Meet the creators: Tabi Eleanor Haller-Jorden

Sonja Bichsel · 8 min · 27.08.2018

We believe that the world’s greatest challenges will never be solved by one person or organization alone. We need to work together! In our series #MeetTheCreators, we present you one of our members, showing his/her impact and work for reaching the sustainable development goals.

 

 

Meet our SDG this month: 

The Sustainable Development Goal Nr 5 wants to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

 

Meet our creator this month: 

Member: Tabi Eleanor Haller-Jorden
Stage: Established consultant, global leader
SDG: Nr 5 – Gender Equality

 

Tabi, how long have you worked on gender equality?

I would estimate close to 30 years. After working for an environmental advocacy organization as an undergraduate, I developed a real appetite for driving social change and impact. Following graduate work in labor law, industrial relations and organizational psychology, I was hired to head up the consulting arm of Catalyst (New York) where our focus was to help organizations realise the business benefits of gender equality. Catalyst published a number of studies at the time that confirmed the business benefits of women’s representation; increasingly, gender equality was recognized as a business imperative. I think companies suddenly realised that the issue of gender was not simply about good social responsibility but rather, driving business value. That realization was a tipping point for many companies and launched my own work in the gender space.

 

30 years is a long time – you have a fantastic overview over the issue. What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities?

Sadly, a number of corporate initiatives have stagnated in recent years simply because they have not been particularly innovative or impactful in their approach. The business motivation remains, but many companies are struggling with the “how”. Additionally, and against the backdrop of significant increases in demographic diversity, management is now more fully appreciated as a social competency. Traditionally, we have put people in management positions assuming that technical competencies were sufficient. What companies now acknowledge, is that we won’t realize the business benefits of gender diversity unless managers understand how to effectively leverage that diversity. This gap is reflected in many of the requests we receive from our clients tied to developing more relationship management skills, inclusive leadership behaviour and storytelling proficiency. Additionally, enhancements to performance management systems as well as accountability for results are necessary.

 

What positive change have you noticed in the conversations about gender parity?

I think it’s encouraging to see that we are now moving well beyond men versus women binary thinking. Previously, companies asked – “Tabi, what will the women in the company say about this?” In turn, my response was always “What women are we talking about?” Historically, we have been guilty of conflating gender with biological sex. Gender is a social construct. As gender-related definitions increase, companies are realising that gender parity is definitely not a one size fits all proposition. We have to become much more attentive to the “diversity within diversity” and recognise that a formulaic response is no longer appropriate or adequate.

 

Could you share an example of what results binary thinking creates and what challenge it poses?

Years ago, I consulted for a global law firm that had quite a number of women who were managing partners. I was invited to speak to a group of new associates and made the off-handed comment, “Oh, you must be encouraged to see this number of women in the senior ranks”. My comment was initially greeted with stunned silence. A brave associate then spoke up and said: “Tabi do you know these women? None of them has a partner, none of them has children and none of them even has a parakeet! They are absolutely conveying the message to us that sure, you can become a managing partner but the following requirements are implied: no outside life, no partner, no children.” In short, the numbers in and of themselves were impressive but the story behind the story was unrealistic and non-inclusive. While the company was applauding their numerical success, the employees at large were bemoaning this group’s monolithic profile. In short, it’s not enough to get the numbers right if it means compromising on inclusion. You have to look more deeply at the lived experience of that corporate culture as well as be attentive to the range of individual talents and requirements.

Tabi at Café Auer&Co.

 

Impact Hub Zurich has realised that there is a lack of diversity in their leadership. I have talked to a number of people in the space, membership and team and the second the question came up of filling more positions with women also these stereotypes have bubbled to the surface of what a leader should be like. A few women have received comments such as: “Oh it’s nice that someone is suggesting you, but we need someone who has a lot of physical strength or someone who is outspoken.” How do you suggest to meet such remarks?

I think the problem is that these assumptions and perceptions can inadvertently become self-fulfilling prophecies. When a woman is approached with these or similar comments, she may very well get to the point of saying- forget it, I won’t even raise my hand because I am so sick and tired of having to deal with all of this nonsense. And that’s one of the reasons why I took issue with the Lean-In campaign. My position is not that women aren’t ambitious but rather that they’re getting fed up with the nonsense. Do I want to ‘lean in’ to an incompetent situation? Do I want to learn how to be functional in a dysfunctional environment? – probably not. I can think of better, more productive ways to use my time. We shouldn’t make attributions about people’s behaviour, men and women alike, until we know more about their reality and personal circumstances.

It is also up to us to challenge these erroneous claims and assertions with humour. Don’t take some of these comments sitting down. Try to be a little feisty. I remember hearing from a very accomplished bio-chemist I know who was applying for a mid-career position as a new hire in a pharmaceutical company. Apparently, in the middle of the interview, she was asked how she could possibly juggle the role in question with her family responsibilities. Without missing a beat, she tossed the question right back to the interviewer, “How do you juggle your family responsibilities?”

 

Do you think responses like that can be trained?

I have done a few years of improvisational theatre and that experience of knowing how to engage with the unexpected is a very helpful skill. I always tell women and men professionals that it is extremely important as you climb the leadership ladder to know how to deal with the unexpected, how to deal with the inevitable curve balls without compromising your integrity and leadership. As the world becomes more chaotic and unpredictable that skill will become even more vital.

 

All throughout the educational system, I felt encouraged to show up with curiosity, be engaged and ask questions. The big shift for me happened, when I first entered the workplace. I still wonder, why that happens and why in the workplace things flip so drastically?

By and large, people perceive academic environments as predominantly meritocratic. Based on test scores and grades, you can reasonably predict your final results. That’s not necessarily the case in the workplace. A whole host of other variables can come into play in assessments including, but not limited to, visibility, networking, political savvy etc. Your work performance is one of many variables that are weighed in the balance; determining that weighting scheme can be very challenging however without the appropriate mentoring support and insight.

 

What feedback do you get from the companies you work with regarding the talent shortage?

Most of our clients are reasonably satisfied with their recruitment outcomes. Attaining gender parity at entry-level grades continues to be much less challenging than at more senior grade levels. To compound these challenges, few companies have explicit retention strategies designed to ensure that their talent pipeline is robust and sustainable. To accomplish the latter, companies will need to take a longer-term, more strategic view of careers.

 

Something that concerns me in the discussion about gender equality is that certain topics seem to come in waves. For a while it is all about quotas, then the focus is shifting to the wage gap and equal pay, but that happens without looking at why there are less women in leadership positions to start with. It’s nice if a company pays people equally, but how does that help, if all the positions that are really paid well are filled by men and only men are promoted into these positions? I wonder how these discussions could take place in an interlinked manner without losing the complexity?

You are absolutely right. We start throwing what we think are solutions at the problems – let’s do a little mentoring, let’s not forget unconscious bias training. What’s missing is a longer term, talent management strategy based on sound labor market data, internal and external. The scatter-shot approach of ad hoc interventions ignores any kind of consequential thinking. Any impactful human capital strategy requires the same rigour and discipline we expect of a business strategy.

 

Let’s close with a recommendation for the Impact Hub in Zürich. You already said you like taking risks. If you could challenge the Impact Hub Zürich community to take a few risks in the coming weeks to really get moving on gender equality, what would that be?

I would attempt to implement some of what I just shared. Drafting a thoughtful and nuanced human capital strategy is step one. To help shape and implement that strategy it would be helpful to identify someone with the explicit responsibility for looking at the gender experience within the Hub’s membership. What three things would better affirm the Hub’s commitment to gender parity and what specific strategies would help successfully realize that commitment? What relevant data points would substantiate these action steps? What timetable and milestones would be appropriate to ensure the necessary progress and impact?

Engaging the membership at large with these questions and challenges would undoubtedly help move the proverbial needle forward.

 

I am a storytelling and communications professional. I support entrepreneurs in the field of innovation, arts and education to put their thoughts into words and express what they contribute to clients, organizations and society with clarity and focus. One conversation at a time we prioritize w...

Sonja Bichsel, Storytelling, Communications, Civic participation, Education & Coaching

bichsel@gmail.com

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