Women and Leadership: We’re Still Not There

Women are better leaders but poor self-promotors.  That’s the conclusion of a study of 7,280 leaders done in 2011 and discussed in a recent Forbes article. They’re better than men at taking initiative and driving for results.  I think this is a hoot since those are characteristics that have been perceived as so exclusively male.  At last, research confirms what I know from watching powerful women handle tough groups and challenging projects.

Women know how to get things done.  They know how to push a project to completion and usually know how to keep a team intact and focused.  What they haven’t figured out and what the author of this piece points out is how to play the ‘getting ahead’ game within an organization. 

Two things are at play here.  First, I think women are very performance-based and they tend to think that rewards will follow good performance.  Second, I think most women are blind to the enduring influence of male social networks (using the term Old Boys Club would be inflammatory).  The going out for drinks after work, playing golf, being in the same softball league, hey, even the constant talking about sports – these are the ties that bind for men.  So when a man in a position to promote thinks about who to promote, he thinks about his friend.  He’s not necessarily discounting the woman’s experience and skill, he just knows the guy better and feels in his gut that he can trust him.

Meanwhile, the unpromoted woman is counting up all the extra projects and hours, the accolades, and the recognition and she is wondering what happened here?  She is discounting the male bonding that’s been going on while she’s scrambling to pick up the kids at day care (yes, I know, men also pick up kids from day care) but worrying about kids, dinner, grocery-shopping, all of that end of the day business is still mostly  in the mom’s job description. 

For a long time, I think women figured that if they could get in the door, they could rise to the top through great performance.  That is sometimes true, but it isn’t the norm, otherwise, we wouldn’t think a female executive of a major corporation is all that noteworthy.  However, we are still seeing headlines about someone being the first woman to run a large corporation.  This morning’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinal ran an article on the business page about Pat Kampling, the first woman to run a Wisconsin utility corporation and, as the paper said, one of a handful of female top executives in the State. 

So much has changed for women in the last thirty years. It’s easy to lose sight of that.  But so much is the same.  The in-group, the clique, the network — it loves its own and marginalizes outsiders.  That’s a sociological fact from the ages.  How to bust open that closed, subtle, amorphous web is the big question.  Or, better yet, how can we replace the old network with a new one that has a lot of doors and windows – an airy, transparent place  where everyone can hang out.  That’d be great.


Here’s the link to the Forbes article:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/03/26/the-results-are-in-women-are-better-leaders/?goback=%2Egde_2825126_member_104106429

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal article:  http://www.jsonline.com/business/plugging-into-customer-needs-nr496vp-145595375.html

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