How Are We Doing At Integrating Women Into Leadership Roles?
You don’t have to look very far today to find incredibly successful women – female CEO’s, Board of Directors, C-Level Executives, Sports Leaders, etc. However, part of the reason it is easy to find these inspirational leaders is because they are part of a rather small population.
So, what do women like Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), Meg Whitman (HP), Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Mary Callahan Erdoes (JP Morgan) all have in common? They are part of only 15% of CEO’s that are women and even more surprising, is that they are part of the 8% that are also Mom’s.
“A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be incredibly difficult.” – Melinda Gates
Why Does This Occur?
Ultimately, the answer is that “we” do this to ourselves. Sheryl Sandberg, does a tremendous job highlighting some of the reasons why we still have this problem and that it hasn’t been moving in a growing direction since 2002.
Additionally, according to a recent Today Show interview, in the early part of this century, many successful executive women were bowing out and decided to “lean back” as Sheryl Sandberg would say, and choose to be stay at home Moms. As their children are now growing up, many of these leaders are interested in going back into the work force and are finding it difficult.
Today Show – CEO’s of Households (Moms) Ready To Come Back
Does The Glass Ceiling Still Exist?
Some of you may not even know the term glass ceiling, and I would hope you never need to know the term. It is a term that came about in the 1980’s when more women were working to buck the invisible barriers that kept them from achieving the successes they felt they were capable of achieving regardless of their gender.
I would argue we’ve successfully knocked our noggins into those glass ceilings to where they have shattered. However, with shattered glass there are always shards that still exist. They aren’t everywhere and they are often hiding. The most successful women, choose to pluck the shards out and move them to the side to ensure it doesn’t slow them down.
The barriers today are typically misperceptions and can be overcome by “staying at the table” as Sheryl would put it. Let me give you an example of a situation that occurred while I was trying to maneuver my way into a new role.
The role would have had me networking with primarily males with a variety of “interests” so to speak. My mentor at the time tried to steer me away from the opportunity by clueing me in on the culture that is the norm. He asked if I was prepared to take golf lessons, because most of the deals would be closed on a golf course. He asked how I would respond should my clients want to stay out late drinking or want to go to a strip club. He was hinting strongly that no matter how good I was that I would have big challenges, because I am a woman.
My response was to “stay at the table” and address these “cultural norms” with an offer that perhaps it was time to appeal to clients who would prefer to go for a morning run instead of golf and that I’d be happy to say good night early and offer to take them skydiving as well the next day, but that it is best done sober. I offered to change a cultural game that needed changing.
You see, over the past many years of conversations on this topic, I’ve found that the strongest female leaders lean in more aggressively if they are told that they aren’t welcome in the proverbial executive sandbox.
What Do We Need To Do About It?
Those of us that have stayed at the table or leaned in, must help mentor college students, managers, and mid-level leaders who are facing the same tough questions we all have. We have to share our stories and we have to encourage them to hone the skills required to achieve their goals.
In a recent discussion with a soon to be college grad, the question she posed to me was “Can I have it all? Can I travel, be a successful business woman, and be a Mom?”. The question caused me to pause and really think about this, because, you see, she has chosen the field of chemical engineering, where as she is learning is not heavily dominated by women in the first place and where she has already had to prove herself against her male peers.
My answer to her was YES, you can have it all, however, it won’t be easy and you’ll need to heed some advice.
1. Choose Wisely Your Life Partner: You will have to be sure to choose a life partner who is supportive and who will challenge you and mentor you…you can’t do this alone, so choose this person wisely. Choose someone who believes in you and believes you can have it all and express your goals openly. Help each other to achieve at higher levels than you thought you could.
2. Have a Personal Board of Directors: Surround yourself with people better than you…they will become your mentors/personal board of directors and they will make you stronger, but you can only accomplish this if you choose your network wisely.
3. Be Tough: Be prepared to have thick skin and be prepared to fight hard and be aggressive…you will have to be competitive to achieve leadership roles if that is eventually where you want to be. Find your differentiators and know yourself well enough to be proud about who you are, what you stand for, and what sets you apart.
4. Network Wisely: Be prepared for other women who are trying to succeed that will forego a family or put it off late into life and put their careers first. You will have to be able to explain and prove how and why you are the best fit for the position. Be prepared to figure out your “off work networking”…most decisions in career growth are not done at work…they are done on the proverbial golf course. Be prepared to figure out how you will engage with leaders outside of work (board meetings, dinners, charitable causes, etc). Just know you may have to sacrifice some family time to be able to get the quality executive face time you’ll likely need.
5. Choose a Global Employer: These days you can travel the world, learn leadership skills across cultures…and combine work/play by taking the family for some days before or after your meetings. The beauty of moving up in a company is that it often involves travel. But here is where your strategy is critical. Choose a global company or a large national company, because if you choose a large company it’s likely going to have plenty of women specific support and programs, flexibility with you when you do have a family, and large amounts of choices on where you could live or where you could work/travel. Additionally, larger organizations have significantly more options in terms of jobs for you to advance your career.
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