Leading The Transition From Female Empowerment To Gender Inclusion
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As a woman in a leading position, I am very pleased to see that the conversation on women in the workplace has evolved from female empowerment to gender inclusion. Progressive and leading businesses realize the strategic benefit of creating an equal-level playing field for both men and women. We are, as a society, moving from female inclusion being a tactical consideration to a strategic directive by senior leadership. I am especially proud as an Arab- Australian woman of the great advancements in inclusion underway across the Middle East, with leading women from the region owning the charge. Female empowerment has enabled women to break into the workplace; now that we are here, the goal is to advance our positions within the corporate world.
There are many ways and opportunities to facilitate this change, not just for female leaders, but also women in general to step up and move forward within their working lives. Here are three of my favorite and especially compelling thoughts on inclusion in the workplace:
1. Choose your seat wisely
From an inclusion perspective, I think that choosing your seat wisely is a fundamental consideration for involvement in strategic meetings. You should ensure that you are faced in front of, or very close to the key decision maker(s). This is vital to ensuring that when at the table, you are in a position where your points of view can be heard and appreciated. This non-verbal message of where you choose to sit also indicates that you have relevant and worthy ideas and insights to contribute. It is not uncommon to see women contributing to discussion with a “buffer” on her contribution- typically some apologetic phrase, such as: “I don’t know if this is relevant here,” or “I could be mistaken, but…” Instead, sit in a “power seat” and deliver your points of view with confidence.
Organizations such as the 30% Club are making excellent strides in paving the way for more female leaders to be present on the boards of leading multinational organizations. Female leaders on the board will soon become the new norm, and it is my hope that with this sustainable framework being implemented at the board level of market-moving corporates, inclusion across all levels of organizations will become a systemic standard practice, because there is clearly a case for business.
2. Be the change you want to see in the workplace
Effecting positive change in the workplace begins with yourself. If we all sat around and waited for policy changes to occur before we took notice and adopted the change, we would be getting nowhere extremely quickly. Change starts with an individual who notices a gap and endeavors to fill it. Removing unconscious biases is integral to designing behavioral change. Small changes in the workplace can lead to the removal of these biases, and create opportunities for both men and women to succeed and play to each other’s strengths. This scenario is the ideal working model in an office environment. For example, the law in the UAE stipulates 45 calendar days for women working in the private sector for maternity leave.
As the General Manager of Servcorp, I use my authority to ask the pertinent question to my female mother-to-be employees: “How much time do you need?” Allowing women to take the time they require allows them to fully “return” to work both physically and mentally after bringing their new child into the world. Given the proper resources and ability to take the time required, “we” don’t have to have this bias that women need to take a backseat in their careers because of motherhood. Another way to be a behavioral designer is for each of us to acknowledge that we have the potential to become an agent of change to and for ourselves. This not only means supporting others, but for women to take steps to their own self-empowerment, by recognizing and overcoming our own mental barriers and self-imposed restrictions, which may be inadvertently preventing us from reaching that level of inclusion in our places of work. It is an adage, but very relevant: change starts from within.
3. Find your opportunities, and take advantage of existing resources
I am a proud board member of Reach, a mentoring program that aims to help women advance in their careers. Mentoring is a great platform for career advancement, not just for the mentee, but for the mentor as well. By ensuring a proportionate focus on accessibility to senior professionals and cross-sector mentors and role models for both men and women alike, there is much inspiration, ideas, and insights that can emerge. Mentorship provides many positive attributes for both the mentor and the mentee through increasing leadership skills, boosting confidence, and improving communication skills. I encourage women to look for opportunities to grow and advance through programs like Reach.
I would like to end with an inspiring story that is an entrepreneur’s dream. Servcorp, where I lead as a General Manager, today is a large multinational corporation and the global provider of flexible workspace solutions. What is lesser known is that our company was founded many years ago as the vision of one man, our founder and CEO, Alfred Moufarrige. His vision was brought to life through organic and sustainable growth. He has long since understood the value of inclusion, and has developed an entity that sees men and women in leading positions. Now, with over 160 locations globally, we are proud to say that most of our leadership team are female.
In fact, 80% of our global workforce are women. We have also just rolled out a global co-working template in the region that allows for a collaborative working environment with leading infrastructure and resources to help drive businesses forward. The way we work is changing and how we work is changing thanks to technology, and the multitude of resources that we have now to take an innovative idea and bring it to life. Through our collective actions to pave the way for great inclusion, the economy becomes more sustainable and the opportunities for greater work life balance are available to both women and men.