The numbers and graphs in the report by Lean In and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2015, support some beliefs, and challenge some myths, about why women remain underrepresented at the executive level of American business. What about gender bias? The report concludes that women are more likely than men to perceive gender bias. Of course they do! One of the recommendations of the study is training to “interrupt gender bias,” including to assure men can see and understand the challenges women encounter.
Joanne Lipman’s recent article in the WSJ provides a “guide” for men to women at work. She says that women get enough advice and provides some to men. Men should understand that women have a different way of speaking; they should not wait for women to raise their hands; they should not fear that a woman will cry and should give direct feedback. And they should recognize that women work hard for the credibility that comes automatically to them. Good advice!
One of the mindsets that create obstacles for women in the workplace is “unconscious images.” We have mental pictures of how leadership looks and what women want and can do. In our workshops, we bring this and other mindsets to conscious awareness. In the news, we see women leaders and experts, including Fortune 500 CEO’s. Lean-In.org and Getty Images have joined these efforts to broaden our images of women’s potential. They have published a gallery of 2,500 images of women and men that challenge old stereotypes.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points to internal barriers that hold women back. Many are just “feminine” ways. Women are wired and acculturated to value relationships more than status and to avoid bragging. This looks like lower ambition. Women tend to speak more humbly; this looks like lower confidence. I agree that, to make it to the top, women must demonstrate ambition and confidence. But my hope is that one day leaders will understand and appreciate feminine as well as masculine style and see leadership in both.
Sandberg’s advice fits into a large genre of advice for women on how to succeed in the masculine workplace. She correctly says women need to appear more confident. The typical man speaks with confidence even when he is wrong; the typical woman speaks more hesitantly even when she is sure. While advising women to learn to speak more confidently, we need to encourage leaders to understand the gender differences in communication. Translate vs. taking literally. Bilingual cultures (inclusive cultures) allow women to feel valued and be engaged. That’s good for business.
I respond to a football analogy about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. My brother suggested most women don’t want to be at the top in the business world. Like a “tight end” on a football field, they should be happy with their role and not worry that they are not the quarterback. The point of Sandberg’s book is that IF a woman wants to reach the top, she should lean in. My point is that the playing field is not level. Lots of women who are qualified to be quarterback are held back and hold themselves back.