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Dare We Say the “Q” Word? Do you have a leak in your talent pileline? By: Dr. Pat Heim and Tammy Hughes

DiversityBusiness.com Article/- Let’s start with quotas…. We would like to talk to you about hiring quotas. Pat has not been a fan of them her entire working life, but that may be changing. Let us explain our rationale and then we would like you to give you our your two cents.

Pat’s first job in business was with an aerospace company. Because the primary customer was the government 10% of employees working on the government projects (all the work) had to be women or minorities. Did the managers fill the ranks with competent, stellar minorities and females? No. The way management saw it, 10% of employment slots were turned over to the first minority or woman who arrived for an interview and who could chew gum and walk -- even better if the interviewee was a minority woman -- you got double credit. Competency was never on the radar screen for consideration.

This new hire was not expected to contribute, was not part of the team and in fact was often put in an office (pre-cubical) with only a desk, no phone (who were they going to call?) and no file cabinet (what were they going to file?).

It didn't take long for the new hire to catch on to their outsider status and they became VERY CRANKY. This reinforced opinions about "those people" being difficult. What a mess. Pat decided quotas were not the way to go.

Around this time, early 80s, Affirmative Action became more common and women as well as minorities were hired on a regular basis. This was not forced but it was expected. Women began to fill the employment and management pipeline. Pat was hopeful.

And then in the late 80s, as some of those women hit middle management they began to leave. The pattern was consistent. In their exit interviews these women stated they were leaving to stay home with their families. In reality, they either started their own businesses (as Pat did, yes, she was one of the fed-up) or chose reemployment with the competition.

Throughout the 90s male senior executives quite proudly pointed to the number of women in their middle management ranks. Pat would point out how they had never had any women in senior management in their company history. The chorus of senior management would reply, "They are in the pipeline." For 20 years we have been pointing out to companies their pipelines are leaking badly, consistently, everywhere.

Then these white men in senior management would point to the exit interview "Well, what are we to do -- they go home to be with their babies?"

But companies that really care to find out the truth have done "regretted-loss" studies of women who have left -- who they wished had stayed. Although these women stated “family” as their reason in the exit interview, these studies found two years later these women were self-employed or were working for the competition. When these women were asked why they were not more forthcoming in the exit interview consistently they said they did not want to “burn bridges”.

So why do such top performing women leave? In our experience interviewing hundreds of them it is not one or 10 big things but rather a 1000 little cuts:

  • male peers spend less time in grade
  • male peers are promoted on potential, women are promoted on proven track record
  • the tone of meetings is combative not collaborative
  • the language of men is perceived as strong, women's language weak
  • men's directive management style preferred, women's collaborative style wimpy


There are thousands of ways that men and women do work differently. Not right or wrong or good or bad, just different. But if you are a woman and a male senior executive is judging you there is a good chance he will judge you by his standards and you will be found wanting. How long do you fight if you have other options?

The percent of women in management in the US in 1995 was 48% in 2009 it was 51% -- parity and holding. The number of officer positions for women in US Fortune 500 Corporations in 1995 was 8.7% in 2009 it was 15.7%. But nothing has changed since 2002 when it was 15.7%. The same is true with board seats with 9.6% in 1995 and 15.2% in 2009 with 14.7% in 2005. http://www.catalyst.org/publication/206/women-in-us-management

This pipeline strategy is not working at the senior levels.

Let’s switch now and focus on pipeline leaks…..

While delivering many sessions this year to Executive teams, we’ve heard an interesting comment over and over again. As we begin our work with them, we typically ask for the gender representation of a group. More often than not, at these very senior levels, we find the women are represented in smaller numbers.

What’s been interesting is that when we ask for this information, the woman who is providing us with the gender ratio will often say something like “but she doesn’t count, she acts just like a man”. We’ve thought about this a lot and we think there are several possibilities that could be playing out here:

  • Both men and women judge women by women’s rules. So, if a woman is leading in a way that men typically do, both men and women will notice that and it often will not seem right to them.
  • Women operate under the Power Dead-Even Rule [where power is shared and no one is above or below in regard to power]. That is, women tend to disapprove when a woman exhibits more power and will often respond negatively toward a woman in a senior level position.
  • Both men and women have a natural core of strengths. We know from the research that men and women tend to fall in the middle of the bell curve on certain tendencies and behaviors. Because there are two tails to every bell curve, not every man and every woman are represented in the middle of the bell curve. If this woman’s natural tendencies do not fall in the middle of the bell curve, she may behave in a way that is completely natural for her and that may not be appreciated by women who tend to fall more toward the middle of the bell curve.
  • It is possible, however, that women in these senior positions, have learned to behave more like men in order to be successful inside the organizational culture [which defines what a leader looks/sounds like]. This means that the woman has had to exert an abundance of physiological energy into Flexing Her Style [the 2nd level of options we discuss in GenderSpeak]. This can be extremely difficult to do, let alone sustain over long periods of time.

A fundamental goal of our group, and the work we do, is to help organizations understand both sets of tools available in the male and female cultures so that people can operate out of their natural strengths.

If your organization hires people who are diverse, and shortly thereafter they realize that they must behave in a certain way because that is the only acceptable way to lead, then people will be forced to abandon their natural strengths and behave in a way that’s not comfortable for them. Doing this on occasion makes sense. Doing this all the time sacrifices the very diversity you hired. You might even be forcing people to consistently behave like the other gender in order to be successful. If your employees are forced to flex their style continually, you’re probably not getting the best contribution out of them and you will often find a leak develops in your talent pipeline.

By the way, this scenario could be the parallel opposite. However, we have never heard the comment when asking about the gender ratio of a group “but he doesn’t count, he acts just like a woman”.

And finally back to Quotas……

One company in the world has taken on the challenge to change the course of the leaky pipeline problem. In the spring of 2010 Deutsche Telekom announced that by 2015 30% of their senior and middle management positions worldwide would be filled by women -- and they called it a quota. Currently women fill 12% of those positions; there are no women on their 8 member executive committee and only 3 among the 20 director advisory board. Deutsche Telekom is BIG with 15,000 management positions. Their CEO René Obermann explained “Having a greater number of women at the top will quite simply enable us to operate better. Taking on more women in management positions is not about the enforcement of misconstrued egalitarianism. It is a matter of social fairness and a categorical necessity for our success.”

Will the Deutsche Telekom experiment work? Will having women present change the tone and cause women who would have left to feel more comfortable? Or will having quotas cause rancor and resentment across the gender divide? We’ve seen the problems quotas cause but we also know that 2 decades of waiting for the pipeline to produce women at the top is a fantasy.

Right now what Deutsche Telekom is doing is a grand experiment and we are deeply honored to say they have asked the Heim Group to work with them in making this transition. We can't wait.

Dr. Pat Heim, CEO and Founder | Tammy Hughes, President | The Heim Group, LLC | www.heimgroup.com |

About DiversityBusiness.com
Launched in 1999, DiversityBusiness, with over 50,000 members, is the largest organization of diversity owned businesses throughout the United States that provide goods and services to Fortune 1000 companies, government agencies, and colleges and universities. DiversityBusiness provides research and data collection services for diversity including the "Top 50 Organizations for Multicultural Business Opportunities", "Top 500 Diversity Owned Companies in America", and others. Its research has been recognized and published by Forbes Magazine, Business Week and thousands of other print and internet publications. The site has gained national recognition and has won numerous awards for its content and design. DiversityBusiness reaches more diverse suppliers and communicates more information to them on a more frequent basis then all other organizations combined. We also communicate with mainstream businesses, government agencies and educational institutions with information related to diversity. Our magazine reaches over 300,000 readers, a monthly e-newsletter that reaches 2.4 million, and website visitors of 1.2 million a month. It is a leading provider of Supplier Diversity management tools and has the most widely distributed Diversity magazine in the United States. DiversityBusiness.com is produced by Computer Consulting Associates International Inc. (CCAii.com) of Southport, CT. Founded in 1980.


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