BUSINESSES are taking "baby steps" to support diversity and women in leadership, but more of them are keen to talk to leadership guru Sonia McDonald about bullying.

LeadershipHQ CEO McDonald says her company is increasingly focussed on "one-or-one coaching" to elevate individuals, particularly women, up the corporate ladder.

"In terms of gender balance in organisations such as retail and government with reasonably large customer service teams, there're a lot of women working in those entry-level roles, or under middle management," she says.

"There seems to be more women than men, but when you get to the management or the executive leadership space, the gender balance becomes a little bit skewed."

Since founding LeadershipHQ in 2008, McDonald has worked with organisations to develop leadership, diversity, and strategy.

She doesn't coach on anti-bullying methods but says clients are showing a growing interest in the issue, particularly in the last six months.

"I wouldn't say it's frequent, but I've heard it more lately, more than when I was doing this work a couple of years ago," she says

"If I make an assumption around it, it's because there's a lot of change happening. There's a lot of restructuring happening and there're a lot of redundancies.

"People are a lot more fearful and therefore they tend to act differently."

LeadershipHQ's signature program is EmpowerHER, which develops leadership skills for women. Nevertheless, McDonald also performs extensive one-one-one coaching with men.

She says male leaders often struggle with the pressure to be "Mr Tough CEO", where they "can't be vulnerable".

"When it tends to happen, you're working with a manager or leader who doesn't know what they're doing, or is feeling fear," she says.

"I coach mostly men, and I coach some CEOs who will come into my office. They will feel like they're about to crumble.

"When we're vulnerable and when we're stressed we demonstrate behaviours that are not aligned to leadership. You start to demonstrate behaviours that make you say: I wish I hadn't done that."

McDonald publishes widely on a range of organisational topics, through traditional and social media.

"I'm using different avenues to get my message out," she says.

"I'm putting a lot of information and research insights around. It's starting to generate awareness and conversations. That's what I'm excited about."

According to recruiting experts Hays, 51 per cent of organisations have a gender diversity policy, but almost 20 per cent do not adhere to their own policies.

The industries most likely to have a formal policy are the public sector, not-for-profit organisations, mining, and financial services.

McDonald says sometimes a company or industry "doesn't get" the drive for diversity and that will weaken their performance in the end.

"They're beginning to take it more seriously, but they're still not seeing it," she says.

"Some of them just don't get it. It's going to be too late and they're going to say: 'Maybe we should've done something'."

"Policies and reporting and all those things are great, because it gives a sense of where everybody is and puts it on the agenda, but it has to be a change piece. It has to take everyone on the journey."

McDonald says greater diversity and improved leadership assists "productivity, morale, and the bottom line".

"I'll get a sense that something's not feeling right. It might be turnover, it might be sick days, it might be just getting a feeling that people in the organisation are not happy," she says.

"I'll wonder what's contributing to that. Is it culture? Do we have some leaders who aren't performing?

"By improving leadership capability and confidence, we're seeing a difference in terms of engagement and investment return."

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