How to kill a great organisation?:

„More women are needed in leadership positions (as long as they remain powerless)!“

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On balanced power distribution and sustainable success of organisations  

As part of our podcast series „How to kill a great organisation“, Elisabeth Leyser spoke with Professor Dr Doris Mathilde Lucke from the University of Bonn. As a professor of sociology, her research interests include acceptance research and gender sociology. Professor Lucke argues that only when power moves out of certain fields does space become available for women and vividly shows how the existing distribution of power and lack of diversity can harm organisations.

The focus of the interview was on the topics of „power distribution and diversity, which Professor Dr. Doris Mathilde Lucke has dealt with for years in acceptance research and gender sociology.

The Widow’s Route

Professor Lucke argues that when power moves out of certain fields, space is freed up for women. Research shows that there is such a pattern in Germany and the USA, called „Widow’s Route“. Professor Lucke comments: „There has to be a vacancy for women to have a chance.“

Transferred to business and politics (according to Professor Lucke), it’s often the case that women are under constant surveillance. While mistakes made by a man are usually attributed to the person and often accompanied by an excuse (he had a bad day, that was his only bad decision in his entire career…), a mistake made by a woman is attributed to her „womanhood“: „With a woman, people say: You see: ‚Typical woman‘! And there you mean the generic term – they just can’t do it.“

So how does the unequal distribution of power affect organisations and their development?

Professor Lucke comments:

„I would say very inhibiting. The hierarchies and the asymmetries are always blockades in my eyes. I think a good approach is to meet at eye level. One of my theses is that in the future it will not be so much about women coming to eye level with men. The gender struggle will continue as a man-machine war.“

The feminisation of fields correlates with devaluation

Regarding her thesis of the power vacuum, Professor Lucke says that the more feminised a subject area is, the more likely it is to be devalued:

„One cannot establish a causal link between feminisation and the devaluation of certain occupations or sectors or even scientific disciplines. But correlations very much can.“

As an example, she cites the field of science, where women (especially in STEM subjects) usually compete without males because business is much more attractive to men, including financially, so they don’t even aspire to universities – „Male non-competitiveness is also a prerequisite for success for women.“

Male domains of power are preserved

But it is also about hidden mechanisms of power and income differences:

„If women are so much cheaper, then every employer should actually be smart enough to fire all the men and only hire women. But that doesn’t happen, except in the care sector. Why? Because male power domains are to be preserved.“

Feminism is always also humanism – the quota as a bridging technology

„On the one hand, we women have learnt that without a quota there seems to be little or no change. But every quota always presupposes discrimination. If women’s quotas are now propagated, then it is precisely this division between men and women that is made permanent and kept permanently in the consciousness. At the same time, it becomes clear that before there was an almost 100% male quota. The quota is always the women’s quota. This prolongs a division into the future that we all do not want to have in this way. This is exactly what I mean with this counter-strategy of quota-free „visible self-evidence“ and „self-evident visibility.“

So the quota can only be a bridging technology. It should no longer be a question of whether it’s a man or a woman, but simply a capable, willing, qualified human being: „Feminism is always also humanism.“

Change succeeds with the courage to experiment and learning through reflection

On the topic of personnel decisions, recruitment and promotion, Professor Lucke argues that mixed-gender groups have been proven to be more effective, creative and innovative and also improve the working atmosphere.

Professor Lucke therefore advises more courage to experiment and learn through reflection. Whereby it is not about men or women, but about cooperating as well as possible as human beings and shaping the future together.

In conclusion, Professor Lucke places the gender issue in a larger context:

„This is not only a question of gender, but this is a question of majorities and minorities, of accustomed, familiar, of already known, still unknown, of power and powerlessness. And gender is actually just a subcategory of all that and as such it is very powerful.“

We summarise

How to kill a great Company 

  • Ensure that as little development as possible takes place in your company by making your teams as homogeneous as possible.
  • Steep hierarchies and concentration of power in a few hands ensure that nothing new is created and everything stays the same.
  • Only make room for women if men find the job uninteresting anyway.
  • Express your conviction that women simply cannot do certain things and act accordingly.
  • Pay men a higher salary for the same job – after all, they have a family to maintain.
  • Prevent ambitious, capable women from advancing – if they make a career, there may be less room for your network.
  • Make sure that your company is represented by (preferably tall, light-skinned) men – women can also make an important contribution in the background.

Diversity as a means for sustainable corporate success

Innovative capacity is one of the critical success factors for sustainable business success.

True innovation (as opposed to „continuous improvement“) benefits from different perspectives on an issue. On this basis, radically new solutions can be found, even for complex challenges.

  • Therefore, create the possibility of maximum diversity in your company.
  • Consciously form teams of people of different gender, culture, age, with different expertise and from different areas of the company.
  • Create space and opportunity for personal relationships in these teams. Intentionally invite conversations that go beyond factual and work-related topics and create a safe space for these encounters through sensitive facilitation.
  • Ensure that more reserved people have an equal share of speaking time as other, more extroverted team members.
  • Important: Allow for tensions. These are – safely held and constructively used – a valuable basis for high-quality creative ideas.