Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
LEADERSHIP / JUL. 16, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Women and Leadership: The Problems and The Solutions

It is no secret that there are still equality issues throughout the entire world. Looking at hard numbers, women make up a majority of the U.S. population at 50.8 percent. Women earn around 44 percent of master’s in business with 37 percent earning MBAs. 60 percent of undergraduate and master’s degrees are earned by women. Law degrees are earned at a 47 percent to 53 percent split with women falling in the former category. Finally, women make up 47 percent of the labor force, with 59 percent of the college-educated work force at entry level. So, of course, it would only make sense that they make up a large portion of the leaders throughout the business world, correct? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

Under 15 percent of executive officers are women and less than 5 percent are Fortune 500 CEOs. They hold less than 17 percent of the board seats in Fortune 500 companies and there isn’t one CEO in the financial services industry that is female. In the health care and social assistance industry, again there are no female CEOs. Finally, only 9 percent of management positions in information technology are held by women. To make matters worse, women control 80 percent of spending in the United States and make up around 3 percent of creative directors in the sector of advertising.

What Do These Numbers Really Mean?

So does this lack of leadership really matter? In a word yes. Diversity is a buzzword that I am not a big fan of. It isn’t heard by most that should hear it. Those that do actually hear the world take no real action. Some companies are trying to make a change, but the change is moving at a crawl at best. When men run everything, which they do by an overwhelming majority currently, things are looked at in a one sided manner.

Here is the hard truth, men don’t understand women, and women don’t understand men. To a level we “get” each other, but what drives us and what attracts us to products, is vastly different. My wife and I find different commercials, different shows, and different movies appealing, funny, sad, or difficult to watch. We have different views on the world and a different background. This is largely due to gender, and it is true in more cases than ours.

So, how does a company expect to make any real impact on over half of the population if they are not tapped into that population? Focus groups and studies do not give the full picture. The only real way to appeal to both sides of the gender gap is to ensure that leaders represent all aspects. While the statistics here focus on men and women, this is true along all lines of what make us different.

What Can You Do?

As a woman what can you do? It probably seems pretty hopeless. Unfortunately, things will not be easy, but ultimately businesses are focused primarily on the bottom line. You may have to work harder, for less (that is a topic for another article), to find yourself with even the slightest chance of moving up, but you should make it your goal every day to show your supervisors why you should be a leader in your company.

Take bold steps and be heard so that gender is no longer part of the issue. A new generation is starting to take up leadership roles, one that has grown up with a different view of the traditional gender roles. This isn’t going to fix everything. We aren’t moving towards a utopian society, but the opportunities for women to become leaders should increase dramatically. The unfortunate truth is that women will simply have to work harder.

For those that are in roles of leadership it is key that you help promote your people, regardless of gender or color, based on the merits of their work. When you are talking about great things your subordinates have done, do it without mentioning gender or names if possible. If you must, make sure that you give equal, or greater, credit and time when talking about what your female subordinates have done that give them a reason for promotion. This may seem a little unfair to the men, but really, we have had it pretty easy to this point. This isn’t to say that you should promote solely based on gender, especially if a man is more qualified for the position. This is, instead, saying that things need to be evened out over the coming decades. Change like this won’t be fast, but with enough people, men and women, behind a push, things will change.

The Road Will Be Long, But Change Is Coming

For women, your best bet it to start early. Find a job that you are over qualified for early in life and push to move up. Retail, gas stations, data entry, call centers or anything that you are over qualified for (preferably very early in life, while in college or high school) are perfect ways to quickly get some leadership experience under your belt. Once you start with an employer and have your degree, you also can show hard numbers (money talks) that speak to your ability to make a company more money or their work force more productive. I wish there was a way to end this on a happy note and give those with a more difficult road ahead of them an easy way to overcome these issues, but there isn’t one. This is a call to action for people from every background. We are all in this together and we have to work together to make the change we want.

So, what do you think? What have you done to move up in your company? What advice do you have for others that are currently struggling as well?

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