Written by Sarah Meyerrose, President of ION Tuesday, July 24 2012
Sarah Meyerrose is the president of ION, a national nonprofit organization representing more than 10,000 women dedicated to increasing the number of women on for-profit boards and in executive suites. Meyerrose has over 30 years in the banking industry and is principal of SMSSLLC, a consulting company focused on improving the strategic performance and human resources practices for regional/community banks and small businesses. She is also a member of Nashville CABLE, Women Business Leaders in Healthcare and recently joined the board of Paytopia, a start-up online payments solution company.
A recent article in the Korn/Ferry Institute Briefings on talent and leadership explained the “real” reasons why women aren’t advancing to the top, despite documented increases in capable, educated women leaders. In “Why the Gender Gap Won’t Go Away,” the author explains that women aren’t getting ahead because they don’t aggressively self-promote in a time when entrenched organizational and cultural belief holds that good leaders signal their ability to move higher up in the organization by aggressively pushing themselves forward—a trait more often found in men than women.
In addition to women’s more measured behavior, the article points to a trinity of other obstacles that have widened the gender gap:
- Inherent lack of internal support by senior executives (professional women have many mentors but rarely the sponsorship needed to land them in the boardroom or C-suite);
- The tendency to be more thoughtful and considerate of others’ ideas, thus appearing less confident than their male counterparts; and
- A higher reluctance to take risks.
Besides keeping them from moving up the ladder, this underlying bias rears its ugly head whenever studies point to women’s failure to grab the spotlight at meetings or bargain for more money. While there is no question that these are very real reasons for the lack of corporate gender diversity, this doesn’t mean that they have total validity today. In fact, I applaud the author of this article, Jane Stevenson, who makes the case that the very qualities that keep women from top-ranking positions are the qualities the business world needs to stay competitive in a vastly different and constantly changing environment:
|“But from a different perspective, it seems obvious that being thoughtfully cautious, believing one’s accomplishments should stand on their own, avoiding bluster and self-promotion and being more comfortable advocating for others than for oneself are ideal leadership characteristics, not signs of a lack of confidence, ambition or efficacy. It would be preferable if, rather than requiring sponsorship to compensate for these 'deficiencies,' more companies began to recognize the value of such behavior in its own right and rewarded it accordingly.”|
It’s well past time we stop modeling our idea of a good leader against a male backdrop. While each individual brings a unique approach to leadership, we must search and advocate for the key characteristics that are most effective in driving improved outcomes. We must focus on celebrating effective leadership, designing organizations to reward and expect efficacy of outcomes versus ‘style’ and embracing the need for diversity of thought, experience and approach. You can do that by advocating for gender equality in boardrooms and executive suites and by committing to sponsor and support a high-potential woman in your company or sphere of influence.
More insights on women in leadership:
The latest research on university campuses across the nation shows both progress and setbacks for women competing in the corporate workplace. Read more about the ongoing struggle to truly break the glass ceiling in 2012.
When it comes to the workplace, women are experiencing a slow, slippery climb to the top ranks of corporations and executive board rooms. Here are the strategies promised to get women to the top.
What approaches do companies need to take to tap into the full potential of women? Businesswomen directly benefit corporations, yet are still prevented from making such contributions in the workplace. Learn more about how women are key U.S. economic growth, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Co.