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Managing the pipeline: links, kinks, and blockages

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Don’t you love the metaphors that business and management studies comes up with?

This is a great one – managing the pipeline – it summons up images of a network of pipes and connections to supply some endpoint in a system.  It's a metaphor that's been used quite a lot in the talent management literature as well as in gender studies, as we think about what might accelerate or impede the flow of talent in an organisation (regardless of gender!).

In the ILM's recent report we read about how important 'managing the pipeline' is (no surprise there then!); as well as 'stagnating pools' (of talent) and 'leaky pipelines' (use 'em or lose 'em – your talented ones that is) (Institute for Leadership and Management 2012). 

So - some lovely metaphors in this report, with a nice juicy range of recommendations for organisational responses to developing and keeping 'talent'. 

It's clear then  - to manage your talent pipeline you have to forge 'links', by building an organisational plan for formalising skills development in communication, people management, organisation and planning; and also welding it to a linked pipeline that develops a range of personal qualities that underpin successful and effective leaders who need to be ' inspirational, emotionally intelligent, creative and innovative'.

Hurrah! We have a vision!

Trouble is – for women, there are 2 things that aren't mentioned in this report: power and gender.

When it comes to leadership development, no matter how well designed, we know that effective development for women needs to consider the issue of 'power relations', complicated by 'gender relations'.

I'm sure that when you go out to paid work all of you see power relations in play every day (Raven 2008).  Yep – for women and men alike. Whether it's the choice of a better spec car if you're in a more 'powerful' role, or getting to choose a leather chair rather than a cloth covered one.  Or have a parking space nearer the 'front door' (Yes – all real examples!). 

What men are arguably less subject to, are power relations at work that reflect gender relations. 

Gender relations are the ways in which a society defines rights, responsibilities and the identities of men and women in relation to one another (United Nations 2014)

You see, we know a lot about how gender affects power relations at work (better for men than for women), and we also know that: "in all cultures, gender determines power and resources for females and males" (United Nations 2014).

So when it comes to leadership development for women, it is important that the development they experience takes account of 'context' – because gender relations (still!) affect what society expects of women at work. Which is why we still need to mark each year, in March (did you miss it?!)  International Women's Day.

Have a look here at the work of INSEAD Business School, which sets out how women's development programmes should be designed: Taking Gender into Account:Women's Leadership Programmes

  •  Matthews, B. (2006) Engaging Education. Developing Emotional Literacy, Equity and Co-education. Buckingham: McGraw-Hill/Open University Press. pp178
  • Jill Blackmore, (2010) "Preparing leaders to work with emotions in culturally diverse educational communities", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 48 Iss: 5, pp.642 - 658
  • Institute for Leadership and Management (2012). The leadership and management talent pipeline. London, Institute for Leadership and Management.
  • Raven, B. H. (2008). "The Bases of Power and the Power/Interaction Model of Interpersonal Influence." Analyses of Social Issues & Public Policy 8(1): 1-22.
  • United Nations. (2014). "Why Gender?", 2014, from



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