As promised, I want to continue to share my answers to the interview questions about “why there are too few women leaders.”  Here are the next three questions:

Why do women off ramp? The first two things I mentioned before about women needing to behave differently to achieve the same kind of success and the family choices many women make often create decisions to leave a career.  Some women do use these motivators to start their own businesses so they can better control how they work, when they work, and their own definitions of success.  A woman by the name of Margaret Heffernen wrote a book called “The Naked Truth,” and she talked about how many women were opting out of corporate America because they didn’t want to or have the resources necessary (energy, time, wherewithal) to figure out how to manage their way upward in a man’s world.

Why do women feel guilty about their decisions? As with all these questions, I’m making some broad generalizations, but I think most women are either natural or have been conditioned to be care givers…whether that’s at work or at home.  And when the responsibilities at both places are more than anyone can possibly handle, we feel guilty.  We feel guilty not getting work done the way we’d like to, we feel guilty not making work events because of conflicting priorities, we feel guilty when something goes wrong within our families, we feel guilty when something goes wrong with one of the kids…we are hard on ourselves and in many cases our own worst enemies.  Sheryl (Sandberg) points out that we regularly underestimate ourselves.  We are typically harder on ourselves than men are on themselves.  So, when things don’t go perfectly, we beat ourselves up.

Why won’t women sit at the table? They don’t think they deserve to be there or they feel they don’t fit at the table.  We are, at times, our biggest enemy.  There are also times you’re the only woman at the table and you can be punished for that both by other women within the organization as well as the men.  It can be a very lonely place.  For some women, it’s just not worth it.


Stay tuned for Part III coming up in a few days.  As always, I enjoy hearing your comments and perspectives.

In my post on June 29, I asked for input for an interview being conducted by the editor of our local Chamber magazine.  Thank you to those of you who weighed in with me via email.  I hope I did the interview justice, but regardless, I decided to publish my answers to the 12 questions in a series of posts over the coming week or two.  The questions were derived from Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk, Why There Are Too Few Women Leaders, from December 2010.

Why do you believe that women are not making it to the top?

This is a complicated issue that I could spend hours on.  But, in the interest of keeping this succinct, I think there are three main reasons and they each impact and are impacted by the other two.  My reasons are similar but differ a bit from Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk, but if the readers haven’t listened to her Ted Talk on Why There Are Too Few Women Leaders, I would encourage them to (Listen Here to Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk).

      1. First, I think that women and men have to achieve the same outcomes to be successful, but I think they have to go about achieving those outcomes differently.  All you have to do is listen to Sheryl’s discussion about the research done at Columbia University with the Heidi Roizen case.  That research proves that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. If women try to behave like men, we all know what that outcome brings…so they have to find different ways of behaving, of negotiating, of managing people in order to achieve the same outcomes as men.  This takes a lot of energy and can lead to burn out and resentments when they see their male colleagues achieving success with a different kind of effort.
      2. Secondly, I think women still take on more of the responsibility for care-giving in the family.  And, in most cases, they choose to do this.  As a result, they either take time off from their career or try during their career to balance and juggle all those responsibilities.  And it’s difficult if not downright impossible to do it.  I recently facilitated a discussion, sponsored by the chamber, with a group of women business owners.  They had different thoughts about the uniqueness of women-owned businesses versus men-owned but one thing they all talked about was their desire to be a part of their children’s activities and lives.  To do this, they often had to leave work early, skip out on impromptu networking (going for a beer after work) or outright miss events that male counterparts attend.  This inability to participate in some of the informal networking opportunities often impacts a woman’s career.
      3. Finally, I think it is human nature for us to hire, mentor and promote in our own likeness, so if men occupy the majority of the leadership positions, there is a natural tendency to spend time with, encourage and promote other men similar to them.  This is a generalization and some organizations and leaders have done a better job of recognizing that diversity of thought and approach can make for a strong team, but it takes conscious effort and combined with the two things mentioned before, it doesn’t make it easy for organizations to put women into or for women to secure key leadership spots.

Why do women face harder decisions between professional success and personal fulfillment?

Most of the women I’ve worked with over the years or have talked to about this “want it all,” meaning they want to secure professional success but don’t want to sacrifice having a family.  And there are women who have done it successfully.  But, it is not easy and it takes a unique family situation, a unique woman and a unique organization. And it usually takes additional help to be able to manage it all effectively—like live-in nannies, outsourced home responsibilities, and so forth.  One very successful professional woman I know actually hired what she calls, “her wife,” to do many of her household chores and responsibilities.  Again, broad generalizations, but most women do not want to give up traditional care-giving responsibilities.  Making that choice, it becomes more challenging to balance the care-giving and career priorities which will compete with one another on a regular basis.


I am still interested in your thoughts.  Do these answers resonate with you?  Are there perspectives I’m missing?  More answers to the original twelve questions in the days to come.

So, I have an interview coming up next Friday with an editor who publishes our local chamber magazine.  She’s doing a piece on our Professional Women’s Forum being held in October and I’m one of the presenters.  My presentation is focused on Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk about “WhyAre There Too Few Women Leaders?” and this editor will be asking me the following questions:

  1. Why do you believe that women are not making it to the top?
  2. Why do women face harder decisions between professional success and personal fulfillment?
  3. How do we change the numbers at the top?
  4. How can we encourage women to stay in the workforce?
  5. Why do women off ramp?
  6. Why do women feel guilty about their decisions?
  7. Why won’t women sit at the table?
  8. Why do women undervalue their work and their intelligence?
  9. Why don’t women negeotiate for themselves?
  10. Why do women attribute their success to outside factors instead of their own hard work?
  11. Why don’t women believe in themselves?
  12. What can we do about it?

Oh, this is going to be fun!  But, I would love input!  I would love to hear your perspectives on any or all of these questions.  I need my SWOG’s (and SMOG’s) to weigh in on these.  Please!

If you want to contribute but need some help understanding where the questions are coming from, you can access the Ted Talk here or in my post titled, “Don’t Take Your Shirt Off.”  Listen Here:  Sheryl Sandberg Ted Talk