Why might the message about the value of diversity not be heard? Why might leaders hear it but not buy it? Why do men who do buy it not take effective action? These are not rhetorical questions. I have some ideas but I want your thoughts.
Yes, there is progress in seeing more women at leadership levels in business; but the pace remains glacial. We need to understand the reasons at the deepest level – so we can pick up the pace and capture the known benefits. I was invited to post a blog on the London School of Economics Business Review. I used the opportunity to express my thoughts on the root cause. I hope you’ll read it!
New research confirms what we know. Being one of very few women in a “male-dominated” organization or field can be stressful. Researchers found high levels of the stress hormone cortisol (“linked with later negative health outcomes”) in women in this situation. Even in industries where women are well represented, men dominate upper levels of management. It is stressful to walk the tightrope of the “double bind” and work to be heard and seen as competent. So my guess is that this research is applicable to many many women in business.
In this guest blog, Rich Grenhart looks at the evolution of attitudes about gender relations. As we better understand the value of masculine and feminine approaches for both genders, we can observe and even affect the evolution of thinking. There are vestiges of the “might makes right” world of the caveman in businesses that value competition over collaboration. John Gerzema thinks it is time to have a balance of masculine and feminine ways of thinking and leading. Understanding that masculine and feminine qualities arise in both genders frees men to demonstrate feminine strengths and women to demonstrate masculine strengths. The pace of reaching gender equality has been too slow. We need to contribute to the evolution toward gender equity!
Our diversity training programs and my blogs focus on gender diversity in the workplace, specifically at the leadership levels of business. This issue, while important, is the tip of the iceberg. There are more serious issues that I think are related. Women are under-represented and under-compensated not only in business but in educational, government, medical, military and non-profit workplaces. While business women are economically self-sufficient, many women live in poverty. Women are the victim of domestic and sexual violence across the globe. Are there common attitudes about women that underlie all of these issues?
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.