There is a scarcity of women in top leadership within Corporate America.
Despite years of progress in the workforce, only 6% of women hold titles of chairman, president, chief executive officer and chief operating officer in Fortune 500 companies...and...only 15% of the seats on the boards of directors are held by women.
Resistance to Women's Leadership
Study after study has affirmed that people associate women and men with different traits and link men with more of the traits that connote leadership. Many female leaders struggle to reconcile qualities people prefer in women (compassion for others) with qualities people think leaders need to succeed (assertion and control).
Kim Campbell, who briefly served as the prime minister of Canada in 1993, described the tension that results:
"I don't have a traditionally female way of speaking...I'm quite assertive. If I didn't speak the way I do, I wouldn't have been seen as a leader. But my way of speaking may have grated on people who were not used to hearing it from a woman. It was the right way for a leader to speak, but it wasn't the right way for a woman to speak. It goes against type."
People view successful female managers as more deceitful, pushy, selfish, and abrasive than successful male managers. Men are associated with qualities which convey assertion and control. They include being especially aggressive, ambitious, dominant, self-confident, and forceful, as well as self-reliant and individualistic. These traits are also associated in most people's minds with effective leadership--perhaps because a long history of male domination of leadership roles has made it difficult to separate the leader associations from the male associations. As a result, women leaders find themselves in a bind.
Studies have gauged reactions to men and women engaging in various types of dominant behavior. The findings are quite consistent. Verbally intimidating others can undermine a woman's influence, and assertive behavior can reduce her chances of getting a job or advancing in her career. Simply disagreeing can sometimes get women into trouble. Men who disagree or otherwise act dominant get away with it more often than women do. Men can use bluster to get themselves noticed but modesty is expected even of highly accomplished women.
It all amounts to a clash of leadership assumptions when the average person confronts a woman in management. Female leaders often struggle to cultivate an appropriate and effective leadership style--one that reconciles qualities people prefer in women with the qualities people think leaders need to succeed. In the words of a female leader, "I think that there is a real penalty for a woman who behaves like a man. The men don't like her and the women don't either."
Women leaders worry a lot about these things....because leaders must establish themselves as role models by gaining followers' trust and confidence. They state future goals, and innovate, even when their organizations are generally successful. Such leaders mentor and empower followers, encouraging them to develop their full potential and thus to contribute more effectively to their organizations. Such leaders manage to clarify subordinates' responsibilities, rewarding them for meeting objectives, and correcting them for failing to meet objectives. This takes a lot of face time on-the-job and off-the-job.
Building Relationships and Social Capital
In contrast, women are still the ones who interrupt their careers to handle work/family trade-offs. Overloaded, they lack time to engage in the social networking essential to advancement. Perhaps, the most destructive result of the work/family balancing act is that it leaves very little time for socializing with colleagues and building professional networks.
The social capital that accrues from such "nonessential" parts of work turns out to be quite essential indeed. One study yielded the following description of managers who advanced rapidly in hierarchies: Fast-track managers "spent relatively more time and effort socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders than did their less successful counterparts...[and]...did not give much time or attention to the traditional management activities of planning, decision making, and controlling or to the human resource management activities of motivating/reinforcing, staffing, training/developing, and managing conflict." This suggests that social capital is even more necessary to managers' advancement than skillful performance of traditional managerial tasks.
The call of family responsibilities is mainly to blame for women's underinvestment in networking. When time is scarce, this social activity is the first thing to go by the wayside. Women can gain from strong and supportive mentoring and coaching relationships and connections with powerful networks. When a well-placed individual who possesses greater legitimacy (often a man) takes an interest in a woman's career, her efforts to build social capital can proceed far more efficiently.
"As they become globally integrated, companies are becoming more diverse and inclusive, eliminating barriers for women and minorities and accommodating cultural differences. These companies understand that to succeed their work force needs to be as diverse as their customers. Over the past 10 years, IBM has seen a 393 percent increase in the number of its women executives."Emily Benner, development director of IBM Systems and Technology Group, is active in mentoring IBM employees and students within the community, and is a board member of the Rochester (MN) Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Sources: 1. Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership by Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli in the Harvard Business Review, September 2007 2. "Math, science mentors build future economy" by Emily Benner in the Post-Bulletin, Rochester, MN 2/19/2008
Perhaps, you know of women managers, where you work or within your personal network, that are ready to start doing things slightly different in order to achieve the success they deserve.
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