Having spent many years encouraging women to keep a brag book, promote their achievements and toot their horn, I’ve decided to walk the talk and to say how proud I am of the work we are doing with women in male dominated organisations.

We have just launched the second series of Orijen’s Coaching Circles in the Australian Public Service with 84 women allocated to 8 circles. Something very powerful happens when women, free from the competitiveness and testosterone present in mixed gender groups, realise that they are not alone and that others share the same challenges.

In this program, we use our proprietary Q Game to both understand the conscious and unconscious competencies that influence women’s progress and to provide a dashboard to track their progress over the twelve month program.

Getting ahead in the IQ game

In the “IQ” game, the rules dictate that you need to be competent, perform well, achieve your outcomes and outputs, and be as technically best you can possibly be in order to get ahead. In this game, if you do well, you will be noticed and you will be promoted. And indeed in the circles we hear countless examples of women being recognised for their talent and being the “go to” person when a job needed to be done well.

Yet the discussions in the circles revealed that playing the IQ game is a double-edged sword – being efficient, head down bum up works in the first half of one’s career. However when women relied on this in the second half of their career, they wondered why their male counterparts passed them by. In fact, while they were diligently working away getting the job done, the men were allocating less time to performance and more to navigating the politics, networking and raising their profile, and were being rewarded with promotions and more interesting assignments.

Joining the boys in the NQ game

It’s always an unpalatable lesson – that their performance in the IQ game no longer differentiates them and that they must join the boys on a new playing field to get ahead. This is the NQ game. NQ describes the ‘unconscious incompetencies’ of women…NoQ or No Clue! The rules of this game reward different behaviours – promoting yourself, increasing your profile, lobbying to get buy-in from colleagues before meetings, asking for what you want.

And yes, I can see you squirm – “I shouldn’t have to do that. My performance should be enough!”  But the reality of male-dominated organisations means unless women recognise that they are on a different playing field, they will continue to be passed over for other, often less capable men. Ultimately women vote with their feet and leave their organisation in frustration, thus perpetuating the male domination and gender imbalance in senior teams.

What can women do about this?

A very wise male executive in one of my mentor training sessions likened this situation to soccer. Around the world, the rules of soccer are the same. Yet the Japanese team will play differently to the Italian, the French, and the Aussies, with each team drawing on their own particular strengths and capabilities.

So in the Q Game what are women’s differentiating qualities? I have identified these as their ‘unconscious competencies’…their EQ. These include superior skills in relationship management, communication, collaboration, stakeholder management, caring and nurturing staff and clients. Because these skills can come naturally, women tend to underestimate and undervalue their importance. In fact, it is well researched that these are key leadership qualities, and when men exhibit EQ they are hailed as exemplary leaders.

The fourth game is the Personal Q (PQ). The rules here involve networking, strategic career management, professional development and work-life balance. Women are aware that they need to play this game but will say they don’t have time to do these things – because all their time and energy is going into playing the IQ game.

Where can women learn the full range of Q skills to enable them to advance in the second half of their careers and reach their full potential?

The answer is in Coaching Circles!
In the safe and confidential Coaching Circles space that we have created, women are learning from each other and from those who have successfully played the NQ game and have succeeded in retaining their personal integrity and authenticity.

Working with the intelligent women in the Orijen Coaching Circles has been a truly transformational experience for me. I continue to be inspired by their willingness to be open and honest, and am humbled by the power of the circle to awaken ambition and instill confidence in women to be whatever they aspire to be.

To get ahead women don’t have to take on a male persona. Equal does not have to mean ‘the same’.  Finding an authentic female leadership style is our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity.

To learn more about what Coaching Circles can do for you, please contact us.