Thursday, May 29, 2008

Improving the opportunities for women to lead

My recent post on overlooked female business gurus attracted some attention, not least from the gurus themselves. The nature of the emails we exchanged was around when women's representation in business leadership would start to resemble their representation in society. One dialogue went like this:

Me: In the long run, demographics are telling us there are more women college graduates than men and that trend appears to be continuing. So we'll see more women thinkers acknowledged by the establishment, partially because the establishment will be more female. It won't happen fast enough, but it'll happen.

Overlooked guru: I’m not sure how much I think that things will change. If you look at all the people quoted in teams and leadership articles most are male. It is not clear what will make things change—will the establishment really become female with demographic change? I do hope so.

Some more insight on the general issue of driving more female leadership into the workforce appears in this month's Harvard Business Review. In two Foresight articles ("Stopping the Exodus of Women in Science" and "One Reason Women Don't Make It to the C-Suite"), the authors point out conflicts between long-standing business cultures and traditions and demands on women's time, priorities and mental energy.

"Stopping the Exodus" blames a macho science and technology culture, "extreme jobs," and other factors for driving qualified women out of the industry. The authors (Sylvia Ann Hewlett--who should have been on the overlooked gurus list--Carolyn Buck Luce, and Lisa Servon) illustrate steps some companies are taking to improve the situation, including connecting women technologists to each other and to mentors to create a stronger support community. Starkly, there's no mention of trying to change the hero culture or redesigning tech jobs to make them less extreme.

"One Reason Women Don't" discusses career paths that have evolved in companies over decades, which place future C-levels into the most demanding and draining jobs in their forties. This rite of passage comes at the worst possible time for women, who are typically dealing with intense demands at home from pre-teen and adolescent children (and from husbands on the same track). The author, Dr. Louann Brizendine, recommends breaking this pattern and creating a new path, on which women leaders can defer that rite of passage to a time, say in their fifties, when they are able and eager to take it on.

, , , , , ,


nemo said...

I wonder if the apparently natural biological imperatives (children) on women may be a factor that would limit additional representation. One that men do not have. If you have a statistical sampling of professional women with the acumen for leadership, do a percentage of them drop out of the corporate rat race because of priority shifts regarding family and childrearing? Once that subset is removed, does that then reduce the remaining population with the ability to fill such roles? Is the men's club then perpetuated by biology, and humans' seeming natural tendency to group like with like?