The Other Lens: You Can’t Measure What You Can’t See

10th August 2015

Posted In: The Topic
Jennifer Kenny

Three steps that you can take to begin to think differently about how we measure employees.

Last month in my column entitled “The Male Measuring Stick”, I talked about measuring performance at work, and how we are only measuring 50% of our leadership capability, given that we are measuring our leadership capability against an exclusively masculine model.

Words: Jennifer Kenny

Last week HBR published an article by author and CEO of 20-First, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, titled “To hold women back, keep treating them like men.”

This month I look at that article and continue our conversation on “How do we go about changing how we measure leaders? Or for that matter all employees?” How we measure people or the standards we hold them to is the underpinning of how we treat them. There are three big steps that you can take to begin to think differently about how we measure employees.


1. Let’s agree there are differences

Wittenberg-Cox in her July HBR article spoke about gender balance:

“And yet for the past 30 years, managers have been taught to do just this: treat men and women exactly the same. That is considered the progressive thing to do. Any suggestion of difference was, and often still is, labelled a bias or a stereotype, especially by many women, eager to demonstrate that they are one of the guys, or the in-group.”

I could not agree more! But it leaves us with the big question: If you don’t know what the differences are, how do you embrace them? We have all been so well trained not to see any differences, how do we now change and see differences without bringing our own biases to play?


2. Recognise that we have been trained not to see them

As one of my readers said “Why should I be concerned whether the candidate for a job I am advertising or who I am working with on a project is a man or a woman? I am simply interested in whether they can get the job done.”

This is a perfect example of how we have all been trained to think. ‘The best person for the job.” I’m not saying for one moment that we should not hire ‘the best person for the job’ but what is the point of hiring the best person for the job and then, if they happen to be a women, treating her like a man, expecting her to behave like a man, measuring her like a man?

And when she brings observations, behaviours and interpretations to the table that you have not been trained to understand, value or leverage – dismissing them and finding her lacking, or worse still not seeing, hearing or acknowledging them in the first place.

As Wittenberg-Cox points out, “Denying the existence of differences between men and women (or boys and girls) was a useful phase we had to go through. It got us to here. Now that the reality of gender has changed, so should our approach. Managers – both male and female – should embrace the differences and get everyone to succeed.”


3. Acknowledge how denying differences undermines our leadership capability and our commitment to bring value to our customers

A few months ago, I was at an excellent presentation, in Asia, by the Country Managing Director of one of the worlds largest global PR companies. His company had done come very interesting work on Brand Authenticity – specifically focused on consumer goods. The premise was thoughtful, the research was extensive and the data was well analysed. He finished a 60-minute presentation to loud applause.

I was genuinely interested to know how they had factored in gender into their research, after all we know that 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions worldwide are made by women – right? So I asked – “Given that women make 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions worldwide, will you please tell us about the influence that gender had on your results?” After long moments of very uncomfortable silence, he replied: “We did not collect data on gender…….but we will next year!” (Good attempted save!)

I absolutely guarantee you, that somewhere, in the long project that produced these results that customers paid lots of money for and that hundreds of consultants worldwide presented to hundreds of CEOs, and VPs of branding and marketing, that some woman at the back of the room put up her hand and said “Excuse me, but…” and I guaranteed you that no one knew enough about the difference of how women lead and the qualities and traits that they bring to the table, to be able to hear her and thereby save themselves major embarrassment – never mind wasting their clients time and money.

I invite you to take the first steps and let me know what you see.


Jennifer Kenny is a speaker, writer and organizational transformation consultant. @WMBMagazine contributor, Board Member @GWLN, Fan of @theelders. Passionate Irishwoman, living in The Big Durian. You can find her @jenniferlkenny or She is writing a book about Amplifying Leadership: How understanding differences amplifies capability.