The last set of interview questions on “Why there are too few women leaders?”
Why don’t women believe in themselves? I want to say, I truly think this has gotten better over the years. I think having more women in the workplace in leadership positions…their children seeing their mothers in responsible positions; girls having more opportunities to compete in sports, school events, more girls in college than boys…I do think this has made a difference. I’ve been so impressed with the young women I see in our companies and on community boards…they are reflecting a more confident demeanor and approach and I think they are getting more and more opportunities to shine and be successful. So I am quite optimistic that this is changing over time. We are still hard on ourselves and tend to look at others and compare ourselves unfavorably. But, we’re getting better.
What can we do about it? Reframe our thoughts; be thankful and grateful for the gifts we have and not compare ourselves to other people; take more risks and embrace making mistakes instead of fearing them. Use our natural people skills to collaboratively ask for more income and better positions…instead of getting passive/aggressive about it. Realize the likability factor and continue to hone our people skills, because for us it’s not only about what we do it’s also about how we do it. I’d like to say this has changed over the years I’ve been in the workplace, but it hasn’t changed that much. Hearing Sheryl talk about it in her Ted Talk helps to reinforce that. We can rail and claim “unfair,” or we can utilize our people skills to influence a different outcome. I like to call it strength with grace.
How do we change the numbers at the top? As with any major societal change, I think it will take time and multiple influences to change this. But, here are the things I hope will happen:
- First, it has to start at home. I was so lucky. I was brought up by parents who were way ahead of their time. I had an older brother and my parents did not treat us differently in terms of duties, opportunities, education, etc. And, unfortunately, I had older female cousins whose parents wouldn’t send them to college because they thought it was a waste of money. I owe everything to my parents and how they raised me. I mowed lawn rather than cooked and cleaned. I got rewarded for good grades and extra-curricular achievements. My mother and father both worked outside the home, and my mother was a department manager where she worked (and my father was not). They worked together to get stuff done and Dad did most of the cooking since he was home during the dinner prep time and Mom was not. So, I really didn’t know traditional roles. I would encourage parents to mix things up for their kids. One of my colleagues on a board I serve on does all the cooking in his family and he’s good at it (and proud of it). So as parents, we need to look beyond traditional roles and consider raising our kids with gender neutrality.
- Secondly, it has to start with enlightened organizations who realize that women’s development needs are a bit different than men’s and they should commit energy and resources to developing women in the ways that work the best for those women. Assigning mentors, getting women into project teams, identifying high potential women and making extra efforts to get them coached and developed is important. Sheryl Sandberg has a great article in Forbes that can be found at the following link: Sheryl Sandberg Article in Forbes . In it she talks about the stock performance of companies that have women on their boards outperforming that of those who do not. Diversity leads you away from groupthink and allows companies to glean valuable perspectives that ultimately help the company perform.
- Finally, it starts with us. We have to have dreams and goals. We have to pick organizations that have a track record of developing and promoting women. We have to continue to develop ourselves by understanding what our organizations expect and learning skills and developing approaches to exceed their expectations. We have to be willing to give up perfection and delegate duties that others can do for us (at home and at work) in order to maximize our impact. We have to tell ourselves that we can do it and not have to sacrifice things that are important to us outside of work. We have to stay at the table and not leave before we may need to leave. And finally, when we’ve achieve some success, we need to reach our hand back to our sisters and help them navigate these waters as well.
How can we encourage women to stay in the workforce? I would encourage them to do a couple things:
- Get help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it both at work and at home. Find creative ways to do tasks more efficiently or prioritize tasks and let the low ones go or find someone else to do them.
- Get yourself an external coach and an internal mentor. Both these individuals should be people you can talk to and brainstorm difficult organizational issues. They should be people who can teach you how to navigate politics and handle people situations with strength and grace.
- Sheryl discusses this: Work with your partner to truly be a partner. Many women don’t realize until they get to the upper levels of management that a large percentage of their male colleagues at their level and higher have wives that don’t work outside the home. All of a sudden you’re invited away on a retreat with spouses, and you’re one of the only ones there with a non-traditional partner. And the activities planned for significant others are things like shopping trips and tours of museums. How are you going to handle that? How is your significant other going to handle that? How can you influence your company to handle it differently? These are all things to work with your partner on.
- Maybe most importantly–define what success looks like for you. Don’t let society dictate what success is for you. Each of us is unique and what success means to each one of us during various stages of our lives will be different. Be willing to be flexible with that definition as life presents you challenges and opportunities. Maybe there is a time when you need to take a fork in your career road to fulfill care giving responsibilities, but stay engaged. Do meaningful part time work; stay involved in the community; enroll in part time education or develop some skills you haven’t had the time to develop. Stay relevant and engaged to the level that creates the successful balance for you and your family. And remember your life experiences—negative or positive— all go into making you a unique contributor. Embrace them and let them help you to grow.
Sheryl Sandberg, Ted Talk, Why There Are Too Few Women Leaders, December 21, 2010
Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, Princeton University Press, 2003