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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.)

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