I’m often interviewed and asked about successful women in the workplace and my views on being one of the few to break the glass ceiling in the technology sector.
My response has always been that I never saw a glass ceiling, so I didn’t give myself an excuse not to break through it.
What research reveals
However, various articles and statistics about women in leadership roles in the United States do prove that there is a disparity of women leaders in the workplace. Currently, the Fortune 500 is led by 32 female CEOs, a record high.
In a recent study conducted by Pew Research Center, 34 percent of respondents surveyed believe that male executives are better than women executives at assuming risk. Moreover, when asked about specific industries women could support, a significant portion felt that men would do a better job leading technology, finance, and oil and gas companies, whereas women would be strongest at running retail and food companies.
Although that survey is full of traditional stereotyping of women, you still need to ask yourself: “Why aren’t more women promoted into the CEO position, but rather held back?”
Historically, it seems that women do not have the consistent high-ranking executive sponsorship who campaign for their advancement. Why is this?
As a sex, women represent more than half the population, a group that’s more than ready to prove themselves in senior levels in the workplace and to have the opportunity to earn equal pay for the same job.
Although women can keep up with the rigorous pace and workload at the office, maybe they can’t keep up with the social politics of the perceived “Good Old Boys Club.”
Because of the lack of women in leadership roles combined with the desire for career progression, women’s perceived need of survival overtakes their personality or natural disposition to be a leader.
Typically, in these scenarios, women play down their strengths in an attempt to over-compensate for not being equal or the same to men. Throughout my career, I’ve heard more commentary about a woman’s disposition in a meeting or board room than I ever heard about a man’s.
Women are left in a quandary, discussed, judged, and evaluated every time they open their mouths. They’re are considered harsh and manlike if they speak up to their peers or a weak follower if they don’t.
Recent studies show that a diversified executive team will produce up to 34 percent more revenue to a corporation than an executive team filled with the same sex.
Corporations and stockholders are beginning to recognize the need for more sex and gender balance within companies, which is leading them to adapt policies that deviate from the perceived “Good Old Boys” norms and create an environment that’s friendlier to all minorities.
A call to action
With the backing of corporate stockholders, women now have an opportunity to take accountability and remain true to themselves while engaging with their male peers.
Women will only succeed if they demonstrate the will and power to not act like a man, but to leverage their natural gifts of honesty, teamwork, compassion, and persuasion.
About today’s guest contributor
Nicole McMackin is president of Irvine Technology Corporation, a firm that specializes in information technology solutions and staffing. She has an established career in sales and management, emphasizing account ownership within Fortune 300 organizations.
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As women have taken on greater leadership roles in the business world, it’s paid off for both them and business.
A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that firms with women in the C-suite were more profitable. Meanwhile, the number of female-owned businesses grew 45 percent from 2007 to 2016 compared to just a 9 percent growth in the number of businesses overall.
But will all those women in leadership roles change the workplace culture to make it more female friendly—and does it matter?
The power of culture
As a corporate anthropologist, I’m aware of the recent shift in thinking surrounding how cultures should be restructured in order for women to thrive in the workplace. This has caused me to ask: What type of culture do women really want and is it that different from what men want, too?
The results of my research were surprising.
It turns out that, in many ways, men and women want similar things in the workplace. Both prefer a strong clan culture that emphasizes collaboration, teamwork and a focus on people.
So what lessons does that hold for women who start their own businesses or are hired or promoted into leadership positions in existing businesses?
3 things for female leaders to do
Based on my personal experiences, and what I’ve learned from female business leaders I’ve interviewed, some of the ways women can succeed when leading an organization and make the workplace more attentive to the needs of both men and women include:
1) Create a culture that blends work and home.
I talked with the founder of one company that intentionally took a whole-life approach and didn’t force employees to choose between work and family. That company won all sorts of local awards for being one of the best places to work in the area.
2) Encourage staff to be innovators.
Often even the employees who think outside the box are reluctant to act outside the box for fear of repercussions if things don’t work out quite the way they hoped. But for innovation to happen, a good leader needs to empower employees to try new ideas.
3) Be an adventurer, stay curious.
If you expect your employees to try new ideas, you need to be willing to do so as well. Don’t worry about failing. Keep tinkering and trying stuff and sooner or later you’ll hit upon your a-ha moment.
My research shows that the females who know how to create success are not just building better businesses; they are changing the way people work.
The corporate cultures in women-run businesses reflect the personal beliefs and values of the women leading them, and those businesses tend to be highly successful.
What’s been your experience running or working in a women-run business?
Andi Simon, today’s guest contributor and the author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, is a corporate anthropologist and award-winning author. She is the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants, a public speaker, an Innovation Games facilitator and trainer, and a tenured professor of anthropology and American studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey.
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Is being kind passé?
Is returning favors not in style?
Is swopping favors a practice that’s so tainted by unethical or manipulative behavior that people no longer feel the need to exchange things for mutual benefit?
These questions pin-balled around in my head as I thought about two scenarios I’d experienced.
1) I facilitated a community table discussion amongst eight individuals from a variety of walks of life. When the session was over, several people began exchanging business cards. A polite but matter-of-fact woman said this to everyone who offered her one of their cards, “Thanks. I don’t want your card but I do want you to have mine. Here you go.” Her refusal to participate in what I viewed as a social nicety shocked me.
2) Six of us volunteered to write a workbook for a nonprofit workshop. Five of the six agreed to edit and proof each other’s content. The sixth wanted others to critique his materials but wouldn’t agree to review the materials of the others. The group insisted on full-circle participation, so he dropped out of the work. His unwillingness to engage in reciprocal work felt alien and unfriendly.
As I’m prone to do when things puzzle me, I dove into research.
Numerous writers have observed that the norm of social reciprocity—exchanging kindness, goods and services for mutual benefit—has long been part of the cultural fabric.
In People of the Lake: Mankind and its Beginning, Richard Leakey and Kurt Lewin note that the “I help you, you help me” orientation, or what they call “an honored network of obligation,” has been practiced for centuries.
True community is based on upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together. ~Pauli Murray, activist
3 forms of reciprocity
Reciprocity touches many aspects of our lives and typically takes one of three forms
◊ Generalized reciprocity is an exchange in which a person gives a good or service to another, does not receive anything back at that time, but has the expectation of future repayment. Think of a mentor/mentee relationship or watching the neighbor’s house while they’re on vacation as they’ll do the same for you when you go away.
◊ Balanced reciprocity as defined by Wikipedia “refers to direct exchange of customary equivalents without any delay.” Think bartering, exchanging notes from a business conference with a colleague, a neighborhood boarding up each other’s windows in advance of a storm, or meting out justice in which the punishment fits the crime
◊ Negative reciprocity is the most impersonal form of exchange, in which the parties’ goal is to get as much as they can with little to nothing offered in return. Think someone trying to take advantage.
Back in 1960, Professor Alvin Gouldner suggested “that a norm of reciprocity, in its universal form, makes two interrelated, minimal demands: (1) people should help those who have helped them, and (2) people should not injure those who have helped them.”
What’s in it for me angle
But my two experiences and other research points to people who take a very different view on the value and practices of reciprocity:
◊ “There is considerable evidence that a substantial fraction of people behave according to this dictum: “People repay gifts and take revenge even in interactions with complete strangers and even if it is costly for them and yields neither present nor future material rewards.”
◊ “In a world of winners and losers, there is little room for principles of equity, reciprocity, and impartiality,” writes Professor Walter Fluker in Ethical Leadership.
◊ “Employers preemptively tell new employees not to expect a relationship premised on the fulfillment of mutual commitments.”
Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt
Women and reciprocity
Research shows that women’s voices are heard less in business meetings. My own experience parallels the research:
When Perdue and Perschel tell the following story at women’s conferences and workshops, heads nod in recognition: Have you ever been the sole woman in a meeting and spoken up only to be ignored or negated? Then, within minutes, one of the men at the table says almost the same things as you did and is lauded for his fabulous idea? ~Women and The Paradox of Power, Jane Perdue and Dr. Anne Perschel
Being reciprocal with my female colleagues by sharing one another’s ideas or backing one another up in a meeting certainly benefitted all of us.
Swings in practice
So, there’s some fairly broad swings in how reciprocity is being viewed/practiced, ranging from “an honored network of obligation” to social glue to manipulative to something optional.
What’s are your thoughts on how reciprocity is or isn’t being practiced?
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In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders. ~Sheryl Sandberg
And when that day arrives, we’ll have no more need for today’s International Women’s Day, an observance that began in 1909 to commemorate the bold struggle for women’s rights.
Lots of work is needed to reach that milestone. Women’s issues need to become business issues. Women, men, and organizations need to work together to make respect, inclusion, and equity real for all. Women and men need to push for faster progress.
I’ve taken my five dreams for women and combined them with action items from the International Women’s Day (IWD) 2017 web site. See what on this list calls to you to make a difference.
Dream #1…a woman can be outspoken without being labeled a bitch and a man can be compassionate without being labeled a wimp.
IWD action…champaign bias and inequality and work to:
• Query all-male speaking panels
• Pull people up on exclusive language
• Challenge stereotypes
• Call it out when women are excluded
• Monitor the gender pay gap
• Point out bias and highlight alternatives
• Call for diverse candidate shortlists
• Embrace inclusive leadership
• Redefine the status quo
Dream #2…just as many women as men are Fortune 500 company CEOs and that men no longer earn $1.22 to the 78¢ a woman earns.
IWD action…I’ll forge women’s advancement and work to:
• Decide to buy from companies that support women
• Choose to work for a progressive employer for women
• Support or back a woman-owned business
• Take a junior female colleague to a major meeting or event
• Build conducive, flexible work environments
• Appoint a woman to the board
• Mentor a woman and sponsor her goals
• Invite women into situations where they’re not already present or contributing
• Measure and report on gender parity gaps and keep gender on the agenda
• Create new opportunities for women
Dream #3…sex trafficking, domestic and other violence, stereotypes, and gender-driven discrimination have gone the way of the dinosaurs (along with the old boy network, too).
IWD action…I’ll campaign against violence and work to:
• Educate youth about positive relationships
• Challenge those who justify perpetrators and blame victims
• Donate to groups fighting abuse
• Speak out against the silence of violence
• Be vigilant and report violence
• Campaign for the prevention of violence
• Abstain from all violence, physical and otherwise
• Volunteer your help at a local charity
• Recognize coercive control and redress it
Dream #4…women no longer have to choose between being competent and being liked and that they, like men, are evaluated on both their future potential and past performance.
IWD action…I’ll celebrate women’s achievement and work to:
• Raise women’s visibility as spokespeople in the media
• Drive fairer recognition and credit for women’s contributions
• Launch even more awards showcasing women’s success
• Hail the success of women leaders
• Applaud social, economic, cultural and political women role models
• Celebrate women’s journeys and the barriers overcome
• Reinforce and support women’s triumphs
Dream #5…women are judged not by their attractiveness or bra size but by the strength of their character and contributions.
IWD action…I’ll champion women’s education and work to:
• Launch or fund a women-focused scholarship
• Encourage more girls into STEM education and careers
• Learn to code
• Value diversity for greater educational outcomes
• Support women inventors of new products and services
• Celebrate women researchers discovering new knowledge
There’s lots of opportunities to make a difference for yourself, your children, grandchildren, colleagues, and women everywhere in this list.
Pick any and all that call to your passion for respect, equity, and inclusion…and work to make it so! How will you be bold today?
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I found it poignant and creepy that Carrie Fisher passed away on my birthday after suffering cardiac arrest. Heart disease is a silent killer of women. Why? Because we insist we’re just fine even when we aren’t.
I know. I did just that.
Thankfully my loving husband ignored my “I’m fine” remarks and took me to the hospital. Because of him, I dodged the silent killer. I got to celebrate my last two birthdays.
That privilege, I’ve learned, comes with opportunities and obligations. Opportunities to live a life of purpose and an obligation (albeit a welcome one) to share, educate, and inspire.
So, about women and heart disease, here goes.
90 percent of women have at least one risk factor for heart disease that’s ignored. Think about your life. Feeling mental stress? Do heart problems run in your family? Feeling depressed? Do you smoke? Overweight? Is your diet convenient-food rich and fruit-and-veggie poor? Spend most of your day sitting at a desk?
A “yes” answer signals a risk factor to watch.
Cardiovascular disease and stroke, not breast cancer, is the number one killer of women, claiming one out of three women each year. While still serious, one out of every eight women develop invasive breast cancer across the course of their life.
One out every three women dying from a heart problem is a scary number. One that’s incredibly humbling as I nearly became one of those statistics.
Know the symptoms
Heart attack symptoms differ between men and women. Not knowing the difference isn’t uncommon. Even doctors mess up.
Women are seven times more likely than men to be misdiagnosed and sent home from the emergency room. Men’s symptoms—chest and arm pain—are widely recognized; women’s not so much. Women’s symptoms can include being extra tired for no apparent reason, experiencing unusual shortness of breath, feeling light-headed, or having pain in your neck, jaw or back.
I dismissed my episodes of dizziness and shortness of breath as signs of overwork and lack of exercise. That was almost a deadly mistake.
Know your numbers
If we run a company or a department, we know our metrics. We look at the numbers to know what’s going right and what needs attention. As women, we need to rattle off our blood pressure and cholesterol numbers just as easily as we do the bottom line business ones.
Not wanting the attention
Why do women continue to let heart disease be a silent killer? There’s many reasons.
We don’t want to make a fuss.
We don’t want to be selfish.
We don’t want to admit that something serious might actually be wrong with us.
If you’ve used any of these reasons to avoid acting, you have lots of female company. Women are far more likely than men to delay seeking medical treatment for heart conditions.
Share the love
Loving life and others starts with loving and taking care of ourselves.
February is heart health month.
To celebrate, start now. There’s no reason or excuse big enough not to act.
- Schedule an appointment with a cardiologist. Now! Go even if you feel just fine. Don’t let a risk factor sneak up on you.
- Encourage your gal pals to schedule appointments, too. Meet up for coffee after and compare notes. Hold each other accountable for self-care, for not downplaying symptoms, and for knowing your personal health numbers.
- Tell yourself—every morning—that self-care isn’t selfish; it’s smart.
As a gift to yourself, your loved ones, and in honor of Princess Leia, just do it.
Life—with all its delicious and dizzying ups and downs—is why.
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This is mash-up post! Part book review and part inspiration, both thanks to Whitney Johnson and her latest book, Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work. Be prepared to answer “yes” to Whitney’s question, “Are you ready to jump?”
One of the most insightful and telling exercises I do in my workshops with women leaders is asking them to list their personal strengths.
It’s amazing to see powerful women pause, either uncertain of what to list or fearful of appearing too brash and bold for knowing what they do well.
Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself, defines a distinctive strength as “something that you do well that others within your sphere don’t.”
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