Posts Tagged ‘women leaders’

In a world where….

Maj Shawna Kimbrell, US Air Force’s first African American female fighter pilot (2008).

In a world, where women have not only equal opportunity but are equally represented …

Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s  article, More Women in the Workforce Could Raise GDP by 5%, posted on the HBR Blog Network on November 1, 2012 addresses a recent study from Booz & Co, “Empowering the Third Billion:  Women and the World of Work in 2012.”  Hewlett finds the report provocative because “it examines the issues that hold them back from achieving their full business potential.  What I find exhilarating is that it takes this a step further – by pointing out the specific levers to be pulled so that women can actually make a difference to their country’s economy.”

Women’s career advancement is hampered by many factors, including “the number of female leaders who serve as political, social, and business role models.”  The lack of women in leadership positions has been addressed in many reports as presented in my prior blog post, Binders of women…Where’s the beef.  Hewlett states, “companies must recognize whether their work environment is holding back rising female stars, and create procedures and programs that protect, support, and sustain women’s ambition.”

Political and corporate leaders must recognize that women are the solution. Rather than wringing their hands over the issues, why not implement actions that enable women to achieve their power and potential in the marketplace?

Monique Valcour in Unblocking Women’s Paths to the Boardroom on the HBR Blog Network on October 31, 2012 focuses on the obstacles that women face in achieving top leadership positions.

Valcour recounts the factors that hold women back:

The closed networks from which board members tend to be recruited make it less likely for qualified women candidates to be identified. Women in leadership face a higher burden of performing well due to their minority status. Aware of the importance of turning in flawless performance, women take fewer risks than men and are less likely to promote themselves, with the result that they appear to lack ambition. Wary of putting women in situations where sub-optimal performance could hurt not only their own career chances but those of other women, even well-meaning superiors are less likely to give them critical developmental assignments. Superiors also often decline to offer critical international assignments to women, assuming without verification that their family demands would make expatriation impossible. While the socio-emotional support from women’s mentoring networks is valued and appreciated by women, women are less likely to have powerful career sponsors who actively advocate for them when decisions about developmental assignments and promotions are made.

Valcour suggests,

[T]he most successful initiatives are integrated with the organization’s core strategy and processes from the top down. The CEO must identify gender equity and diversity as a core strategic priority; in turn, this organizational priority must be translated into operational goals and processes at every level of the organization. Managers must have goals for recruitment and promotion of women in their departments and divisions, and achievement of these goals—including such factors as climate for gender equity and managerial support for women—should be measured and reinforced by the performance management and reward system.

[O]ne straightforward and powerful practice to implement is highlighting success stories of women leaders and recognizing people in the organization who are helping to drive and sustain the move towards greater gender equity. The more visible, exciting, and dynamic the bandwagon, the more people will want to get on board.

Julie Moreland in Women, Leadership, and the Vast Presidential Gender Gap published on FastCompany.com on November 1, 2012 adds to the conversation,

What we want professionally is the opportunity to achieve real growth and to be in a positive environment where we have the opportunity to demonstrate our own personal leadership skills.

However, even in 2012 we have to deal with archaic attitudes by men in key leadership positions,which act as obstacles to the boardroom.  Mitt Romney, in the second presidential debate on October 16 stated,

“I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance….said, I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for–making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.”

Moreland concludes,

The rapidly changing world, the wide variety of issues to be dealt with, and the new generation of Americans all require governance that’s more influential, inspirational, and inclusive–which, again, is more the leadership style of women.

Of course, some of you may think that style of leadership doesn’t really bring about positive results. Well, here are a few statistics I cited in an earlier post that might change your mind about that:

• Female-owned family businesses are over one and a half times more productive than male-owned family firms.

• One in five companies with revenues of a million dollars or more is owned by a woman.

• Almost all income growth in the U.S. over the past 15 to 20 years can be attributed to women increasing their role in business.

When you let us out of our binders, women can make a big difference. And, happily, we already are.


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Women in leadership positions has been a frequent topic lately.

On October 25th, the European Parliament rejected the nomination of a male banker to the board of directors of the European Central Bank because he’s a man.  The ECB’s governing body has 23 members, all of whom are men.  In addition, a proposal for EU legislation establishing a 40% quota for women on company boards throughout Europe also failed to pass.

And then there’s Romney’s remark on October 16, “And – and so we – we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”

As I have shared in a prior blog post, Where are the women in leadership positions?, the presence of women in leadership positions is lacking in the United States.  This is also true for boardrooms throughout the world.

We continue to experience the dichotomy of women in leadership positions.  One the one hand, a report by the European Commission claims that it would take 40 years to achieve a 40% representation rate of women on European corporate boards at the current rate that companies are including women.  On the other hand, recent articles and studies suggest that emotion and empathy are an integral part of leadership and two authors in articles issued on October 30 indicate that women bring a more complete set of skills to leadership, the linear and non-linear.  This blog post summarizes some of the EU news and the two aforementioned articles.

The nations with the highest rates of membership of women on corporate boards are (1):

  • Norway *           40.1%
  • Sweden              27.3%
  • Finland              24.5%
  • USA                    16.1%
  • South Africa     15.8%
  • Israel                  15.0%
  • UK                      15.0%

Examining women as board chairs worldwide provides some very different results (see same source).

*Norway enacted legislation in 2003 to ensure that 40 percent of directors in public companies are women.

The European Commission report, Women in economic decision-making in the EU: Progress report issued in 2012 provides an accounting of the progress of women in corporate leadership.  In 2010, the European Commission adopted a Strategy for Equality between Women and Men (2010-2015).  This was followed in March 2011 by a call for action, “Women on the Board Pledge for Europe,” for publicly listed European companies to voluntarily commit to increase the number of women on their boards.  The European Parliament supported this call by adopting a resolution in July 2011 “calling inter alia for legislation at the European level if companies do not make sufficient progress through self-regulation.”  During 2011, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium enacted legislation to improve gender balance on company boards.

The report indicates that progress has been slow in the EU, with the representation of women in the largest companies in Europe having increased from 11.8% in 2010 to 13.7% in January 2012.  However, in the same time period the number of female chairpersons declined from 3.4% to 3.2%.  Further only 24 companies have signed onto the call for action, “Women on the Board Pledge for Europe.”  The report concludes that at the present rate, it would take 40 years to achieve the goal of 40% female representation on corporate boards.

A global study of the representation of women on corporate boards as well as national quotas and initiatives of selected nations can be found in Women in the boardroom: A global perspective published by the Deloitte Center for Corporate Governance in November 2011 (2nd edition).

Steven M. Davidoff writes in the New York Times on September 11, 2012, Seeking Critical Mass of Gender Equality in the Boardroom

 But there is also an economic argument that is sometimes made to support the role of women on boards. The claim is that boards with women become better decision makers, increase companies’ profits and lead them to be more humanely run.

These assertions are based on research that in general makes the unsurprising conclusion that men and women are different, … studies have found that women in the boardroom have different values, make decisions differently and engender a more cooperative atmosphere.

While these studies are promising for advocates of women on boards, the bottom line is that the effect of women directors has yet to be established. Whether they add value just by their presence is undetermined because the number of women on boards remains low. The true test will be when there are a number of companies with boards comprising 50 percent or more women that can be compared against those with less. We’re not there yet.

In addition to the recent activity in Europe, two articles on women and leadership were issued on October 30, 2012.

Tony Schwartz acknowledges in What Women Know About Leadership that Men Don’t on the HBR Network Blog that learning to take better care of the people he leads has been his single greatest challenge.  He asserts that, “An effective modern leader requires a blend of intellectual qualities — the ability to think analytically, strategically and creatively — and emotional ones, including self-awareness, empathy, and humility. In short, great leadership begins with being a whole human being.”

He questions why women are vastly underrepresented at the highest levels of large companies.

[In] a study of 7300 leaders who got rated by their peers, supervisors and direct reports. Women scored higher in 12 of 16 key skills — not just developing others, building relationships, collaborating, and practicing self development, but also taking initiative, driving for results and solving problems and analyzing issues.

[In] a study of 2250 adults conducted by the PEW center, women were rated higher on a range of leadership quality including honesty, intelligence, diligence, compassion and creativity.

Saad Al Barrak claims in the Perils of Ignoring the Softer Side of Management, published in FastCompany.com on October 30, 2012 that “An overemphasis on the ‘hard’ side of management, a carryover from the industrial age, can at best achieve a linear increase in performance. But a focus on the soft, non-linear side can lead to exponential growth.”

Al Barrak’s article dovetails well with a recent article, Secrets of the Flux Leader, which I addressed in a blog post, The Higgs Boson of Leadership, on October 26.  Barrak writes,

In managing human beings, you manage emotions and passions. Indeed, optimize their passionate state in order that they deliver their best. That is totally non-linear: The mistake that 90 percent of managers and business leaders make is that they try and linearize the behavioral side by proceduralizing it.

Reality, especially in today’s world, is dynamic: Even if the structure suits the time it is created, by the time it has been put into practice that reality has already shifted.

If we agree that corporate boards should represent their constituency, that is include women as well as minorities, what is the role of public policy in achieving this goal?

(1) Women on Boards, Catalyst, August 2012

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I’ve written several posts about leadership and two specifically about women leaders, a topic that I’m passionate about. Consequently, a recent article on FastCompany caught my eye,  How Women Lead Differently, And Why It Matters by Alyse Nelson. Alyse Nelson is the author of the new book Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World published by Jossey-Bass as well as CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

Nelson asserts that women yield power in a distinct way.

The particular qualities of women’s leadership take on a new significance and new power in today’s world. I believe that the strengths women possess and the behaviors that set them apart will lead us forward in the coming years: collaboration, conviction, inclusiveness, creativity, and mentorship.

Nelson claims that women have a different impact on the community.

Research shows that women direct up to 90 percent of their income to community infrastructure and improvement, whereas men reinvest 30 to 40 percent of their income. The World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report finds that women with decision-making power accelerate positive development outcomes, and studies from the World Economic Forum confirm a strong correlation between an increase in gender equality and an increase in gross domestic product per capita.

Yet, why are women still under-represented in positions of political and economic decision making?  Women hold only 17 percent of the seats in today’s U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.  There are only 19 women (3.8%) serving as CEOs in the Forbes 500 companies.

What can we do to change that?

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I just got back from about a week at Joshua Tree National Park.  What a beautiful place to rejuvenate among the monzogranite.  On the second to the last day, I met a woman and her husband looking for a campsite to celebrate her birthday over the weekend.  We told them we were leaving the next day and they signed up to take over the campsite when we left.

While her husband went to complete the registration, the wife remained behind and told us about her experience working with the Girl Scouts.  I hadn’t thought about Girl Scouts since I was one many decades ago.  She shared about the awful experience some of the young girls have selling cookies when people harass them by calling them baby killers.  She told us about taking women from Afghanistan to Germany to give them leadership training and of teaching Afghan girls to read.

I was intrigued because I hadn’t thought about the Girl Scouts as being a resource for leadership development, for girls to develop self confidence.  I remembered myself in that green uniform, but could not recall any activities that helped me build self confidence.  I wonder what I’d be like today if there had been opportunities for more team sports other than field hockey, for rock climbing to get over my fears.

As life does, there was event upon my return that reminded me of the Girl Scout conversation.  I found an article on the HBR Blog Network published while I was gone, Help Women Take the Stage. Herminia Ibarra encourages women to take the stage, to step forward.  Her article refers to a TED Talk, Why we have too few women leaders by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in which she reminds us that women underestimate their own ability and attribute their success to external factors.

Whether it’s playing team sports, participating in Girl Scouts, or other activities, I am heartened to see girls today have opportunities to build their self confidence and self esteem, so that we can have more women leaders tomorrow.

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An article in today’s HBR Blog Network naturally caught my eye: Why Women Leaders Need Self-Confidence.  Leslie Pratch,the author, references an article in the New York Times about Virginia Rometty, who will be IBM’s first female CEO.

Early in her career, Virginia M. Rometty, I.B.M.’s next chief executive, was offered a big job, but she felt she did not have enough experience.  So she told the recruiter she needed time to think about it.

That night, her husband asked her, “Do you think a man would have ever answered that questions that way?”

“What it taught me was you have to be very confident, even though you’re so self-critical inside about what it is you may or may not know,” she said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit this month.

I don’t know how many times I have posed the same question to women I have mentored. Perhaps it’s because my leadership training was in the military.  A military woman would never question herself publicly.

Applied to leadership, gender role stereotypes suggest that female-stereotypical forms of leadership are interpersonally oriented and collaborative, whereas male-stereotypical forms of leadership are task oriented and dominating.

In my experience in the 1970s through 1990s, women who displayed self-confidence in leadership positions in the civilian sector were not “respected” by either their male or female subordinates.  Unfortunately, they were referred to by derogatory, sexist terms.  This may continue to be generally true since the author notes that “[t]o the extent that women who are leaders exhibit a masculine style, they amplify their role conflict and increase the chances of receiving unfairly negative evaluations.”

The author notes that for women, the “[c]orrelation between self-confidence and leadership effectiveness was also overwhelmingly statistically significant.”  To me this doesn’t mean that female leaders should consistently exhibit male-stereotypical leadership behaviors of being task-oriented and dominating.  What seems most appropriate to me is to be a situational leader, to apply the leadership style most appropriate to the situation.

Self-confidence is an important attribute in a leader, regardless of leadership style and gender.  I’m sure that you have felt it easier to have confidence in the leader’s vision if the leader is self-confident.

However, self-confidence in female leaders is a broader issue than just leadership. We have to look at developing self-confidence in women in all roles.

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