The workplace has so overwhelmingly changed since the 1950s. Yet many of the leadership and management programs, policies and practices still in use today at many large corporations had their philosophical beginnings back then, with men planning how to best lead and manage huge workforces comprised almost entirely of men.
The marketplace itself has undergone dramatic changes. Women today dominate purchase decisions in virtually every consumer category. Yet many of the marketing strategies, selling techniques and buying assumptions can be traced back to the thoughts and actions of men and how they’re inclined to sell and buy cars, homes, computers, food, insurance and health care.
The way companies have worked in the past may not be the best way to work in the future and prior success is not necessarily a guarantee of that in the future.
What’s not being taken into account and brought into balance is the complementary way that many women think and act when it comes to their leadership, management and business strategy. Unfortunately, several large companies today without this line of sight fall into a women-focused initiatives frenzy.
They send women to universities for leadership and management development, put them through sales-training programs, have them role-play assertiveness in conflict-resolution workshops, all instructing women how to behave like men to survive and advance in the world of business.
They’re singularly focused on reaching numeric goals and not encouraging culture change, hoping that addressing one agenda will eventually take care of the other.
While producing some modest inroads, these and other decades-old programs haven’t helped women advance in male-designed corporations.
Women in male-designed corporations
The major reason is that the mind-set that creates these programs, with the best of intentions, is not acknowledging the environment that women are coming into. It’s not recognising the value that women bring in thinking differently from men when solving problems or making decisions and actively seeking to blend the talents and skills of men and women – at all levels of leadership.
Established businesses often fail to discover breakthroughs primarily because they stick to their rigid formulas rather than pursue new ways of thinking. Like mosquitoes stuck in amber, these large corporations remain frozen in the past while entrepreneurial companies led by men and women, across all industries, are nimbly moving forward and shaping this new business world.
Forward-thinking entrepreneurs are seeking out and capitalising on the blended instincts of their leaders and managers and not focused on fixing women to act like men and adhere to a limited paradigm of business.
They’re challenging conventional wisdom and running circles around the behemoths by being more fluid and flexible in policies and procedures. And they’re constantly seeking innovative ideas and strategies to improve business operations and grow their markets. They are closer to the pulse of the marketplace and realising there is more than one business model and path to success. Two of our clients are involved in such a pursuit.
In 2008, American Express reviewed the composition of its workforce and discovered something surprising and disappointing given all its efforts to create greater gender balance within its leadership ranks. While women made up more than half its employees, and a third of the top 500 positions, women were disproportionately less prevalent at the senior level and practically nonexistent at the top. Company leaders set out to discover why.
One finding across the studies was perplexing and its potential solution “elusive,” according to Valerie Grillo, American Express’ chief diversity officer. “We found the higher a woman rose in the company, the more male-influenced the environment became around her,” she said.
“After 15 years of driving for gender equality, the gender balance had not changed at American Express precisely because of the culture at its most senior-most levels.”
“At historic companies like ours, it can be easy to rely on approaches that have worked in the past,” Grillo said. “But by taking the time to teach our leaders,” to appreciate diversity, she said, “we shifted mind-sets. It was an ‘aha!’ moment for many of our executives, and almost immediately we started to see a positive change.
“As a customer-centric organisation, creating an inclusive culture is the only way for us succeed,” Grillo added. “We have a lot of diverse talent here, both in ideas and background. Ensuring they can be their true selves has helped us to connect and better service our customers in innovative ways.”
Today, American Express, a client of our firm since 2002, has had some of the highest percentages of women in its senior management and leadership ranks. President Ed Gilligan said: “We know in order to succeed we must create a workplace that embraces diverse opinions and empowers all employees to reach their highest potential. This spirit of inclusiveness enables us to make better decisions today to accelerate our growth for tomorrow.”
Realising that just hiring more women doesn’t solve the problem was Deloitte’s breakthrough insight. Before its aha! moment, the firm couldn’t explain the high turnover of women in its North America division, a trend that was costing the company tens of millions of dollars every year.
The company, another client of ours, was losing more women than it was hiring. And in exit interviews, the departing women didn’t offer any specific reason why they were opting out, aside for personal or family-related causes. They didn’t want to burn bridges by speaking about real reasons for their leaving or risk being tagged as negative by competing firms.
When we conducted post-exit interviews several months after their departures, we discovered the reasons why Deloitte’s women executives were quitting. They did not feel valued in what they deemed a very male-influenced environment and many believed they would never make partner.
Deloitte realised that its focus on doing things “by the numbers” was costing them a lot and getting the company nowhere. It had spent money to get talent only to lose it because of the environment.
Once the company saw past the numbers, it made more valuable discoveries: Deloitte learned that men and women don’t often think through issues, make decisions, lead teams and engage clients in the same fashion.
Ultimately, they came to the game-changing realisation that it’s not merely a balance in numbers but the balance in contribution that gives a sense of satisfaction and worth to men and women individually and economic value to the organisation as a whole.
Deloitte’s new insights changed the mind-set of the organisation. Managers realised how much the company’s diverse client base valued the different perspectives brought by Deloitte women and began to view partnership in a new light.
It became the first organisation in its industry to focus on retaining women and men as partners with less than full-time work commitments. In a little less than two years, the turnover rate of women in the accounting division dropped from 27 percent to 11 percent.
In our highly developed global business community where new ideas and talent are increasingly in short supply, the successful organisations today are led by men and women with an entrepreneurial spirit – leaders who recognise that there’s a deeper merit in gender diversity and committed to change beyond quotas, sameness-thinking and one-size-fits-all meritocracies.
The successful companies will be those, regardless of size, who will secure and use the best talent in the marketplace by embracing gender equality in value and welcoming diversity of thought.
From Buffy To Business: Sarah Michelle Gellar Opens Up About How Hollywood Helped Prepare Her for Launching A Company
Sarah Michelle Gellar and her co-founders share lessons learned and how acting helped her deal with rejection and how being a celebrity in the startup world can have its drawbacks.
Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. With a turbulent economy, companies cutting jobs and employees fearful they’ll be replaced by robots, people of all backgrounds are looking to take control of their financial future and pursue their passion, including celebrities.
Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney and Victoria Beckham are just some of the stars who decided to transition from La La land to entrepreneurial land.
And now Sarah Michelle Gellar, best known as the star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is also part of the startup world. The actress-turned-entrepreneur joined forces with friends who are also parents, Galit Laibow and Greg Fleishman, to launch Foodstirs in 2015. The DIY baking company, which sells kits and mixes, wants to provide parents fun, yet simple desserts for their children, with a focus on organic, ethically and sustainably-sourced ingredients.
“We’re determined to help bakers around the world take pride in their pantries, joy in their treats, and time together in the heart of the home,” is part of their mission.
After raising a reported $5 million, the company has expanded beyond just ecommerce; Foodstirs is now in approximately 7,500 stores, including Whole Foods.
We caught up with her before the event to chat about finding success, her journey and lessons she learned.
Before you got into the world of entrepreneurship, you were best known for your acting. Why did you decide to jump into this world?
I always knew I wanted to do more than just be an actor for hire. I thought producing might be enough, but I realised I still desired more. That’s when I realised I could utilise my great existing platform and actually be a part of creating something tangible. It’s been such an interesting process, learning how much of my existing skill set is applicable to being an entrepreneur.
Why did you decide to have a focus on food?
Food has always been an important part of my life, as it should be for everyone, but that magnified once I had children. Our kids were so interested in baking, yet there was no readily available brand that had the attributes we would want and expect – organic, ethically sourced, easy and affordable that also tasted amazing.
What has been the mantra that has helped you find success as an entrepreneur?
The one thing being an actor prepares you for is rejection. I spent the better part of my life facing and dealing with rejection, and I have never let it stop me from achieving something I was passionate about. When it comes to business, for me the word “no” is just the first step to yes. That rejection inspires me to work harder, and prove those no’s to be a mistake.
What is something that would surprise people about your entrepreneurial journey?
I think people assume that being a celebrity makes it easier to raise money and achieve mass distribution and that is not the case. Maybe it gets you in a door, as a novelty, but then you have so much more to prove.
What is one piece of advice you will share ?
This piece of advice came from Galit Laibow – one of my two amazing partners along with Greg Fleishman. Always surround yourself with people who are smarter and know more than you do. We have such an incredible group of advisors with vast experience in all areas of business that we can call on at all times. Their knowledge is invaluable.
What is on the horizon for you?
We just achieved wide retail distribution (in over 7,500 stores) so our main focus at the moment is supporting our stores through quarter four and at the same time dialing in our innovation pipeline for 2018.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Farah Fortune Of African Star Communications On Choosing The Right Clients
Publicist extraordinaire Farah Fortune of African Star Communications built her business not by courting big clients, but by backing young up-and-comers, and growing her brand right alongside theirs.
- Player: Farah Fortune
- Company: African Star Communications
- Established: 2008
- Contact: +27 (0)79 826 1955, firstname.lastname@example.org
The 36-year-old publicist launched her celebrity PR business in 2008, with R1 000 in her pocket — she spent R589 of that on registering a CC and the rest on business cards.
From working on her bedroom floor and sharing two-minute noodles with her daughter as she struggled to survive, today African Star Communications represents high-profile rappers such as K.O and Solo, and stand-up comedians Loyiso Gola and Jason Goliath.
She has an office in Nigeria and plans to open two new offices in Botswana and Ghana.
You pulled yourself up by your bootstraps. How did you overcome the hurdles?
I lost my first business to a crooked partner in 2006. I was determined to try again and I went in search of funding, but no-one would give me money.
When the last thing I had to feed my child was a mouldy piece of cheese, I went back to work for a PR company, earning R12 000 a month, managing accounts worth millions. I hated every minute of it. In June 2008, when my CC registration came through, I walked out the door.
My first pitch was for a small charity day that AIG hosted for Manchester United in Johannesburg. I was the only woman in the reception area, but my offer to do the job for R10 000 was irresistible and I signed my first client. That was just the beginning of a long struggle. I was broke for the next three years.
Friends bought my groceries, and I would feed my daughter and have her leftovers for dinner.
I couldn’t afford petrol so I walked from my house in Randburg to do pitches in Sandton in my takkies, and then changed my shoes at the client’s office. The only thing that kept me going was the belief that I could somehow make it work.
What was your big break?
In year three rapper AKA was about to release his first album. He pursued me for four months. Initially, I didn’t want to work with him, but his ambition won me over.
I’ve never regretted the decision. We signed a contract, and shortly after that more clients came my way, mostly for small events.
Working with AKA made me realise that my passion was for music and I decided to channel my energies into promoting South Africa hip-hop stars. That’s how I ended up specialising and finding my own niche in the crowded PR sector.
Our team convinced 8ta/Telkom to look at AKA for their ads and it worked. I branched into corporate PR after the celebrity side took off.
What made your business stand out from other PR companies?
First was affordability. Publicists do not come cheap. I signed up many young artists who had not yet hit the big time, and charged them as little as R4 000 a month to manage their publicity and help make them famous.
Taking on lots of small clients meant that I could spread the risk. We still structure our packages according to what clients can afford and I’ve kept the overheads low. To this day, I’ve never advertised.
Second was my focus on hip-hop. Before 2011, corporates were not interested in rappers and the scene was very much underground. I convinced Vodacom to sponsor a big hip-hop party with AKA as the star attraction.
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After that, many other corporates woke up and took advantage of the popularity of the local rap scene. I like to think I played a part in mainstreaming South African hip-hop.
How have you stayed relevant in a fickle industry?
Once the business was pumping, I built my own brand. I never planned to be in the spotlight, but the more I appeared in the media, the more I was able to build my clients’ profiles, and get bigger accounts.
I focused only on doing business-related interviews and people started to take me more seriously. I could not believe how many corporate contracts I did not win because I refused to sleep with the client.
It’s a disappointing reality of this business when you are young and female. Developing my own brand helped me to build a career based on respect and professionalism.
Ezlyn Barends Of DreamGirls On Igniting Passion
According to Ezlyn Barends of DreamGirls, great leadership is about finding and fostering passion in others. That’s how sustainable organisations are built — and grow.
- Player: Ezlyn Barends
- Company: The DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme
- EST: 2012
- Visit: dadfund.org
‘Lead from the back.’ That’s one of the leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela, and it’s an approach that has worked for Ezlyn Barends, a social entrepreneur and all-round high achiever who is passionate about empowerment.
Through The Dad Fund, launched by her father Lyndon Barends in honour of community leader Daniel Arthur Douman (DAD), she started the South African chapter of a US-based girl education and empowerment initiative, the DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme.
DreamGirls aims to increase the number of girls who complete high school and enter tertiary education. A total of 450 girls have participated so far, and all beneficiaries do community service, which extends the benefits of the programme even further.
Barends describes DreamGirls as a sisterhood of young female professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders who mentor and guide teen girls from poor communities to gain an education that will enable them to achieve success, so that in turn, they too can contribute positively and meaningfully to society.
What happens when you let go?
“One of most important things I have learnt is to let other people in your organisation take the lead,” says Barends. “That has been an important realisation for me as I am involved in many initiatives, which makes time a very precious resource.
“Teaming up with people who have the same values and vision as you do, letting go of the need to control — which is common among entrepreneurs — and empowering others in your organisation is key to success. That is how DreamGirls has grown and developed into a successful social business.”
It also means Barends isn’t alone in her passion to change lives, but has been instrumental in creating and fostering a group of individuals with the same goal.
Every entrepreneur has a finite number of hours in each day. Being able to spread the load amongst trusted individuals is key to growth — and growth is Barends’ ultimate goal, as it means more lives are touched and changed.
The power of passion
Barends has proved just how powerful a passion for helping others can be. When DreamGirls was launched, there was no budget, but her desire to do good and her commitment to the cause were so all-consuming that everything somehow fell into place.
It helped that a range of corporate donors came on board to help fund the programme. Since then the programme has received significant support from corporate South Africa in the form of funding and in-kind donations, facilitating workshops and events.
The ability to encourage and inspire others to take ownership has enabled three branches to flourish in Gauteng, the Western Cape and Polokwane, with further possibilities for growth in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Durban and Kimberley.
In the first two years, Barends ran DreamGirls full time, together with a team of women. Because of the passionate assistance of her team, she was able to complete an MBA in the UK in 2014, bringing valuable skills and insights back to the organisation.
“We have developed our own culture, which we call the DreamGirls way of doing things,” she says. “Because the organisation has been built on a specific set of values, it is about so much more than merely helping girls to get a tertiary qualification. The essence is about being helpful and supportive of everyone involved.”
With her team firmly in place, Barends has taken on a full-time job in business development at Microsoft. Being able to rely on others to run DreamGirls’ daily operations means she has more time to focus on strategic growth and creating greater financial sustainability for the programme.
“It has brought fresh perspective, and that’s one of the reasons why we have now decided to go the franchising route — simply because I had the time to step back and look at what we were trying to achieve a little differently.”
Applying the franchising model to a social enterprise
Equipped with an MBA, Barends has used the knowledge she acquired through her studies to continue improving the DreamGirls business model.
“Part of the process of letting go was to create a social franchising model that we are now in the process of rolling out,” she says.
Franchising the DreamGirls concept required her to systematise the business model first, to ensure that it can be replicated successfully.
That process in itself can be a real game changer for a social enterprise as it elevates operations to the next level, with the operating manual becoming a day-to-day ‘how-to’ guide for the organisation.
“We have documented and put together all of the training materials and tools required to run a branch of DreamGirls. Now we are seeking franchisees who are committed to becoming social entrepreneurs. The franchise system will enable us to cover our operational costs, which is necessary because corporate sponsors are understandably keener to fund the programme than its running costs.”
Franchising is certainly a quicker and more cost-effective way of scaling up when it is difficult to access capital, and the legwork has already been done.
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