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Spotlight on research: How can work environments help increase diversity in leadership and avoid burnout?

#IWD - Spotlight on research: How can work environments help increase diversity in leadership and avoid burnout?

Dr Janine Bosak Associate Professor in the HRM and Organisational Psychology Group at Dublin City University Business School and Director of Research of the Leadership and Talent Institute (LTI) at DCU is this week's Spotlight on Research interview. 

What is your research about?

“I do research, teaching and consulting on the topic of women in leadership. I also look at employee wellbeing and burnout in healthcare.”

What do you explore around women in leadership?

“The topic of women in leadership has become more mainstream in recent years, because there is more evidence for a business case in diversity: a bigger talent pool, better company performance and enhanced creativity.

Now research institutions as well as businesses are looking to reap the benefits of diversity. But there are barriers and challenges to women’s leadership, and I look at those and how to overcome them.

It is a complex phenomenon – men generally have a straightforward career whereas women often face a complex labyrinth to leadership – a series of complexities, detours and dead ends.

Women often start their first job being highly qualified and as ambitious as men but as they try to climb the organisational ladder they encounter a complex interplay of different challenges and barriers.

For example, leadership is traditionally male dominated and women often lack role models.

The ideal is for women to be confident and to seize opportunities and meet these challenges but also for organisations to support women in their leadership journey.”

How can organisations remove or reduce those barriers to women in leadership?

“Organisations need to put talent management programmes in place.

They should identify high potential women, help them develop and build up their resilience to barriers.

Also, organisations should introduce interventions, policies and practices that support working parents such as flexi-time, job-sharing and paternity leave.

By giving women the major chunk of the leave when a baby is born, our culture sets up men and women differently for roles between family and work and that can have a negative impact on women’s careers.”

You also look at factors contributing to burnout in healthcare professionals. Tell us more.

“Burnout is a widespread phenomenon among healthcare professionals. Think about it: budgets have been cut significantly, a high patient to staff ratio means hospital staff face increasing demands and over time that can lead to exhaustion and cynicism.

The healthcare professionals are very committed to patients and to their role, but they are at risk to burn out over time.

I am working with colleagues in DCU and in Canada, using data from Irish and Canadian hospitals and health care professionals to look at the work environment -HR practices and policies, leadership, and job design - and how that can contribute to or reduce burnout.”

Again, how can the work environment address those issues?

“We are finding that job autonomy is important, for example, the extent to which you can influence the schedule of shifts on the ward, the flexibility you have and with whom you work.

Also, it is important that healthcare professionals are clear themselves about what their role entails.

We have also been examining HR practices and policies, focusing on nurses’ involvement in decision making, whether they get sufficient training and whether they do feel rewarded and recognised for their work.

Getting respect and recognition is critical, that reduces stress on a day-to-day level.”

You are director of research at the Talent and Leadership Institute at DCU. What does that involve?

“At the LTI we have a fantastic group of researchers working in the field of HR management and organisational psychology. It’s about connecting people to work on joint projects and bringing over highly recognised scholars for research seminars.

We recently had Dr Sam Paustian-Underdahl from Florida International University over to talk about the Queen Bee effect, looking at why female leaders may reject (rather than support) their female subordinates.

We have also teamed up with The Irish Times to run a Distinguished Lecture Series and we recently brought over Professor Denise Rousseau, Director of Centre for Evidence Based Management at Carnegie Melon University, to talk about making informed decisions.”

What will you be working on this summer?

“I’m going to work for a month with my former PhD supervisor, Alice Eagly at Northwestern University in Chicago.

She studies how gender stereotypes develop from social roles, and how the incongruence of the female gender role with the leader role makes it difficult for women to be effective when they become leaders.

For example, compared with men, women receive less favourable evaluations or even get penalised for being assertive."

You have a really busy job, how do you avoid burnout yourself?

“I love my job. That is why I work long hours. It’s a constant challenge for academics in general to draw boundaries between time off and work time.

I am constantly on email and it is difficult to switch off. I enjoy time with my family, and I spend a lot of time in the playground with my kids.

On a night out, my husband and I love going to the theatre. I recharge my batteries during our holidays.

My family and I love to explore the world.”

8th March, 2018