What Women Must Do to Get to the Top: Walk a Tight Rope and Chew Gum

I usually focus on what leaders can do to create inclusive cultures and achieve gender diversity in leadership. Women themselves can do things to improve their odds of reaching the top. To be seen as leaders, be heard and get credit for accomplishments they must do some “masculine” things–speak up, act confident, take risks, ask for what they want, toot their horns. But if they act “too” masculine, they will be caught in the double bind. Avoiding the double bind while demonstrating leadership can be like walking a tightrope and chewing gum!

Getting to Gender Diversity: It Takes Structural AND Cultural Change

Reactions to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic have included that neither men nor women can “have it all.” This is now an issue for men as well as women so it is more important for employers to implement the changes suggested in the Slaughter article. Not only will those changes benefit men and women, they will help employers retain women, who suffer the most from the “have it all” issue. But employers must also create inclusive cultures that allow women as well as men to feel valued and included. Such a culture helps a woman handle the juggling of career and family and allows more women to reach the top. This enables employers to reap the benefits of gender diversity in leadership.

What Causes the Pyramid Problem?

There is a compelling business case for gender diversity and inclusion. Yet women still aren’t proportionally represented at higher levels of business. Where do they go? They go to another employer, disengage and quit climbing or start their own businesses. The causes are both “push factors” and “pull factors.” While women’s role in the family is an important push factor, businesses should focus on push factors, including “invisible mind-sets” that cause women to disengage or leave. The root causes of these push factors are the “comfort principle” and “unconscious preferences.” Understanding the causes of disengagement can enable the solution, which includes bringing to conscious awareness those invisible mind-sets.

WHY You Should Want to Solve the Pyramid Problem: The Business Case

Fixing the “pyramid problem” (that women aren’t proportionally represented at the upper levels of business) would enable businesses to avoid significant costs and capture significant upsides. But changing organizational culture and unconscious preferences can only occur if there is a solid business case. There is. The business case for building an inclusive cultures includes facts showing that inclusive cultures: (1) have higher customer satisfaction and profits; (2) have lower turnover; (3) have an easier time recruiting; (4) get better decisions, and (5) have the ability to tap the multicultural marketplace. The business case for gender diversity in leadership adds to this: (1) companies with gender diversity at the top get higher returns, (2) the hiring pool is half women and the educated pool is more than half women; (3) it opens the huge women’s market, and (4) it has the biggest “bang for the buck.”

Gender Diversity and the “Pyramid Problem”

Business has a “pyramid problem.” Women aren’t proportionally represented in upper levels. This isn’t just a problem for women. It imposes unnecessary costs on business and deprives them of significant upsides. The business case for gender diversity provides compelling reasons to fix this problem. What causes women to leave (or just stop climbing)? The causes are unconscious and invisible. Solution comes from recognizing that barriers for women arise from the “comfort principle” and from failure of leaders to appreciate masculine-feminine differences.