A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about research that showed post-menopausal female whales were significantly likely to be found in leadership positions – that is, at the heads of herds of whales looking for food. http://www.forbes.com/sites/shelliekarabell/2015/03/08/a-model-for-executive-women-from-killer-whales/
I compared that research to the lack of human women in similar leadership positions – for example, as members of Boards of Directors. The inference was that female mammals of the sea apparently were building up credibility along with life experience during their lives in order to accede to this position, while female mammals in business were not – often being excluded from the senior management trajectory that propels executives into the board room.
Now there is new research showing that in fact women over the age of 55 are better suited to lead organizational change than most of their male counterparts!
Further, by not casting the recruitment net a bit wider – wide enough to encompass those oft-ignored women over the age of 55 – corporations are not landing the talent they need to solve today’s problems such as warp-speed technological change, slow-growth and global re-balancing. And it’s not just one industry in turmoil and in need of organizational change to survive. It’s every industry.
Resilience & Perspective
The research, The hidden talent: 10 ways to identify and retain transformational leaders, by Strategy& – the consulting business of PwC – with Hartill Consulting – surveyed more than 6,000 European professionals and found a shortage of leaders with strategist capabilities. Just 8% of those surveyed (fewer than one in ten) had the requisite skills to effect change. Those skills, says the report’s authors, include resilience, human perspective, a positive use of language, the ability to move between vision and detail, and the ability to figure out what to do when things don’t work – something that comes from a wide experience of settings, people, and even of failure.
The largest number of those surveyed who actually had these attributes were in fact women over the age of 55. But not only were these women being overlooked, they were often first in line when cutbacks and early retirement packages were being handed out.
“Historically women over the age of 55 would not have been an area of focus (for HR managers), but as the research suggests, this pool of talent might hold the key to transformation and in some cases, business survival,” Jessica Leitch, people and organization consultant at PwC told the Chartered Institution of Personnel and Development in London.
According to the report, a successful strategist leader is open to frank and honest feedback; however, the typical leader today may believe that the skills and methods that got him to his present position will continue to serve him in the future. So the findings would tend to encourage a change in recruitment and personnel development – focusing on vertical development: the ability to make decisions and function in complex situations – as well as on skills and competencies (horizontal development). Hiring a strategic leader “is not about finding successful operational managers and giving them a job title with the world ‘strategic’ in it,” Leitch’s commentary continues. “It’s about finding people who can think and work outside the existing system, who can see what needs to change and are able to persuade or inspire others to follow them.”
This is going to take some work on the HR and recruitment front – keeping an eye out for a group of people formerly considered “invisible” and then “seeing” them in a strategic leadership role. But the results of this research coupled with the aging of the world’s largest demographic group (the post WW2 Baby Boomers), suggest it is a shift in focus worth making- indeed, there could be too many of them to ignore. And it could help working women catch up with their female killer whale counterparts…
By Shellie Karabell