A80pxtreen article earlier this week suggested something usefully subversive.

It had wonderful headline – ‘one woman at the top is enough for male bosses’.

A study, published in Senior Management, conducted amongst over 1000 companies and many sectors reported that ‘once a company has appointed one woman to a top tier job, the chances of a second woman landing an elite position at the same firm drop substantially – by about 50%.’

If you’re feeling cynical, then one conclusion is that the PR value from one female appointment is quite enough thank you.  I like to be cynicism-free for at least one month a year. April’s good because of the Fool thing on day 1.

image00So if that cynical explanation won’t do – what’s going on?  I’m going to suggest that goals, targets, and ticking boxes are the problem.

Which is tricky as just about all management advice and help concentrates on how to set, review, and meet targets.

An example: think of all those 5 point consumer surveys you are routinely invited to fill in after making a purchase. Is a box being ticked (consumer feedback done, check), or is that company really pleased to see you? And oddly, because a ‘feedback’ box has been ticked, do you then detect zilch interest in anything else you may want to suggest?
There’s something here about a trade off – or confusion – between the symbol of something and ….the actual thing. And it affects the most complex, moral issues.

And equality is a moral issue, no?

In 2009 a team from Toronto university published a paper entitled ‘Do green products make us better people’? The proposition was that while people’s moral values and decisions have been tested and researched to destruction, it has always been in isolation.

In real life, our self-perception – especially around moral behaviours – is constantly re-calibrated according to actions we have just taken. (Salad today after cream buns yesterday? And vice versa?).  In this ingeniously designed study, the altruism and environmental attitudes and behaviours of students were measured before and after some were exposed to retail green products and others were encouraged to purchase retail green products.

Just being exposed to green products increased pro-social behaviour. But purchase acted as a good deed, as moral credentials, that then licensed less altruistic behaviour. The purchase was like ticking a box. The box of ‘I’m a good person’.

No wonder ‘those second women’ won’t land an ‘elite position’. The Board feels so virtuous after 1 appointment that then anything goes.

It’s the box ticking. It really has got to stop.

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