I am quoted and used as an example in Arianna Huffington’s new book, Thrive – to make the point that women often get off the corporate ladder for reasons other than raising children. Women sometimes do not feel valued in a culture that models and more highly values masculine attributes. That can reduce engagement and enjoyment. Huffington’s mission is to change the workplace for women and men, to make it healthier and more sustainable. Women are perhaps the “canaries in the coal mine,” the first to signal that the workplace is toxic and must change.
I recently read about a theory called “stereotype incongruity.” It means that stereotypes of leaders “match” stereotypes of men more closely than they do stereotypes of women. This kind of thinking is real; it is behind the gendered view of leadership. The thinking is flawed, first, because stereotypes are not true; many women fit masculine stereotypes. Second, it is flawed because the stereotype of leadership fails to recognize the value of feminine leadership strengths. I agree with John Gerzema that leaders today need to have both masculine and feminine strengths!
One of several unconscious mind-sets that create obstacles to gender diversity is the “comfort principle.” People naturally are more comfortable with people like themselves. Access to networks and mentorship are keys to reaching the leadership ranks. If the comfort principle affects who gets great assignments and mentors, this can perpetuate the demographics of leadership. Conscious awareness of this obstacle is its cure. We can stop and be sure the comfort principle is not blocking people from access.
One obstacle for women in business reaching the top is the double bind. If men become more aware of this problem, they can lower an obstacle to gender diversity. Business workplaces tend to be more masculine than feminine in nature. To succeed, women learn to adopt a masculine style. But if she is “too” masculine “too often,” she may be penalized. If she operat