The Steep Road of Courageous Inclusion

How are you holding up these days?

As policy makers go about renewing and extending contact restrictions, I find myself suspended in between a mild euphoria for the comfort of working from home and the heartbreaking longing for human contacts. It is a constant emotional rollercoaster that consumes energy, so that I get more easily fatigued and need more sleep.

But that is not all. I also find that I am too often falling into the trap of spending more time with household chores, not only more than before – which is understandable since many external services are unavailable – but also much more than my husband does. It turns out that we are just like the Western World average (see the chart below, showing the unpaid care work before and during pandemic, by gender, in US, UK, France, Germany and Italy)

This is one of the signals that indicate how easy it is to “fall back” into traditional roles when we are “distanced” form others. Many say that the pandemic has severely slowed down progress on gender equality (McKinsey claims the pandemic has pushed women ten years back in their progress towards equality).

Since we know from extensive studies that gender diversity correlates with both profitability and value creation, it is imperative for Companies and Individual Leaders to focus on addressing this new challenge.

As a leader who always advocated for gender diversity, I know that creating inclusion is never easy. But the results can be very rewarding.

Like in one case, between 2004 and 2008, when Norwegian Chemical Company Yara separated from the mother company Norsk Hydro; at the time we had very few women in key management positions in Yara, so 5 of us went to the CEO and shared our concerns that we were not using the full potential of our diverse talents, a critical vulnerability as we were walking away from the larger mother company. We offered our help. We knew that we had many diversities in our international organisation, but women and non-Scandinavians were not visible. We studied and prepared a program of awareness and inclusion. For five years we carried on this program in addition to our regular jobs – under the informal blessing of our CEO – using our spare time and our department’s budget, often in conflict with our own direct reporting lines. We helped people understand how diversity IS a challenge, how bringing to the decision table people with different ideas and perspectives CAN CREATE FRICTIONS, misunderstandings and delay, at the beginning; BUT also that learning to invest in a more open dialogue is where long term value is created form the disagreements and the diversity of ideas. We ended up with significant progress in making invisible talents visible and finally the program was officially picked up by HR. We had pioneered an approach that made great business sense and was then formally continued.

The Yara case has been one of the foundation for much of the leadership development work that we now do in Grooa, helping organisations build the environment and the skills necessary to have courageous open dialogues where diversity of ideas becomes an asset and a strong value generator.

Yet there is also something else that we recommend each female leader must do: remember that “distance” makes us more uncertain, while “togetherness” makes us stronger. As Business Women, we need to learn to give ourselves permission to cultivate a learning space for ourselves, together with other women.

In these days, I am working with many fabulous women and we often exchange experiences and recipes. My own recipe is simple:

1. Carve out some moment of non-time – doing nothing – and smile. Resist the temptation to do too much. Fun and time off are needed to recharge our mental and emotional strength.

2. When you talk with other people, learn to focus on the dialogue and the learning, not on what people might mean or what they might think of you or what they might expect that you say; focus on what they are trying to express, get curious and help them to express it. Enjoy the calmness and relief that comes from letting go of constantly defending and/or protecting yourself or having all the answers. Enjoy being surprised and learn to confidently say “WOW, thanks, that’s a great question, a new angle, I have no idea, tell me more!”

3. Network with other women, possibly also from other companies; invest in broadening your reach in order to hear from other Role Models and feel less alone.

As mentioned in the January Newsletter, we are working on bringing “Courageous Inclusive Conversations” to business teams and we are also launching a major Executives and Board Women initiative (by invitation only) to support extended networking: the LIS WOMAN membership. (Everything online for the time being, hopefully with some in person events by the end of the year.)

Do not hesitate to get back to me if you wish to hear more about anyone of these initiatives.

Take care and continue to courageously …
… Lead with a Smile!

Laura Lozza
Managing Partner, Grooa AS
Registered company address: Manglerudveien 93, 0678 Oslo (Norway)
Visiting address: Grooa Inspiria Learning Center, Den Hiek 33, 5421XG Gemert (Netherlands)

More about Courageous Inclusive Conversations and more about the LIS WOMAN Program:

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