Re-Inventing Executive Search in Pakistan

Double Spiral Staircase Inside Vatican MuseumsThe time has come to re-invent Executive Search in Pakistan as the current way of doing executive search is detrimental for all parties involved; companies, candidates and search agencies.

Executive search was booming in 2006 and 2007. Opportunities in Pakistan were exploding. Banks discovered personal loans and credit cards as the new frontier. Telecoms were creeping into every nook and corner of the country and other industries were using the slip stream of a fast growing economy and a new emerging middle class. In addition the Middle East had an unquenchable thirst for relatively cheap Pakistani professionals creating a perfect storm for aspiring Pakistani career seekers. Companies didn’t know where to find the candidates to fill their vacancies. Salaries were skyrocketing and executive search companies had become very busy and began reaping solid returns. 

It was also the beginning of the end. Everybody jumped on the band wagon trying to cash in on the boom. The number of companies and individuals offering ‘executive search’ in Pakistan at some count reached more than 100. With so many people vested in this business segment the competition started its race to end at the proverbial bottom the moment the economy tanked and the number of vacancies dried up. Fees in the mid ’00’s at 2 months of the placed individuals annual salary dropped to as low as 1/2 month salary for the successful placement of a candidate in the space of a couple of months. 

With an over supply of talent,  companies started to use other sources and channels to identify candidates as well as ‘farmed’ out their vacancies to multiple search agencies, all fighting for the remaining crumbs. As a result the chance for a search agency to close a position and earn a meager success fee dropped close to zero. Search agencies in response were only willing to make a minimal effort to find a candidate which affected the quality of the search, impacting how companies would value the service and increase the number of channels further reducing the chance of a fee etc. A vicious circle was created. 

As a consequence I hear companies complain about the lack of quality of search firms, I hear search firms complain about their lack of revenue and I hear candidates complain that search firms and companies alike show little professionalism in the selection and courting process. In others words a lose-lose-lose situation. 

How to turn this around? The obvious solution lies in breaking this downward spiral and creating a situation where everybody wins. The company finds the right talented resource at the right time, the candidate is approached, selected and placed in a professional manner and the executive search firms earns a decent income. 

To turn this around the ball is in the court of the search agencies. They have to make a first step and commit themselves to significantly improving the quality of the search service and:

  • Adhere to a professional code of conduct highlighting their responsibility and guide their actions towards clients and candidates
  • Truly understand the clients requirements and translate that into search criteria (skills, competencies and fit)
  • Use every channel possible to search candidates (database, social media, referrals etc.)
  • Ensure appropriate due diligence on and permission from the candidate before presenting them to the client
  • Guarantee quick response times to both clients and candidates

The next step is for executive search firms to convince clients that a successful search assignment requires a partnership between the client and search agency. A partnership in which both parties win, a company finds a quality candidate and the agency earns a decent living. For this to work you have to create a mutual commitment towards the search in which both parties have ‘skin in the game’. The best way to create this is by complementing the successful placement fee with an upfront ‘effort fee’ through which both of them commit each other to completing a successful placement. Of course this is not new and is the only way executive search firms in other parts of the world work. In fact some executive search firms have switched to a 100% of upfront fee guaranteeing a successful placement.

Companies have to realize that for them to receive a decent quality service they have to make a commitment and pay for that service whilst search agencies have to commit themselves to providing a quality service. This goes hand in hand and only when both make a move forward will we be able to stop the downward trend in which everybody loses. 

What are the issues that you have faced with either companies or search firms and how do you think can we re-invent executive search in Pakistan?

– Paul Keijzer

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Can You Change Behaviors By Following Others?

iStock_000014793457SmallI am sure many of you have come across these omnipresent cards in hotel rooms that request you to re-use your towels to save water and protect the environment. Personally, I think these “suggestions” are just about saving costs for the hotel. I just paid a couple hundred dollars for a room and now you want me to save a few dollars for you by not drying myself in a nice, clean, freshly washed towel? Doesn’t seem right…

Despite the fact that 83% of hotels have a linen re-use policy in place, apparently only about 17% of guests actually re-use their towels. It looks like I am not alone!

So how do hotels get guests to re-use their linens? For that matter, how are people convinced to change any of their behaviors? For example; getting people to save energy at home or to wear their safety belts and goggles. How are employees encouraged to fill in an important survey or comply with organizational policies?

Our knee-jerk reaction is the carrot and stick approach (or stick and carrot depending on your humanistic view). We either ‘bribe and/or push’ people to display a desired behavior or implement processes or policies that force people to work in a certain manner. Both ways can be effective, however they are costly (incentives) and often not liked as they constrain (regulation) people.

Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the university of Arizona, has studied what influences and persuades us to do or accept something. He has identified 6 universal principles (check out the YouTube video: Secrets of the Science of Persuasion) that persuade people to change their behavior:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Scarcity
  3. Authority
  4. Consistency
  5. Liking and
  6. Consensus

The last principle shows that people like to do what many other people have done before. This is nothing new, of course, because we do this all the time. We want to buy a phone in a price range similar to what our friends have, we agree to join in a karaoke contest if all our other colleagues are also participating, or we are willing to try a new dish on the menu if we are told it is the restaurants best selling item (even when we have no clue what it is).

So how can you use this idea to influence people’s behaviors? Cialdini himself gave an example in which a utility company not only provided its customers with information over their personal electricity usage, but on a monthly basis, gave their customers an invoice in which they could compare their electricity usage with that of their neighbors. Over a 3-year period this led to energy savings of 1.3 billion kw/h.

Now, coming back to the re-use towel example… Cialdini experimented with different messages to persuade people to re-use their towels. Nothing had a significant impact except telling people that 75% of the guests (which was a credible and true statistic) in the hotel during their stay re-used their towels. Sharing a factual, statistical piece of information on what others are doing, prompted 30% more people to re-use their towels. And the funny part is, it didn’t cost the hotel a dime.

I am going to try to use these principles in persuading employees of a large organization to change their behavior. How? I don’t know yet, but if I am able to share in a credible manner with employees what other similar employees have done, I am sure they will follow and change their behavior.

Will keep you posted!

– Paul Keijzer

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Breaking Bad Habits

good-bad-habits-300x263We all have bad habits. Some people bite their nails, some smoke, some can’t resist that last cupcake and some just can’t get out of bed in time. Some bad habits are small nuisances (mostly to others) while others can be detrimental to our own, and other peoples, happiness (addictions of any kind). We often try to break them, but the majority of people fail to kick their bad habit to the curb. Only 5% of people that join Weight Watchers achieve and sustain their target weight for 2 years!

What are habits, how do they come about, how do you recognize them, and if you know what they are, can you change them? These were some of the questions that New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg tried to answer in his new book; The Power of Habit.

According to Duhigg, habits are powerful things. They prevent you from having to make millions of decisions every day; from how you brush your teeth, to what you eat for breakfast, how you drive to work or to what you do first when you open your computer (read the sports page, check your Facebook page or dive right into those big tasks that you have to complete today). When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in any decision-making and your behavioral pattern unfolds automatically.

The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between good and bad habits and as a result, whenever a behavior has become a habit, your brain just waits for the cue and then simply executes it.

So what is a habit? A habit is a loop in which a specific action is triggered by a cue and followed by a reward. Whether it is a sugar rush from eating that chocolate bar, the caffeine kick from your morning coffee or the endorphins that get released by regular exercise, your mind becomes trained to expect the same certain reaction to your actions.

As a habit is a simple cue, action, reward loop, you can actually go about to change it. Duhigg offers a four-step framework to change a habit:

Step 1: Identify the routine
Step 2: Experiment with rewards
Step 3: Isolate the cue
Step 4: Have a plan

At the end of his book, Duhigg himself concludes, “All patterns that exist in our lives are habits that we know exist. Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom -and the responsibility- to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the only option left is to get to work and change them.”

Today I started trying to create a new habit for myself. Instead of waking up lazily at 7:30am to check the sports pages, my blog counts and my emails, today I woke up at 6:00am, had 90 minutes more to get in some exercise, meditate and start the day with my writing. This blog is a result of my first day! My cue was my desire to get more out of my day with the personal insight that I am most productive early in the morning. My reward; exercising and writing gives me the discipline that I crave and producing something early in the day gives me that feeling that, no matter what happens later in the day, I have still achieved something.

Will keep you all posted on whether I am able to translate this intention into a good habit! Good luck changing your bad habits!

– Paul Keijzer

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Managing Office Gossip

gossip-webAs an HR Director I was once the gatekeeper for a lot of sensitive information and was always amazed at how fast, widespread and accurately gossip spreads. Studies from the 60s (although I don’t know whether this is still relevant as that sounds like a lifetime ago) show that more than 75% of the details in gossip are correct.

Why People Love To Gossip
According to Frederick Koenig, a sociologist and author of Rumor in the Marketplace: The Social Psychology of Commercial Hearsay, people listen to and pass on a rumor because it satisfies an inner need. This is why understanding the nature of the people involved is key. According to Koenig, different people have different needs that lead to their reasons behind passing along gossip.
Rumors …

  1. … can circulate because the topic is interesting or a source of diversion.
  2. … can pull together events and fill in the gaps to make sense and provide explanations for what is going on.
  3. … can validate and support a point of view.
  4. …can reconcile one’s psychological state with what one sees as actually going on. (Studies show people who have high anxiety frequently participate more in the rumor process and groups in stressful situations have more rumor activity.)
  5. … are a means of getting attention.
  6. … are ways of manipulating situations. The idea of individuals or groups deliberately starting a rumor to serve selfish ends is frequently suggested.

The Grapevine Is On 24/7
It is the informal communication highway and it works 24/7; in company buses, cafeterias, hallways, meeting rooms, bathrooms and water coolers. But don’t think it stops when the office closes down. Nowadays, more often than not the grapevine really comes to life through Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network platform. It never stops and most of the time it is much faster and more direct than the organized formal communication methods that companies rely on. (You won’t see anything scandalous written in an office memo, but what employees communicate from desk to desk would shock you.)

Benefits of Gossip
Of course gossip and the infamous grapevine that carries the gossip can have both positive and negative consequences for the organization. The negative is that the grapevine can carry all kinds of misinformation and create insecurity in individuals. There are, however, also a number of benefits. The simple fact that people are talking about the organization shows that they are interested in what is going on with the company (as a leader you should get worried if employees stop discussing the company as it shows that they are not engaged). The benefit is that gossiping allows employees to express their feelings (both positive and negative) rather than keeping it bottled up.

How to Manage the Downside of Gossip
Of course, when the going gets tough and difficult messages have to be communicated (for example: downsizing, re-locations, or organizational changes) the grapevine works at its best and the consequences are most likely the most detrimental. In these cases as a leader you have two options (1) share as much as possible as soon as possible, even if not everything is clear and decided or (2) share information once when everything is decided and clear. The advantage of the “ASAP approach’ is that you let people in on what is happening with the downside being that things can change over time and you might be increasing their insecurities (as not everything is clear). Telling people when everything is clear is of course the flip side of the same coin. Although here, the biggest negative is that you are unable to formally influence the grapevine as you have not communicated anything and have left it up to others to exaggerate or downplay (as any piece of gossip can turn). Both approaches have their time and place.

How To Manage The Grapevine
First and foremost is accepting that the grapevine is always on and can’t be stopped. You can try to ‘kill’ it in one situation, but I bet you it pops its head into another soon. The best way to manage the grapevine is to:

  1. Make sure you inform employees as quickly and fully as possible of what is going on in the company. Use social media and the formal communication channels available to you. Remember the key mantra in communicating to employees is: Communicate, then communicate more and if you think that you have communicated enough, double your efforts.
  2. Listen to the rumors and decide what are facts and what is biases. If, as a leader, you are in tune with the grapevine you get a feel of what is really happening in the company and you can use this as influence.
  3. Act fast. If rumors are wildly incorrect then make sure you come out ASAP to set the record straight by proactively communicating to all employees. Otherwise, distorted half-truths will make the rounds — so nip these destructive rumors in the bud.

Learn to love the grapevine. Don’t get jumpy if ‘secret’ information is out there. Simply accept and try to use it to your benefit.

– Paul Keijzer

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How To Make Brainstorming Much More Effective

brainstormingRecently I tried out a new approach to brainstorming. A couple of weeks ago I read an article discussing what is wrong with brainstorming, on Eric Barker’s blog; Barking Up The Wrong Tree. I adopted some of the learnings, experimented with them and found that it really worked! While no single method of approach is perfect, the results were significantly better than what I had seen before.

The way I implemented brainstorming techniques in the past was similar to the way Alex F. Osborn, known as the “father of brainstorming” invented it in 1958. Put people in a group together and collectively write as many individual ideas down as possible, whether they are crazy, funny, ridiculous, innovative or clever. Don’t criticize anything and allow people to make links and associations as they go along. When you have all the ideas on one list, bring them down to the best few and then expand on them. Sounds familiar?

More often than not, the problem with this approach is that the ideas that you get are either ‘spiked up’ versions of ideas that have gone around for ages or ideas so wild that they will never see the light of day.

So I decided to experiment and organized a brainstorming activity for a client in which they wanted to come up with new initiatives to grow their business, taking into account the new research findings that:

  • Smaller teams are more effective than larger teams (also see this article in HBR explaining that smaller, more homogenous, research groups are more effective per researcher)
  • Less is More
  • Criticizing and debating ideas will improve the quality of the idea

The brainstorming session was not only aimed at coming up with new ideas but also to translate those ideas into initial action plans. To do this we used the following 5 steps:

1. Individual Ideas
The night before the brainstorming session, every participant was briefed on the objective of the next day (to come up with innovative ideas to grow business). Each individual was requested to come up with one, two or maximum three ideas that he / she thought would grow their business. The next day each participant was given a flip chart in which they had to put down their ideas by answering three questions (1) What is the problem you are trying to solve? (2) What is your proposed solution? and (3) How will it work?

2. Share Judge and Select
Then, seated in groups of 5, each individual was asked to present his/her ideas to the other members of their group. During the presentation other members were encouraged to ask questions for clarification, make suggestions on how to improve the idea or use the idea in a different context. Next, the group was asked to rate all of the presented ideas on the criteria of uniqueness and potential value. All ideas were plotted on a matrix and the groups were asked to select their top three concepts.

3. Present and Pick
Each group then presented their top 3 ideas in a standardized format to the larger group (50 people in this case). The groups were then asked to give three votes to three ideas that according to them was the most unique and had the most value for the company. A ranking of ideas emerged and the top 10 of these ideas were taken into the next round.

4. Praise and Criticize
Having selected the 10 innovative ideas that were both unique and had significant value to the organization, it was then time to start moving into action. But, before I asked individual groups to start writing action plans, i wanted to galvanize the collective wisdom of all 50 people in the room to improve the idea. The concept that we used was “Praise and Criticize.” Each group was given a random idea and had 5 minutes to list as many reasons why this was a great idea along with why this idea was not going to work. After 5 minutes the list of praises and critiques was moved to the next group and they are asked to do the same. If you do this 4/5 times you get a pretty exhaustive list of good and bad qualities for every idea.

5. Action!
The list of praise and criticism was then given to the group that originally came up with the idea, so that they could take their colleagues comments into account when they started working on their action plan. You can imagine that the action plan that was created was significantly richer in content as already 50 people had been able to review it and make suggestions.

The end result for the team I worked with was 8 fantastic ideas that already had a meaty action plan linked to them. A project lead was appointed and a first review date was set. And the amazing thing is it only took 4 hours to go through this session. 4 hours with 50 people leading to 8 brilliant business innovation ideas. Not a bad investment in my book!

So, whenever you are planning to do your next brainstorming session, let people come up with their own ideas first. Let them share their ideas, fight over what the best ideas are and then use the collective wisdom of the group to praise and criticize those ideas to strengthen their overall action plan.

– Paul Keijzer

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How To Find A Job Using LinkedIn

LinkedInThe talent market in many parts of the world continues to be a pretty flat line. Opportunities are not created, as investment in new business is low and existing businesses are looking to do more for less. Everybody is holding on to their seat, as economic circumstances don’t allow you to make a career mistake: ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’.

A couple of months ago I shared with you a number of tips on how to move your career forward whilst there is no career opportunity on the horizon (Find Me a Job Now!). Using your network is the most direct route to your next job. And, although nothing beats networking in person, we are now connected virtually through Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and hundreds of other social media networking sites

I don’t use Facebook for personal networking. No, Facebook is just not my thing. What I do use a lot is Linkedin. It has not only transformed into the #1 professional networking site, but also as a great source of knowledge on ‘life in the corporate world’. I have a considerable network on LinkedIn and am using it extensively to find people, re-connect with colleagues and brand myself as an HR leader. There are already more than enough articles written on how you can use LinkedIn to find your next job (a Google search on the topic resulted in 234 million hits!) and I would suggest that you go through a number of them to get a bunch of different ideas.

For individuals using LinkedIn as a main source in identifying people and also being a significant target for job seekers, these are my tips on how you can improve the way you use LinkedIn to network:

PROFILE: Make sure your profile is up to date and captures who you are and what you have done. Be realistic and don’t make it picture perfect, trust me… with only 2 years of experience you haven’t changed the world (yet!). Think through what your ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ is and make sure you bring this out in a convincing manner. Companies or individuals are always looking for specific knowledge, skills or talent. They scan profiles trying to find what they are looking for.

CONNECT: Connect with people that you know, don’t invite people you don’t know and don’t turn down invites from other people. When people have accepted your invite, thank them and let them know what you can do for them. The number of emails I get after a person has connected with me, asking to help them find them a job, is astounding. Ask yourself why should I do this? They don’t know me, nor do they know what I am good at, why should they stop what they are doing to help me find a job?

GIVE BACK: I have noticed that the number of times I do respond are linked to emails and request of (1) people that I have a long-standing relationship with, (2) people that respond to a particular piece I have written or (3) people that share or give without asking for favors. So instead of asking, start giving and you will see that the relationship you have with specific individuals changes dramatically.

STAY IN TOUCH: LinkedIn now has an awesome feature in which you can see how long it has been since you have been in touch with any of your contacts. Use that to stay in touch with people you have not seen, spoken, or interacted with for some time and whom you know are valuable for future support or references. No, don’t just send an email saying ‘Hi it’s been a long time hope u are well, by the way, can you give me a job”. Instead, write a note in which you share a fond memory. Thank the person for something you have learned from them or simply recall an awesome thing you did together. Personalize your message and make the other person feel special. Only after you have brought the relationship back to where it was a number of years ago can you start thinking of asking for any help or guidance.

It’s a tough talent market out there, with lots of people looking for work and not as many opportunities. Remember to do two things if you want to succeed in this market; keep finding opportunities to learn and always network! Good luck.

– Paul Keijzer

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Three Reasons Why, In Pakistan, We Want Everything Now!

The Time is Now - ClockAfter people learn that I worked in China and Vietnam before coming to Pakistan, they often ask me ‘what are some of the differences between the Chinese and Pakistani’s’. The big difference, I always say, is long-term vs short-term. In China the focus is on the long term. They set themselves a goal and no matter how long it takes, with utter dedication and conviction, they reach that goal. In the late 70’s under Deng Xiao Ping’s leadership, the Chinese set on a road to introduce ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’. Now 40 years later they are the second largest economy in the world and will over the next 50 years challenge the US for that crown.

On the other hand, in Pakistan it is all about the today. We will take whatever shortcut is possible in order to get an immediate benefit. This applies to all levels of society. Pakistani’s are generally more interested in maximizing their opportunities and earnings today, than waiting to get something significantly better in the future (I would love to see a comparison between Pakistan and other countries on the result of the infamous Stanford Marshmallow Test)

Why I asked myself is this the case, three reasons:

1. You Don’t Know What Tomorrow Will Bring
Uncertainty is so high that you never know what tomorrow will bring. Many people take life day by day, questioning: why try to build something that will only reap its benefits at some time in the far uncertain future? In Pakistan, a strike can be called in a matter of minutes, causing the whole city to shut down and the workday to go to waste. With such erratic conditions, sometimes living in the moment is what works best.

2. You Can’t Depend on Institutes
Our governance is still under constructions. Institutes have made modest progress in ensuring that its people can depend on a fair, transparent and a just rule of law. Apart from a few exceptions, government offices are not known for their ability to deliver quick, consistent and high quality services. You never know whether you can pick up your passport whenever they promised it, or whether the electricity that is there today will be there tomorrow.

3. You Can’t Afford To Wait
With inflation high and incomes at sustenance levels, people need to ensure that they look after their families today. With such a large population of individuals willing to work (especially in the middle and lower class), there is always someone ready to take your place. You can’t afford to wait till tomorrow to grab the opportunity you have at hand.

All these things combined make it almost utterly impossible to predict and therefor plan for the future. This can be said about many countries, but Pakistani’s will agree that our country can sometimes feel like a light switch, with tensions arising and calming down at any instant. We have adapted to this “you never know what will happen tomorrow” motto. Apart from the obvious drawbacks there are of course numerous good things about this motto. Our turnaround time is significantly faster than any other place I have ever lived and we have become much more flexible and agile as a result of it. For us it is all about Now!

– Paul Keijzer

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Democratic Enterprise

ballot_box_my_vote_ssk_37571284There are two things that I love about elections. Firstly, everybody is equal. Everybody has one vote, no matter how rich, poor, educated or illiterate they are. Whether they are from the north or south, male or female, everybody has only one vote.

The second thing I love about elections is that it is an opportunity for people to vote for the person that they believe will help them build a better future. For people to believe in political leaders, the candidates have to rise tall in front of the nation, explain what they stand for and what they will do to make those changes happen. They are criticized, scrutinized, challenged and pushed to the limit. However, as a result of all this, people get to know the candidate and how he or she may or may not be their best representative.

Although I think there are some interesting similarities that you can draw with companies (one I have touched upon earlier in CEO Elections), one parallel that I wish leaders of companies would learn from is the communication aspect of elections. Can you imagine the engagement of the whole company, from senior managers to the peon, if leaders in the organization spent the same amount of time as political leaders, in explaining their vision and strategy of the company. If leaders were to allow themselves to be challenged and analyzed then they can come up with a blueprint of the future that everybody in the company strongly believes in and is committed towards.

I have only met a few leaders who actually do this. Safaraz Siddiqui, Managing Director of DHL Pakistan, has spent a lot of time discussing and jointly agreeing with colleagues the way forward for his company, and through this was able to transform DHL (and became the Best Place to Work in Pakistan in the process.) Lynda Gratton, the London Business School Professor wrote one of my favorite books called the Democratic Enterprise in which she “built a roadmap for companies to Liberate their Business with Freedom, Flexibility and Commitment. It delivers the blueprint for a business built on choice and commitment, a business people would choose to work for”.

What do you think? Can you set your company on the path of becoming a Democratic Enterprise?

– Paul Keijzer

Change From The Inside Out

Mind-Set-Pieces1The Women@Work Study aims to understand what would help enhance female participation in the Pakistani workforce. Apart from the survey, in which we will ask female employees of participating companies to fill in a questionnaire as well as HR departments to share their best practices, we will also conduct one-on-one interviews with working women. The power of these interviews is to understand real life scenarios that you can’t always capture through surveys and focus groups.

I have come to understand that all the following things are important to working women: commitment from the top, supporting gender diversity, organizational support in the form of specific facilities, coaching and networking, ability to manage your work timings and support from family and the society. However, one thing has also become clear and that is the importance of the mindset and bias that leaders, line managers and colleagues have. All the policy papers and communication material can look fantastic, but if the person you work with is not able to understand and empathize with what is required for a woman to work in Pakistan, then you will still end up with the shorter end of the stick.

A woman who recently left a ‘what we thought was a progressive and female friendly workplace’ shared with us that although all the facilities were there and she really needed to work, she could not take her working environment anymore. Ever since she had become a mother, her line manager had taken away all the ‘exciting assignments’ and given it to young and upcoming trainees. She was given mundane tasks far below her capability as a line manager and after two years she has decided to resign.

It is one thing to have a biased male boss but it is even worse if, as a woman, you have a biased female boss. An example of this is a woman, who in line with the company policies, has reduced her work timings but her female line manager is not agreeing to this stating that “I have been able to do it, so you should be able to do it as well.”

Improving the gender balance and retaining women in the workforce will require more than good intentions, a few role models, beautiful statements and the right policies. At the end it requires people to change from the inside out, men and women alike.

What is your story? Have you seen the need for change?

– Paul Keijzer

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