Since we each have a predominant proclivity towards a particular style, being able to understand, leverage, and blend the other styles helps an organization maximize its competitive advantage. Another way to optimize strategic input is to incorporate women in corporate leadership.
A recent Catalyst study reported: Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on the Board outperform other companies with 53% more returns on equities, 42% more return on sales and 66% more return invested capital.
What keeps women back?
Sure, some women may “opt out” to care for their children, but the real hindrance is two-fold:
- External – the culture (ACTIONS)
- Internal – fear of failure, perfectionism/underestimation, risk-aversion (THOUGHTS; EMOTIONS)
EXTERNAL. Unfortunately, in my corporate experience in Leadership Development, the external variable is typically attributed towards men imposing a glass ceiling on women. I regret to share my observation how it is also other women’s insecurities projected onto women that prevent the successes of our corporate sisters. Whether it be envy or wishing to be the sole woman at the top, there are invariably those who shove a steel stiletto into the face of the woman climbing the corporate ladder behind (or next to) her. As an Arab proverb goes, “people only throw sticks and stones at fruit-bearing trees,” or in modern-day parlance, as Ryan Seacrest says, “If no one hates you, then you’re not successful enough.”
INTERNAL. Women internalize far too much. Women are more likely to crumble, kvetch, and gripe about having received a negative appraisal or imperfect critique; whereas men tend to blow off the criticism as someone else’s problem. Whether criticism is positive or negative (and hopefully requested as opposed to unsolicited), you may place it into 1 of 3 buckets: valid, invalid, and irrelevant. Congressman (sic) Marsha Blackburn shares, “It can be very helpful to learn to process criticism (just) as you do your mail – sort it while hovering over the trash can: ‘Junk…junk…junk…hmmm, not sure, I’ll open that one and see…junk…’”
The internal variable appears to supersede the external variable…what I mean by this is, history is replete with examples of how women have achieved leadership success (i.e. self-confidence or assuredness in one’s ability), despite gender (i.e. socio-cultural barriers). In fact, there are currently 17 female world leaders in power as Presidents and Prime Ministers of their respective nations, as of January 15, 2013: http://www.filibustercartoons.com/charts_rest_female-leaders.php.
Create a community within the organization (& outside) of mentors, role-models, networking groups. Find those who can help navigate through an organization and provide a support system.
Identify your value contribution, your unique talents, what you bring to the work environment to best enable success.
Make sure that your voice is heard. Speak up and speak out.
Don’t wait for a promotion; when you’re ready, ask for more. You don’t ask, you don’t get!
Expose girls to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM careers) subjects early on.
Offer retention-focused benefits such as on-site childcare, maternity benefits, women’s networking groups, mentoring, and development.
Create a culture that appreciates Inclusion; not conformity to the male leadership model (see my blog Workplace Xenophobia).
Take a hard stance on sexual harassment. One company paid its female executive for her lawsuit against one of the organization’s most senior executives, and the company continues to employ him, despite the dozens of witnesses to his harassment. The result? The talent left (which is one less woman to promote); and, what kind of message does that send to the remaining talent base? For an organization to be healthy and competitive, it is imperative that all levels of management be protected.
Susan Lucas-Conwell, Global Chief Executive Officer at Great Place to Work® shared, “Ultimately, an organization that genuinely cares about their women employees will keep their women. We have found that those companies that have active policies in place that ensure equal rights for women and have taken active steps to redress that imbalance, are most successful.”
The question “Can Women Have It All?” is immanently sexist. How the workplace enables us all (men, women, Baby Boomer, Gen Y, etc) to have it all, however we define it, will be the hallmark of a great place to work; a workplace where attrition will be low.
Women, the time is nigh! Veni, vidi, vici, Baby.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. CorporateLookingGlass.com.
Marsha Blackburn, Life Equity, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2008.