Laurent Derivery is the CEO of Valeurs & Developpement, a consulting firm specialized in Management, Human Resources and Diversity. V&D bases its approach of diversity on researches and studies conducted in partnership with public and private actors.
WIL: Valeurs & Developpement co-piloted a study with IMS-Entreprendre pour la Cité on gender and stereotypes in 2012. Could you please tell us more about this study and its outcomes?
L: The study was conducted with 1200 managers in 9 different enterprises, and among them, about 300 were interviewed on their perception of gender stereotypes. The study focused on three types of stereotypes:
- Autostereotype: what a man/woman think of his/her gender group (what women think of other women, and men of men)
- Heterostereotypes: What a man/a woman think of the other gender group
- Metastereotypes: what a person thinks the other gender group think about him/her (what a woman thinks another man think about her; what a man thinks another woman think about him)
First we discovered that both men and women’s autostereotypes are positive, which is a constructive evolution compared to previous results. It means that women and men have a good image of themselves. What is interesting is that when it comes to heterostereotypes: men have a very good opinion of women, and they even have a better opinion of women than they have of themselves, while it is exactly the contrary for women. They have a bad image of men.
Additionally, it is worth to be noted that, the more women take on leadership positions within a company, the more men and women’s stereotypes turn negative. Women have a good image of women in operational positions, an “ok” image of women in managerial positions and a bad opinion of C- level women managers. They do not want to identify themselves with these women.
How do you explain that? Would you say women are impacted negatively by stereotypes associated with leadership positions?
Currently, C-level women suffer from a very negative image and are not role models for other women in lower positions. There is a strong perception, shared by women and men, that these women tend to be career-minded and adopt a tougher managerial style. Many of them behave like men and adopt a masculine attitude to be respected.
In that case, what would be a good manager, according to the respondents?
A surprising outcome of the study is that both men and women agreed on gender based differences between a male manager vs a female manager: Men are perceived as more gifted in leadership skills, i.e. tough skills (action, decision making) while women are more gifted in soft skills (empathy, compassion behavior skills). That is one key learning. On the other hand, when men and women are asked to describe their ideal manager, they agreed on an androgynous profile: someone very balanced, who possesses a combination of “tough” skills and “behavioral” skills.
In conclusion, what would you say is the main outcome of this study?
Diversity is the key. In an unbalanced environment (whether in a male dominated or female dominated environment), the stereotypes are worse than in a mixed or balanced environment. In particular, the perception of well-being among workers is positively impacted by a balance environment.
It is crucial to create an inclusive and diverse policy.
How could organisations optimize their diversity and inclusion policies? What “good practices” should they apply?
There are several action plans to put in place. First, you have to create an inclusive environment by assessing the following 5 points:
- Fight discrimination and perception of discrimination through transparent processes
- Create a satisfactory work environment, because frustration generates negative stereotypes
- Look for gender neutral manager profiles; who have a good mix of tough and soft skills
- Implement as much diversity as possible in teams at all levels of the organisation
- Ensure your employees a good work-life balance
The second plan is to work on mentalities: To involve more men in their initiatives, companies must better communicate on their gender equality commitments/initiatives and show how it benefits the company as whole (not only their women employees) by bringing economic growth and performance. Managerial policies must encourage awareness raising between women and men and have them discuss about stereotypes.
Finally, the organisation must work on the HR processes, ie make sure procedures are not discriminatory. But it is also a matter of fighting against glass walls as much as against glass ceilings. We need to think out of the box and distance ourselves from the traditional linear career. Companies should value and offer women transversal career development opportunities, and chances to pursue non linear career paths.
You mentioned a correlation between mixed teams and economic growth, how in your opinion diversity drives performance in a company?
It has been proven that diversity drives performance and well-being. Sodexo’s study assesses that a team which respects male-female ratio (40 - 60%) enhanced significantly its performance. Which means diversity is not only a women’s issue. It matters for both gender. Men, the dominant cast, could feel threaten by women taking over responsibilities at work. But that is not the question. The real question is: how can we drive performance and well-being?
It brings us to the question of managing diversity. If you have a very diverse team but you do not manage communication well, you can easily create a very conflicted environment. On the other hand, you could manage your team in a way that differences could boost creativity and performance. Gender diversity is a driver of better relationships among the team.
As the CEO of V&D, you place diversity at the heart of your Human Resources approach. Could you explain more in details V&D’s approach of diversity?
Diversity arises the question of inclusion: Talents should be managed in a way they feel recognized and valued as an unique individual, and that they are part of a team and a system. The role of a good manager is to allow the individual to be himself, to feel good and in return to work well in the team. In that sense, individual well-being is a driver of performance for the whole organisation. The individual and the system must work closely, in a circle, and solutions must be found together.