Yesterday I watched a panel discussion on a report published recently by KPMG. The report is called ‘Cracking the Code’ and it considers ten widely held assumptions about women and their careers in depth, before exposing each as a myth. On the panel were Susan Vinnicombe, Professor of Women and Leadership at Cranfield University; Andrew McEachern, Global Director of People and Talent Development at Norton Rose Fulbright; and Melanie Richards, Partner and Vice Chairman and KPMG.
One of the myths the report looks at is that women ‘aren’t ambitious’. In fact, the report shows that women are just as ambitious as men, but that they demonstrate that ambition in different ways. Women are more cautious in the way they drive their careers forward, waiting longer before seeking promotion, primarily to be sure that it is what they want.
Andrew cited a great example of a male lawyer just two years into his training contract who knew already that he wanted to make partner in the firm. By contrast, female lawyers at the same stage commonly wait up to 10 years before being sure that they want to make the same move. Like many firms, NRF runs a leadership development programme for high potential women; and after participating in the programme, women are far more likely to push for promotion to partner level.
I think this story shows the importance of empathy as a leadership quality; the need for team leaders to ask questions rather than to make assumptions. We’ve written before about the importance of sharing stories to grow understanding within teams. Hearing first hand what it’s like to be ‘the other’ in a situation builds empathy and helps leaders to see that contribution comes in many forms. Leaders need to seek out the potential in their teams, rather than simply to reward ambition – because the most talented colleagues are not always the ones who shout the loudest.