the IBM Corporate Service Corps, which sends 500 young leaders annually on team assignments, across 30 countries in the developing world. Employees have 2 months of training while working full-time and then spend a month on the ground tackling a social issue. The result? Over 1000 social projects completed, increase in retention, leadership and skills development of talent through volunteerism.

Technology companies have 3 great resources to give: time (people), talent (skills and knowledge) and treasure (funds and products) to address the social issues of today. As an example, Salesforce use an integrated philanthropic approach, called the 1-1-1 model, based on a simple idea: leverage 1% of the company’s product, equity and time to improve global communities.

This is a model that Atlassian adapted, where its foundation donates 1% of its annual profit to charities, 1% of employee time to social projects and 1% of the company equity donated to the Atlassian foundation, whose vision is to advance humanity through the power of software and education. Meaningful giving is firmly embedded in Atlassian’s company culture and values, and founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar walk the talk themselves. It’s no coincidence that in 2014, Atlassian was voted Number 1 in BRW’s Best Places to Work list.

Beyond the feel good factor, what else is in it for ICT companies to be more engaged with social causes? Out of all sectors, ICT is playing an integral role in the rise of social innovation. Technology drives change and the process of inventing and implementing novel solutions to social problems puts the ICT sector in a very unique position to contribute to a sustainable society. Along with the increasing focus on impact investing, which has influenced the establishment of 4 social trading platforms since 2010, the combination of technology and social impact is rapidly placing the ICT sector on the cusp of a new era of growth.

So, how can individuals and ICT companies kick-start their giving mindset and practices in 2015? Australian technology expert and philanthropist, Daniel Petre, has spoken about how meaningful giving takes a 6-pronged approach: (a) apply a work-like energy and focus to philanthropy, (b) find something that you genuinely care about, (c) choose organisations with a track record of being able to move the dial, (d) only support activities that are worthy, do not fund mediocrity, (e) invest a meaningful amount of money, invest deep and make an impact (f) measure performance.

A non-profit organisation that has attracted the interest of technology companies and the ICT sector is Room to Read. Its founder, John Wood, left Microsoft in the late 1990s to establish Room to Read, which is focused on providing a quality education to children across Asia and Africa. His business acumen and experience as a Microsoft executive ensured that Room to Read was founded on business principles. He insisted on strong metrics, transparency, low overheads, efficiency and a results-focused approach. Business principles + social conscience = phenomenal sustainable impact. Room to Read recognises education as the game-changer in breaking the cycle of poverty. Since 2011, every year, Room to Read has opened up new libraries at a faster rate than McDonalds can open up new restaurants. As of 2014, the organisation has reached 8.8 million children and is on track to reach 10 million children by the end of 2015.

The dot-com boom was Version 1.0 for the ICT sector. A new opportunity and era has arrived. Combine technology and meaningful giving to create Version 2.0. This time, for the greater good.

This op-ed was originally published at Rust Report: http://www.rustreport.com.au/issues/latestissue/why-tech-should-give-back-%E2%80%93-dr-raji-ambikairajah/