Month: November 2017

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

You can’t say that!

A capable young woman was recently elected to an all-male council. The Mayor was reported in the local paper saying “It’s pleasing to have a lady back in the council to make sure the men look after themselves”. Groan!

It’s 2017 and people really shouldn’t be saying things like that to female colleagues in the workplace. Despite an increase in workplace programs addressing gender equality, diversity and inclusion, patronising and sexist language still happens.

This can be subtle, with language that both men and women may think of as ‘normal’.

However, just because some words may be in common use doesn’t make them OK.

As the Chair of the Diversity Council Australia David Morrison AO says, ‘language can cut people out or cut people down’. What if you were unconsciously discriminating against women colleagues, all because of the words you used?

If you want to be consciously inclusive, here’s my guide of 10 things NOT to say to women in the workplace

1. Don’t call us Ladies

Often used ironically, this word can be awkward that is because traditionally the word ‘lady’ implies domestic servitude (‘cleaning lady’) or nobility (think Downtown Abby’s ‘Lady of the house’). Neither contexts apply to the workplace.

2. Hi Guys

Consistently referring to your peers or audience as ‘guys’ is a subtle way of saying ‘women don’t belong here’. As Diversity Council Chief Executive Lisa Annese says “There are [gender] neutral alternatives that we can pick. Instead of saying, ‘hey guys’ or ‘hello ladies’, why not say, ‘hi everyone’, ‘hi team’?”

3. Girls

Never call a group of adult women ‘girls’. Too often women working in administration or finance are referred to as ‘the girls at the front desk’ or people say, ‘I’ll get the girls in finance to do it’. It is demeaning and offensive. It’s a workplace, not primary school!

4. Avoid personal comments

It’s best to keep the workplace professional and avoid personal comments. Commenting about a co-worker’s physical appearance (such as weight, clothes or makeup) is considered unprofessional. Not sure? Here’s the test; if your boss was Gail Kelly (former CEO of Westpac) or Alan Joyce (CEO Qantas) would you make a comment on her/his clothes or weight? Hmmm…probably not.

5. The kid or husband questions

See 4 above. Unless a woman brings it up, children (or lack thereof) are her own business. So never ask “when are you going to have kids? Do you have kids? Are you going to have any more kids?”  Same for husband/partner – it really is none of your business to ask, if she has one or “what does your husband do?”.

6. Darling/babe/sweetie/love

This is the boardroom, not the bedroom. Keep the endearments out of the workplace.

7. Where did you come from?

In Australia’s multicultural cultural society, a person of colour or diverse cultural background is just as likely to have come from the ‘burbs of Melbourne as overseas. Questions such as “So, where are you really from?” reinforce a sense of ‘otherness’ as in code for ’you’re not from here’. If it matters to her, she’ll bring it up.

8. Chairman

Try to use gender-neutral terms. Such as ‘Chairperson’ or ‘Chair’. We don’t call a man a Chairwoman so why call a woman Chairman?

9. Versions of ‘Shut up’

Hopefully most people would never say this to a woman but unfortunately, in my work as a coach, women regularly tell me how they’ve been told to ‘Calm down’ or ‘stop being bossy’, or ‘you ask too many questions’. All comments designed to silence and put her down.

10. And then there’s ‘invisible misogyny’

There are many other ways language can subtly ‘cut out’ women. Be alert and avoid these terms or, if someone else uses them, call it out. These are recognisable because there’s no equivalent for men. Such as ‘she’s opinionated’ (he’s ‘knowledgeable’), ‘she’s feisty’ (he’s ‘passionate’) and terms such as ‘motherhood statement’ (shorthand for waffle).

Finally, still not sure what not to say to a woman in the workplace? Here’s the test; if you wouldn’t say it to a man, don’t say it to a woman.

It’s really not that hard for all of us to be a bit more inclusive in our choice of words. Numerous studies show there’s a big incentive to get this right as inclusive language not only improves workplace culture, it also bolsters productivity.

The last word goes to David Morrison, speaking about the #WordsAtWork program who said this is “not about being ‘politically correct’ – it is about encouraging people to use language at work which is respectful, accurate, and relevant to everyone”.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant and coach in local government. She delivers training in gender equality and good governance to councils, organisations and not-for-profits. In 2014 she was recognised for her outstanding leadership in her community with an Order of Australia medal.

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

3 Tactics of Resilient Leaders

It’s true. Change is inevitable. Bad stuff happens to good people. Competitors flourish.

Successful leaders are prepared for all this and more and they remain resilient in the face of stress on their organisation, community and themselves.

Resilience is a vital skill for leaders to build.  Because when change hits, resilient leaders bend but don’t break. When disaster strikes, resilient leaders deal with it and then bounce right back. When things get comfortable, resilient leaders adapt and stay ahead of the curve.

The good news is that resilience can be learnt. There are key characteristics of resilient leaders which, when deliberately incorporated into a leader’s approach, can help him/her to remain robust under stressful events.

This is backed up by research by business adviser Diane Coutu (Harvard Business Review) who has written about the three traits shown by resilient people. She says these characteristics are “an acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise”.

In my role, I work with many leaders across local government and rural communities. Some are more robust than others and like an elastic band, they bounce back when stretched. These are the three main tactics of resilient leaders I have observed, which take them successfully through change.

Be a realist (not an optimist)

The Black Saturday bushfires of summer 2009 remain the biggest disaster in Australian history. I was one of more than a dozen Mayors who led our communities through the immediate response to the disaster and then the recovery period for the months and years that followed. I learned a lot from the various community leaders involved, and it wasn’t always from the people in power but from people from all sorts of backgrounds and professions.

The leaders I admired were effective in getting stuff done and were realists. They saw problems yet didn’t wait for other solve them or hope they’d ‘get lucky’. They planned ahead for what could go wrong, peered into the future and asked, ‘what if?’ They then swung plans into action to mitigate problems.

 Thinking like a ‘realistic pessimist’ and planning ahead for changes (good and bad) is essential for resilience.

That’s why risk management is such an integral part of organisational planning. Think of Kodak’s failure to plan ahead for the impact of digital cameras. Identifying what could go wrong, assessing likelihood and impact and then designing treatments to mitigate risks is a fundamental strategy for resilient leaders.

Stay focused on values

Resilient leaders have a deep sense and understanding of why they do what they do. This keeps them focussed through tough times. In the months following the Black Saturday bushfire, I saw community leaders from all walks of life step up in response to the disaster including people from the emergency services, government, churches, service clubs, and many different community groups.

These people worked tirelessly to assist those affected by the disaster to recover by helping repair fences on farms, providing counselling support to stricken survivors to organising social events to help re-connect devastated communities. If you were to ask anyone of these community leaders why they were there, the answer would be ‘because it’s the right thing to do and I wanted to help someone out in need’. These leaders demonstrated their values of kindness and compassion through their work.

When stressful times hit, resilient leaders tap into the fact their work has meaning.

Adapt or go backwards

Anyone who’s ever run a business or led a community group reliant on grant funding knows that innovation and improvisation are essential for survival. As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change’’. In a world of rapid change, staying the same will take you backwards.

Resilient leaders are open to new ideas that can assist them to respond to change.

Instead of staying comfortable with their worldview, resilient leaders actively seek out the views of others who think differently to them, including diverse voices from different cultural backgrounds, genders, ages and life experiences.

This is what I’ve learnt about the tactics of resilient leaders:

  1. They think ahead with a realistic view of what can go wrong, so when it does they are prepared.
  2. Their values are congruent with their work which keeps them focussed through tough times.
  3. Diverse views are welcomed which supports flexible thinking in adapting to change.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant in local government. She delivers training to Mayors and councillors on topics such as Resilient Leadership through Change and coaches on successful leadership. In 2014 she was recognised for her outstanding leadership in her community with an Order of Australia medal.

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

3 ways a mediocre Mayor needs to become masterful

The leadership skills of the Mayor can set the tone of how well a council performs and the wider community reputation. But what makes a great Mayor? You know it when you see it; it’s the difference between a mediocre or masterful performance.

A masterful Mayor is competent, committed and connected.

She or he, can lead a community through disruptive times, advocate for needed change and collaborate with a range of players to translate community wishes into action. But with a mediocre Mayor in charge, the term ‘clowns in city hall’ will be heard.

A friend recently told me of her frustration at a council ‘community consultation’ meeting she had attended about a planning issue. The Mayor turned up late and then proceeded to run a badly chaired meeting, leaving the audience frustrated they hadn’t been able to have their say on a contentious planning proposal. If this scenario sounds familiar, then your Mayor needs these three tips on how to move from mediocre to masterful.

Be Competent

At a basic level, Mayors are required to perform the legislative and functional roles of the Local Government Act.  A mediocre Mayor takes a casual ‘tick-the-box’ approach to the role; maybe relishing in the status but doing little else.  Masterful Mayors uses their skills to elevate the role into one where they are recognised as an inspirational community leader.

A masterful Mayor is skilled at chairing meetings; at councils, business and community functions. When s/he is in charge the meeting is on time, everyone gets the chance to have their say and good governance reigns. Sadly, the opposite is often observed when the loudest voices monopolise the conversation, meetings go overtime and don’t run to an agenda.

Competent Mayors articulate a vision for the council which is aligned with the community’s needs and wants and translates this into action.

Then, when their term is over, they can look back and go “I achieved that!” and leave a legacy.

Masterful Mayors collaborate skilfully with their fellow Councillors to get action in the chamber while modelling respectful conduct. Using their emotional intelligence, they nurture the important relationship with the CEO and respect the skills and experience of council staff.

Be Committed

Done properly, being a Mayor is a full-time job. On any given day there’s breakfast meeting with business groups, all day appointments, finishing with community meetings in the evenings. For Mayors of large municipalities, travel around the electorate also involves a lot of time.  When I was Mayor, I worked 12-14-hour days, including weekends which averaged as an 80+ hour week. But I was committed to the role and dedicated myself full time to the job.

In my experience, a Councillor must be 100% dedicated to doing the role of Mayor.

Mayors do get paid. The pay varies across Australia from $60,000 per year in smaller rural councils in Victoria to over $300,000 for the Lord Mayor in Brisbane.   When that salary comes from the pockets of ratepayers, I believe that a Mayor has an obligation to the community to focus 100% on the job.

When a Mayor is fully committed to the role s/he can also demonstrate good governance and avoid potential conflicts of interest or the perception that they are moonlighting on the side.

Be Connected

A skilful Mayor is connected at all levels; including other levels of government, community and with fellow Councillors. S/he will be on first name terms with the local State and Federal government members and meet with them regularly to advocate for the council and community.

Connected Mayors use their community contacts to network with various groups in the municipality; not just the loud, powerful vested interests. A masterful Mayor uses his/her connections to listen to diverse views and then feeds back the issues to council for action. A connected Mayor is also a great communicator, able to reach out to people with confidence and project gravitas.

What’s your Mayor like? Is your council electing the most appropriately skilled Councillor for the role – or is it going to someone as a ‘reward’ for long service or because of factional deals between Councillors? If you’ve got an opinion on who you want to see as your next Mayor, have a chat to your local Councillor and let your views be known. And if that doesn’t work, why not think about standing for council yourself next elections and maybe you will become the next Mayor!

Ruth McGowan OAM is a past Mayor and Councillor. She coaches and mentors Mayors and runs training for local government – all of which gives her a unique insight into what makes a masterful Mayor.