My entire corporate career was spent in a male-dominated business world. So I was particularly intrigued by Esther Wachs Book’s Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman: The Unique Qualities of Female Leadership. In it, the author tries to figure out what makes female executives successful. She studies 14 well-known, successful female leaders, and while this is not a statistically valid sample, I think her conclusions are provocative:
- Women take risks and are more likely to ignore or reinvent the rules.
- Women learn from adversity, and are good at turning challenges into opportunities.
- Women are better at selling their visions, and are more persuasive than men.
- Women have team-building styles that are highly inclusive and collaborative.
And there’s no doubt that this is having a positive effect on the workplace. There have been a variety of recent studies that show organizations with women leaders have happier, more engaged, more productive employees, and enjoy better profits. So why is the percentage of female leaders still so extremely low? And to whom should we be talking about this? To the organizations? To women?
In an article that appeared in Fortune titled “Women and Success: Where’s the Honesty?” author Amanda Pouchot asks this very question. She notes that the oft cited impediment of “work-family balancing” can be solved with such thingsas more flexible working environments, 50/50 parenting, better daycare, and new social attitudes.
But these solutions put the onus of change on institutions (and society in general). Women should simply ask for, even demand, change, then to criticize organizations that don’t provide it.
Will that work? Is that enough?
Pouchot says “no,” and I agree with her. While I sincerely applaud those organizations that have taken a lead in these issues, the truth is that women have to develop the skills, strategies, and resources they need to fight current biases.
I used to believe that my daughter’s work experiences would be free of any gender biases or unfairness. It’s not. Maybe it’s a little bit better now than when I was a young professional, but it is definitely not eradicated. Yes, it’s going to take more time for such massive shifts to take place. So in the meantime, let’s give women the tools and career strategies they need to succeed in today’s reality.
Let’s figure out how successful women leaders make it, despite the cultural and corporate lopsidedness, and let’s focus on that instead. Hit the library or buy a copy of Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman: The Unique Qualities of Female Leadership. You’ll find that each of these women faced the same impossible work-life choices, the same biases, and the same issues that almost all women face. But they succeeded. Don’t you want to find out how?