First, it just wasn’t possible. I mean, accepting women in male-dominated professions. Then it became largely acceptable, albeit unsaid disclaimers. The ‘glass ceiling’ has forever been there and is getting thicker by the day as women face more challenges compared to their male counterparts, in attaining greater heights in their professional fields.
- Women comprise 50.8 percent of the US population.
- They earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate and master’s degrees.
- They comprise 47 percent of the US labor force, and 59 percent of the college-educated, entry-level workforce.
- Women comprise only about 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
- They account for 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats.
- In the financial services industry, they account for 54.2 percent of the labor force but are only 12.4 percent of executive officers, and 18.3 percent of board directors.
- In information technology, they hold only 9 percent of management positions and account for only 14 percent of senior management positions at Silicon Valley startups.
The numbers are neither surprising nor encouraging. Whats’s wrong and is it possible to set things right?
In Ted Talk, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talks about reasons for a smaller percentage of women making it to the C-level, compared to men and identifies three traits that most women display that prevents them from reaching the top and goes to offer three powerful pieces of advice to women to make it big.
- Get on to the table
- Make your partners real partners.
- Don’t leave before your leave.
Acknowledging the reasons for the gap might help us in drafting corporate policies in an attempt to bridge it.
- The differences between men and women are neither fully understood nor valued: It’s an indisputable fact that women and men have different leadership and working styles, grounded in their neurobiology and their cultural training. It is this diversity and difference that makes both the genders stronger and more competitive – and is a good thing to have and we must embrace it rather than trying to neutralize it.
- The clash of the titans – family and work: Women still perform a majority of domestic and child care duties while working full-time, and prioritize responsibilities around them differently. Women constantly battle their demons around being a good caregiver while also being the contributive professional they long to be and are capable of being. And often work-life balance is a term that is only good to hear but hardly exists.
- Extreme stress and burnout: Many capable and productive women are making conscious decisions to prioritize life outside of work highly, before completely burning out. They are unwilling to pay the cost of ambition. Many settle for smaller ventures or passions and find pride and happiness, and the work-life balance they look for.
- Marginalizing of women is more prevalent that we may agree to accept: Women still are diminished, sidelined, suppressed because of being women. Women are also pushed to a corner when they make their family priorities known upfront. it is imperative for organizations to have sufficient representation of women at senior levels to bring about true change. Organizations must look for ways to identify and support their female leaders as position them as role models who “walk the talk” and can be an inspiration for thousands of other women.
- Male counterparts often feel threatened and insecure: In boardroom meetings, it is never discussed, and this doesn’t make the issue non-existent. Males do not acknowledge but one in ten males do feel insecure when they work with (at the same level) or report to women professionals.
If women have made the choice to be successful in their professional fields it is important that they understand what’s needed to succeed in the true sense, develop and acknowledge their signature style, enhance communication, leadership and decision-making skills, forge critical partnerships, and step up to their fullest potential to rightly claim the titles the seek. They need not mimic male leaders or stop putting on nail polish. Nails have little to do with leadership!
To bring about the true shift and be able to create more women leaders in the corporate calls for change at all levels — individual, organizational and global. However, the beginning has to be with you.
Stand up and stand tall. Be the change you want to see.