Traditional approaches to productivity have tended to disadvantage women in business, whether by requiring commitments that clash with their family needs or by emphasizing qualities that women are not taught to cultivate. But does it need to work that way?
For a perspective on how the system can change for a more equitable approach, People Matters spoke with Carmella Galasso, who heads the Women in Management mentorship program for Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. Galasso leads the small business banking division for ANZ Bank's operations in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Here's what she shared.
(Note: Around the same time as we first published this interview, Carmella Galasso moved to become Chief Executive Officer of cleantech firm Opes Industrial Limited.)
2020 forced many of us to change our views of work and productivity. How have you seen that affecting women team members?
What last year showed us was that we really need to trust people to get the work done no matter what environment they are in—that people inherently want to do the best they can, no matter what their role is. The traditional view of productivity is about coming into the office, sitting there all day, doing your work, and then going home is just gone.
And a lot of the women on my team are navigating the flexibility of remote work very, very well. I found that they were able to be far more productive in the least amount of time because they had learned how to multitask very early on in their careers when their children first came into their lives. Now with flexible working hours, they're no longer struggling with time constraints around balancing work and caring for their family.
Last year, my strongest performers were equally split between men and women for the first time, even though my workforce is very heavily skewed towards men. It's only now that the women have been able to reach their full potential.
What are some lessons from last year that really help with performance, especially women's performance?
We need to drop the view that people have to be “seen” to be doing a job. We need to reward people for being able to do their job and deliver what we expect of them, regardless of where they are and how they're doing it. And I believe that that shift has happened over the last 12 months because we've all—not just women—had to learn it to work in these uncharted times.
Another very important thing—for all of us—is clarity. To improve productivity, you need to give employees clarity. It just doesn't work otherwise. The last year showed us that if you give people too many leads, they can't respond. You have to be very clear on just two or three key deliverables and be consistent about focusing on those. And you will see that productivity will increase.
For women, in particular, I think online meetings are one thing that has really helped women become very comfortable to have their voice heard, no matter whether they are in a boardroom or a normal meeting. This type of environment allows performance to be elevated but also allows women the safety to speak up. In fact, I recently heard someone say that having board meetings online has actually given women greater voices because when you are one of only two women in a room full of men, there is a certain sense of intimidation—it's not that the men do it by choice, but society has simply conditioned women to feel that way. But Zoom and other platforms change that. Women have a voice that is equal to everybody else's voice.
What can business leaders do to help women really put forward their best foot at work?
Give them flexibility. You have to give people, and women particularly, that flexibility, and you have to be empathetic around that. There is an infamous story about how a woman who leaves early to go and pick up her children will quietly pick up her bag and slip out of the office, and people will say critically, “Oh, you're leaving early again.” Yet, if it's a man doing this, he proudly announces “I'm off to pick up my children” and everyone in the office responds, “Such a wonderful father!” The fact is, they are both parents, and we as leaders need to recognize that. And we need to also engage with our women. Businesses need to actively talk to their female leaders to understand how they achieve success and how they can be supported.
I don't think we need HR to come up with policies. I think what we really need is for them to talk to women and understand.
Could you share some experiences around managing and driving performance in a diverse team?
One thing I have learned from experience is that in a very diverse team, people deal with transparency very differently. Some people flourish on having large amounts of information, but others struggle with it and become fearful. And so, as a people leader for over 25 years, I have learned to taper what I share. It is our job as leaders to sometimes manage the information according to how much people can handle—to tell them enough to make them confident, but not so much that they lose that confidence.
And I also want to share an epic failure—we always like to speak about our successes, but we need to learn from failures as well. I spoke about trusting people to get the work done. Early in my career, I had a male team member who was working from home, and who would stay up all night playing video games and drinking, then call within some of the most outlandish excuses as to why he had not completed his work. Intuition told me not to believe him, but I was a people leader for the first time, and I wanted to be liked. So I accepted his excuses and covered his work for him. And one day I realized that I was doing his role and mine, and that was not acceptable. I called him on his behavior, asked for an explanation, and at the end of that conversation, he resigned on the spot. What I only realized later was that the rest of my team had been questioning, all along, why I had accepted that poor behavior and allowed it to continue. You must trust, but you must also learn to draw the line.
For aspiring leaders in particular, what do they most need to understand to support women's performance?
For any aspiring leader, deliver what is expected of you. Be very clear about what your role is, what your people's roles are, and support them in it. If you have the capacity to take on more, always take it on board, because you are helping the broader business. But remember, meeting expectations is not something you have a choice in. If you are a leader, you can't say you would prefer to do something else.
Especially for leaders who want to bring on more women, give them the opportunity to have their voice heard. Those who don't always speak sometimes have the greatest insight, because they watch.
Finally, don't forget that the next group of men and women will be watching. Those 20- and 30-year-olds are watching what we 40- and 50-year-olds are doing, what pathway we are paving for the next generation. And if they don't see something that they feel is valuable, we will lose really talented men and women to other organizations who listen to their people.