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Why haven’t women taken the stage yet?

Happy Women’s day!

As I mentioned in my post on Monday – Men are finished and my previous Stay-at-home or work: what is the professional price post, there is one area where women are not advancing as fast as they could – leadership.

Here are some facts:

17% of the Senate and House of Representatives are women;

If all the parliaments in the world are put together, only 13% of the total members are women;

3.4% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are women.

Yet, women now make up more than 50% of the general workforce and there are a lot more women graduates than men. Why is there such a big gap between the general workforce and the executive offices?

why aren't there a lot of women leaders

I have been thinking about this and reached the conclusion that in order to have more women leaders, we need to have changes in 3 different areas:

  1. Us. The women.
  2. Society
  3. Corporate culture

Women have to change

As I have mentioned in this blog time and time again, I believe we should see if we have any problems ourselves before pointing fingers at others. I believe women are a big part of the “why aren’t there a lot of women leaders” problem.

Women don’t want that top spot : This is not a problem at all. Just a fact. And I think this has to be stated before everything else. Lot of people want 50/50 participation in everything including the C-suite. But we just can’t change/want to change the fact that a lot women are going to be mothers. And it comes with the territory that mothers feel more nurturing and need to spend more time with the kids than the fathers. A lot of women treasure time with the kids more than the corner office. There is nothing wrong with that and there is no point in forcing them to be leaders.

With that said, the rest of the post will be about women who do want to take the stage but haven’t got there yet. I can’t speak for the entire female population, so most of the problems here are what I feel are my own problems. I have been thinking on what prevented me from getting to where I wanted to be at this point -

  • Self-confidence : I have low self-confidence. I don’t want to generalize this and say a lot of women feel this way, but from my experience a lot of women in fields that are male dominated feel this way.
(For the record, my husband disagrees with the following points saying the women he works with don’t have these problems. He might be right, a lot of women might not, but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of women do have these problems. At least my friends & I do.)
  • Self-promotion : I think this goes with the territory of being a mother. For so many centuries, the way women were rewarded for all the good work they did was by love, just love. You can’t put a value on a mother’s love. Women were judged by something non-tangible but men were judged by a number anyone can see/relate to – money. I personally believe that my accomplishments should speak for themselves. But in the current corporate culture being reticent and being recognized just don’t work together.
  • I don’t ask : Related to the modesty/self-promotion issue, I am of the opinion that if I am good at something, it will be rewarded, I don’t have to ask. But that doesn’t work. There are plenty of studies that provide evidence that this is not just me. A lot of women don’t negotiate their salaries. And we are not as proactive as men when it comes to networking. We all know the path to the C-suite is filled with who-you-knows and favors.
  • Self-critical : May be this is due to low self-confidence, but I tend to get too focused on perfection. So even if it is a job that anyone else would have been proud of accomplishing, I don’t let my superiors know what a good job I’ve done because I feel I have done a mediocre job.
  • Not assertive : There is a fine line between assertive and aggressive. I am afraid that I will sound aggressive if I want to push a point. I need to learn to master the art of assertion without bring aggressive.
  • I don’t voice my opinion : I don’t speak unless I am asked to.

What can be done

I didn’t exactly have a list of suggestions on what can be done when I started writing this post. However, as I thought about what I am doing to change my weaknesses I realized that the best suggestion I have is to -

Be aware : My husband, has been asking “why” for almost every situation where I decide not to take action. It was annoying at first :) but it certainly has made me aware of the fact that more often than not, I don’t take action either because I think I suck or I don’t want people to think I am aggressive. So I have been making a conscious effort to make sure inaction is what I really want to do.

Another thing I want to highlight is how women in developing countries are taking charge of their own fate. Instead of waiting for the world to change, there are plenty of women who are taking advantage of whatever is available to them and improving their own & their family’s lifestyles. Women who have plenty of opportunities can learn from these great women to aspire to greater heights.

Society has to change

We don’t practice what we preach

We all say we raise/want to raise boys and girls exactly the same. But are we really doing it? There was an uproar a few months ago about the onsies from Gymboree. The one for boys read – Smart like my dad and the matching girl’s clothing read – Pretty like mommy.

Gymboree onsies

This is just an example, it might not be a big deal, but it points out that we do tend to instill different values in young girls vs young boys. We discipline girls differently than boys. If a boy is loud, he is being a boy, if a girl is loud, she is not behaving well.

It remains the same when they reach adulthood. When it comes to politics, when men are being tough, voters define it as a strength, but when women show toughness, the voters think they’re bitches. In general, success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.

5 minutes in one the mommy forums will tell you that half the women there think any mother who leaves her child at the day care is not fit to be a mother.

Lot of women don’t even feel like sharing their ambitions because they are afraid they will be the recipient of sexist judgments.

What can be done

For starters, I will never judge any woman (or man) for her decision on how to lead her life. If I have something I could help with, great, I will offer my help. Otherwise it is none of my business to judge whether they decide to be a working mom or stay at home mom or anything else.

As I don’t have any kids yet, I am not qualified to give any suggestions on how to raise them to have great ambition. I could say we should be careful about how we discipline kids, but I know theory means nothing in parenting. So I am asking parents who are reading this blog. What do you think we could do to make young girls more confident? What can be done to encourage ambition in that young mind?

Corporate culture has to change

A lot of the problems that women have are also rooted by the feedback that society and the workplace environment gives them.

  • Collaboration : Women tend to work collaboratively rather than competitively. The current corporate culture sees collaboration as compromise and not having the capability to make and stick to a point.
  • Power : Men desire power and as I mentioned above, studies have proved that if a woman wants power they are seen in a less desirable light whereas a man wanting power is seen in a positive sense.
  • Strengths : Men have been at the top for so long and the strengths defined by the current corporate culture are all mostly characteristics of men. Women have a different set of strengths and they are forced to adapt to the men’s characteristics to succeed. The business environment should be using the strengths of each gender to bring about the ultimate success. Men and women can balance each other and bring the best of both worlds.
Women effect on board

What can be done

Women mentors : Everyone knows the power of mentorship. It works so well because the mentor was in the place of the new young talent at one point of time and they can give valuable advice and guidance for the new person to succeed. There are some difficulties for women that only other women can understand.

Successful women should reach out to talented young women and inspire them to succeed. Young women who want to make a change should seek out mentors and put their full effort in realizing their dream.

More women leaders : The more success current leaders bring to corporations and the more changes instituted by them result in a positive effect in the workplace, the more women can move up the leadership ladder.

Now, I am not deluding myself that this will be an overnight process. Especially changing the corporate culture so that more women who do want to see their family for more than Christmas won’t write off the top jobs, will take a lot of time. Women should take the C-level roles, prove that the current work-90-hrs-a-week-and-love-power culture is not the only way to succeed and mentor to bring other women up there. It will be a cascading effect. We need to be constantly improving ourselves and we will get there.

Inspite of all the success women have seen so far why do you think there are no proportional increase in the leadership roles? Do you think it is already progressing nicely and it is only a matter of time or does something need to be done to make the progress faster?

(I have purposely ignored the possibility that a lot of countries are imposing quota system for the boards and such. Personally I want to get there only because (1) I wanted to get there (2) I was capable of getting there. I don’t want to be forced on to the boards. All I would like is to not have obstacles thrown at me only because I am a woman.)

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Newlyweds on a Budget

I love this series Suba!
I think it takes a certain kind of woman to want to be in that top spot. It’s really hard to get there without sacrificing family and marriages. I’m not sure why it isn’t so much the other way around–probably because it’s more socially acceptable for a man to be away from family for extended periods of time. And then women who do get to the top have to constantly battle with the men up there who think a woman’s place is in the home.
I will say this–I am a firm believer that men are where they are because women pushed them. I know my husband wouldn’t be half the man he is if it weren’t for me pushing him constantly : )

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John@MoneyPrinciple

Hmm. You may nip over the TheMoneyPrinciple where Maria has just posted much on the same thing! Although I think we do even worse in the UK than you do!

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Evan @ Smart Wealth

Unfortunately you are absolutely correct, my sister and I got treated (and still are treated) differently at times by my parents. I get favored a lot by my parents because I am the boy. My sister has a teenage daughter, and my parents complain about how she is misbehaving and is not acting proper, but I try to remind my parents that she is just a teenager and that I used to be like that too and misbehave often, they respond with “you are a boy, it’s OK to misbehave sometimes”.

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maria@moneyprinciple

Suba, this is very interesting. I broadly agree with the three areas of change you outline. However…

1) Different women do have diffent issues. I, for instance, do not lack confidence and asseriveness. But I am not very good at self propmotion (where I man would say ‘I am highly cited’, I say ‘my papers are generally well received’; yeah, I know), I am overly critical and I certainly don’t ask – I seem to think that people should notice and respect.
2) About the stereotyping you are right – it is unbelievable. My son said the other evening ‘Men earn most money because women are too busy cleaning’. I could’t believe it! This is a boy whose mother had male secretary, whose father and brothers share all house chores and his forebares come from Macedonia where most of the leaders of fighting groups in the 17th and 18th century were women (I am talking fighting agaist the Ottomans not vage fighting :)). This has to change; the ‘your Dad is rich and your Ma is good looking thing’ is outdated!
3) I think that the organisations of the economy (and with these the corporate culture) have been and will continue to change (this, however, is another conversation).

I just would like to say that having women mentors in many cases can be couter-productive. I have met some of these women and they often behave worse than men. I believe that changing the very foundation of the economic order is the key!

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First Gen American

In my culture, boys are the ones who are the leaders and who run the household. Luckily for me, I was an only child, so my mom often treated me like a boy..Heck she even dressed me like one (hated that part btw). In lieu of not having a boy, I did the “boy” stuff, like home repairs, etc.

I think a lot of it has to do with your own attitude towards everything in life…work, family, self. If your career is not a priority, then you won’t be driving to the top. If you don’t care that women aren’t leaders, then you won’t try to drive change.

You know I’m organizing a big event at work for 2 schools in town (and it’s 300 kids), so I couldn’t do all the schools. I just hated the parents who emailed me back and instead of volunteering to help were like “when are you going to do my kid’s school?” Um…shouldn’t you be asking yourself that question?

No matter how big a problem is the first step is to always look to yourself and see what you personally could be doing differently to make an impact. If you think one person can’t make an impact, you are wrong.

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Forest

I hope one day we can live in a world where we don’t question one’s gender in relation to anything they are or do.

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Elaine Colliar

Oh! a great big can of worms!!

Maria (themoneyprinciple.com) would tell you I am “A World Champion(MInd Mapping), An Intellectual Ninga, a Creative Powerhouse and a Goal Getting Demon”

Me – “I like to colour in, argue a lot, Make do and Mend and am stubborn”

So the self-promotion is a biggie – Here in the UK it is NOT cool to brag – and up here in Scotland “a woman’s place is in the wrong” (my family motto I think) …………….. could I lead up a board – yes!, would I give up my family life to do so, probably not. I COULD, but I CHOOSE not to. In the future I may chose differently.

So for now, I don’t play by the “old boys rules” but try instead to draft my own set of rules of being a woman and a mother in business. One to ponder for the rest of the day.

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Tie the Money Knot

As a father of school-age daughter, I want her to feel like she can do anything she wants to professionally and personally. Hopefully she won’t feel shortchanged or less capable because she’s female, or entitled to anything special because she’s female. Rather, my hope is that she’ll go for what she wants and live life to the the fullest.

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Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey

I believe that culture and society are the main reasons behind rather than attitude of women towards success and leadership. Women are motivated and hardworking but glass ceiling prevents them from reaching the top.

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Muhammad Jahid Hasan

I just would like to say that having women mentors in many cases can be couter-productive. I believe that changing the very foundation of the economic order is the key!

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Dr. Dean

Totally from Mrs Dr. Dean ( I am ‘coming out’ at the blog this week). Of course, all of it Suba. As usual,you do a good job of presenting both sides of the argument. It’s men, women, society, corporate culture, our moms, everybody gets a piece of the blame here. On the topic of gender, let me just say that when my kids were young, I completely bought into ‘treat them the same’. The older child, a boy, came from the womb making car noises. The girl, never, ever aligned herself in that way. That is just one example, but I have over 25 years of others. The genders are different (thank god). That was a very intersting personal observation.
At my age, I now accept no one can have it all. Life is about choices. We ultimately have to decide what makes us happy and try to not have too many regrets.

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Michelle

This is a great post. I work in the financial services industry (investment banking) and there are hardly ANY women, I have literally met only a couple. I have noticed though that more and more young girls my age (early 20s) are starting to become more involved. Hopefully we take over!

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Charles

I think men and women can never be equal. It’s forcing an apple and an orange to become similar. We’re just created differently with different roles. If you believe in the Bible, it explicitly explains the role of men and women and they’re quite different.

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Shilpan

I have two college-aged daughters. My wife and I have taught them that there’s nothing they can’t do in this world. They are attending prestigious universities — NYU and Berkeley. I’m proud that my daughters have shown maturity that I even lacked at their age. I think women are born smarter than men. And increasingly, women are holding senior executive positions at major corporations.

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Christa

I think your points are all very valid, but the cultural phenomenon really takes the cake. In my twenties, I was raring to go, to conquer the world, to seek power…but I was beaten down by countless times in which men were promoted before women. These weren’t necessarily even jobs that I was vying for, but witnessing the favor of men in power positions over women was rather disheartening. Of course, I was in the wrong profession (banking), in which men are heavily favored as top executives. Now, in hindsight, had I truly wanted to get to a power positiion, I should have chosen a profession I enjoyed and pursued it with my entire being. Instead, I have found a profession that I enjoy, but my focus on family has become the forefront for the time being.

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Marina K. Villatoro

I’m with you on feeling low self confidence. I’m all raring to go, but see myself stopping when it’s time to go.

It’s funny, my husband thinks I am too much in getting what I want. But then when we sit and review what I’m going for, it’s usually something that my subconcious knows I can get, rarely is to push myself to a new level.

Women do have a lot to do, starting with the mental way of life!

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Sandy - yesiamcheap

I’ve been saying for years that we don’t get what we want partly because of us and partly because of them. My past job gave me great insight into the systemic problems are large corporations because I compiled their Diversity and Inclusion numbers for them for a number of years. They had an APPALLING problem with promoting women, and they knew it. Women simply had to work longer and harder before they were finally recognized for their work. The ones who were assertive were pushed out. The ones who twirled their hair and acted in the accepted female perimeters or were accepted, no matter that they were not necessarily as smart as the assertive ones.

I say we pay up our strengths and play to their weaknesses. If they think that you’re eye candy, just smile softly and carry a big stick. Use it often.

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Thomas - Ways to Invest Money

I cant speak for all women but as this relates to my wife she just doesnt want it. Sure she is intelligent enough but she doesnt have the desire to be CEO. She would rather have a job with friends and know that she can spend time with her family. When you look at the top women many are never home, rarely have families and end up divorced. I just don’t think its what majority of women want. To put simply my wife said she would rather be taken care of then work 60 hour weeks. She has a great job with great pay and has no desire to be CEO etc.

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eemusings

Personally, I have neither the personality nor desire for a leadership role and all that comes with it.

From a macro view, I don’t think it’s at all surprising that after centuries of being downtrodden (seen only as possessions of men, spending most of our lives pregnant, dying in childbirth) that women are only slowly starting to rise up and claim their rightful places in society. Change takes time. It’s only in the last 100 years or so that we’ve gained the vote, control over our bodies (birth control), etc.

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Paula @ Afford Anything

Wow — the “smart like dad” // “pretty like mommy” t-shirts are symbolic, aren’t they? That conveys much of the story, right there. Women are sometimes valued for their looks, more than their brains — it’s okay to be “dumb” if you’re at least pretty, at least in some places.

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