Talking Point

12 Diverse Days of Christmas #6 & 7

Lisa Norcross is Senior Vice-President of Operational Excellence at E.ON. She is a mechanical engineer with more than 24 years of experience of driving operational transformation and performance improvement across a wide range of industries, both as a consultant for McKinsey and as a functional leader.

She is passionate about delivering real bottom line impact, enabling other leaders to be successful on their change journeys and supporting other women in developing their careers. Outside of work, Lisa enjoys outdoors activities cycling, skiing, swimming, socialising with friends and relaxing with a glass of wine and a good book.

One day I am going to try and persuade her to take part in a relay tri….or maybe a whole tri.

I’m delighted she has written this and I am sorry I missed posting yesterday………..  

“If you had asked me whether I thought it was important to promote diversity when I first started my career almost 25 years ago, I would have been quite dismissive. I had a quite naïve and idealistic belief that the most important thing was for me to get on and do a good job, and that that would be recognised and rewarded. I also believed that it was somehow anti-feminist to put special focus on enabling women to further their careers. All these years later, I see things somewhat differently.

“There is plenty of research that demonstrates that businesses with a balance of men and women in the C-Suite perform better than ones with all male leadership teams. However, the percentage of women in C-Suite roles is still very low. McKinsey’s research into women in the workplace shows that while the percentage of women and men at entry level is roughly equal, the percentage of women drops at every step up the ladder. At the first step up only 72 women are promoted for every 100 men. This “broken rung” on the first step is the biggest obstacle that women face on the path to leadership.

“I am an engineer and I have worked in operations almost my whole career, and then mostly in operations in heavy industries. During that time I also worked for 8 years at one of the top management consulting firms in the world as an operations expert. I have always been in a very small minority of women wherever I have worked, although I have nearly always worked in internationally diverse teams. I must say that I have never experienced overt sexism, and it is only as I have got more senior that I have noticed the subtle ways that women are disadvantaged as they seek to advance their careers.

“There are many reasons why it is tougher for women to progress than men (e.g., unclear or unfair processes, unconscious bias) but rather than discuss those, I would like to share an observation. When I got to a certain level of seniority, I realised that more junior male colleagues were proactively trying to build a relationship with me, for example by offering support on specific topics, or asking me for help or support. Not one female colleague ever did this and I also realised that I had never done anything like this myself. As I said earlier, I think I was conditioned to believe that if I did a good job, that would be recognised and rewarded. I gradually realised that you have to be more proactive: you have to look for people higher up in the organisation who can potentially help you, you have to be willing to get to know them, and when the time comes, to ask them for help. Ever since then, I have actively tried to create opportunities for the women around me and to encourage them to look for sponsors who can help them.

“So, if there is one thing that I wish leaders at all levels would do, it would be to be more proactive about supporting and promoting the talented women in their organisations. If you are in a leadership position, ask yourself how many people are you actively sponsoring? Are any of them women? Are there any women in your organisation who you think could benefit from your sponsorship? If yes, please go and have a conversation with them about it!”

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