Women in the Workplace

Two articles from the Harvard Business Review caught my attention because they were back to back in my RSS feed: What the U.S. Can Learn From Europe About Gender Equality in the Workplace, and also Can She Lead? In both cases, they are mostly positive articles, or rather, they aim for positive outcomes for women, but it also shows one frame for the challenge.

New data from the Center for Work-Life Policy demonstrate that while 47% of college-educated entry-level corporate professionals are female, women comprise a mere 21% of senior executives, 17% of Congress (PDF link) and 15% of board directors.

But in my recent effort to learn what women want, I found that not all women want to lead. Let me be really clear: some do, and we should be very clear and helpful in making sure that women have the chance/choice to lead, when they are qualified and capable (quick side note: lots of male leaders are neither qualified nor capable, so maybe that’s not even a consideration we should have).

We should, however, accept that maybe there are other ways that women are contributing to the business landscape, both inside of corporations (Thank you Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Carol Bartz, et al), but also outside ( Pam Slim, Tara Hunt, Becky McCray). Meaning, let’s be really clear that maybe those numbers point to a need for improvement, but maybe they point to the fact that it’s not always the position some women seek to attain.

I could interview 100 women and I’d get 70-80 different answers on one’s career aspirations. This is a beautiful thing. Again, after reading Maddy Dychtwald’s book, I think we’re at a renaissance point of opening up women to the choice to have more leadership opportunities. And yet, it should always be a choice.

I don’t know. What’s your take? For you, not the stats. And men, what do you see around you as this environment supposedly shifts?

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  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    That's the real question, or one of them, isn't it? Maybe they don't want it?

  • http://www.memorybits.co.uk/ usb flash drive

    Ask any man or like they “want” is not bothered to lead? My guess is not. Women in disproportionate numbers because they are not only being in his industry do not like to get, they are very real inequalities that still exist in the corporate sector are a measure of.

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  • KarenSwim

    Chris you raise great questions and I for one am glad that the articles moved you enough to address it here. Do we want to lead? I believe the answers are not as clear as we'd like to believe for many reasons cited. It is interesting to note the number of women creating businesses, unarguably a position of leadership. Yes, we want to lead but I believe we want it on different terms. Yet, it does not excuse the barriers we have erected for those that do want to lead in the corporate culture. Sadly, while some women and minorities have broken through we are no where near diversity in those coveted top positions.

  • http://www.monicapesce.com Monica Pesce

    Not all women want to lead, exactly like not all men want to lead.
    The first huge difference, if we want to go back to what women want and what the society (and here I very much refer to the Italian context) want women to want, is that no man will be accused of being a bad father or bad husband because he focuses too much on work and does not take care of the house, the kids or a decent social life (only his wife will), while many people will still look at ambitious women as if they were witches.
    Let's start with a more balanced sharing of roles and responsibilities within the family and with a better social acceptance of feminine ambition and many more women will raise their hand.
    I tend to refuse the “give birth issue” as a whole: babies are a family issue, not a mother issue!

    If we then move to the leadership style, then I would for sure agree with you that women might have a different style and probably focus on elements that better suit the current context (e.g., cooperation, sharing, social benefit, relationships, …) however this too could be a consequence of the context in which we live and if you change the context you might then change the style.
    One of my partners (male) says the big difference is that men are mono-maniac and can focus on one thing at a time while women are multitasking and mostly have many interests and passions and for this reason they end up exiting career paths without reaching the top: they don't want to sacrifice their many passions (not only family and kids) to focus on one only. So they frequently exit the corporate world and start their own business.

    Unfortunately to be able to change the context – corporate world, business world, political world – you must reach the top and become a decision maker. So let's raise our hands and say it loud: we want to lead, so that we can finally change the way we relate to work and business!

    p.s. by the way I am a mono-maniac woman in love with my demanding job and working to become partner of a consulting company, because I DO want to lead

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  • Sarah

    Why are we always so quick to jump in with, “Maybe all women don't want to lead”? Maybe all MEN don't want to lead, either. So why are they so disproportionately in leadership positions?

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  • maryblue

    Out of ALL of the highly educated women I know, only one has chosen to battle the career path thing and leave her husband to do the homefront. EVERY other one had a choice and chose differently. I believe that educated women have been brainwashed into thinking that their maternal instincts are inferior, stupid and valueless. I would welcome more flexibility in the workplace to allow women to have meaningful contributions during their childbearing and rearing years, so that they might return to leadership positions.

  • http://www.yuregininsesi.com yuregininsesi

    Chris, by highlighting the undisputable fact that “not all women want to lead,” and not mentioning the equally undisputable fact that not all men want to lead, I'm afraid you're missing the point and reinforcing a bias that contributes to the disparities mentioned in the article. You're suggesting that women are less likely than men to want to lead, and that this difference could (at least partially) explain the disparity. Have you tested your theory in any rigorous, non-anecdotal way? If not, you may want to consider that assumptions about women – about their preferred and appropriate roles, as well as their capacities to fill the entire range of roles – are more likely to explain the numbers.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WLQ34XJKOVCXXHNVCLZSLWLIGY Dale

    It's called testosterone, hun.

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  • http://www.alchemy4thesoul.com Kathroberts

    I’m one of the women who chose leadership and battled it out on the front lines in a male dominant culture. Don’t get me wrong I worked for two very wonderful male bosses during that time and had one trusted male colleague. In the end I got sick and tired of the petty politics and overt competitive ‘willy waving’ and decided that the skills I had would be best placed leading my own business. I chose a business in network marketing to give me a better work life balance and I think this is something everyone is looking for these days not just the females.