Women’s History Month – 21st Century Woman

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Taking the Lead

Nearly a decade ago, Catalyst, a U.S. organization that tracks women in business, and the Canadian firm, BMO Financial Group, one of the largest financial services providers in North America, released their landmark study of the Fortune 500 that revealed that from 1996-2000 companies with the highest number of women in senior positions reaped a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% higher return to shareholders compared to companies with the fewest women near the top.

And just a few years ago, an article in Time said, “There is growing evidence that in today’s marketplace the female management style is not only distinctly different but also essential. Studies from Cambridge University and the University of Pittsburgh suggest that women manage more cautiously than men do. They focus on the long term. Men thrive on risk, especially when surrounded by other men. Wouldn’t the economic crisis have unfolded a bit differently if Lehman Brothers had had a few more women on board?”

After more than a half century, the modern global corporate sector has concluded that  promoting women into leadership positions is good for business!

This epiphany has not arrived a split-second too soon. Big Business is facing a devastating talent and leadership shortage.  And, with the Gen Y employment crisis, it’s more important than ever to grease the skids to opportunities for female new grads and young professionals in the same manner that we do for men.

Of course, there are other fundamental reasons that women are needed and should be in decision-making capacities:

  • Women comprise roughly half the world and deserve equal representation in  business, government and the professions.
  • In the U.S., women make up a major voting bloc that determines the outcome of elections.
  • In the U.S., women represent a consumer group that is crucial to the U.S. economy. They usually decide for themselves and for their families purchases of  food, clothing, healthcare, entertainment, home décor, vacations, travel, furniture, etc, as well as female-specific items; and, now there is evidence that women make the majority of decisions regarding car and technology purchases.

With corporations offering leadership training to their female employees to prepare them for top management, why is there still the perception that women are not in the game? Why does management routinely continue to dismiss women’s input?

For example, the Wall Street Journal reported last year that, “Ernst & Young CEO James Turley told the WSJ conference that he was running a meeting years ago when ‘three or four women said something I wasn’t paying attention to. Then a guy said something similar and I said, ‘That’s a really good point.’ Afterward, a female executive took him aside and said, ‘You probably have no idea what just happened.’ He says he hasn’t made the same mistake since.”

But, women cannot continue to rely on good intentions. While stereotypes are hard to break, break them we must. It’s time for women to seize the moment by obtaining the skills and mindset that will finally blast that glass ceiling into history.

Negotiation 

How many more years should women allow to pass before the pay gap between women’s and men’s compensation for the same work has closed? How about zero years? I think zero is a good round number.

Linda Babcock, professor of economics at the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of Woman Don’t Ask and Ask For It, two groundbreaking books on women and negotiating, said in a 2008 New York Times article: “While hiring two people with similar credentials, a woman and a man, I made each the same salary offer. The woman accepted the offer without negotiating. The man bargained hard, and I had to raise his offer by about 10% before he would agree to it.”

Google senior vice president Laszlo Bock’s message in the Wall Street Journal article to female engineers at his company is: “For God’s sake, nominate yourself for promotions. You’re holding yourself back.”

First women have to ask, then they have to negotiate. It’s not that women can’t negotiate; we do it on behalf of clients and others all the time; we just can’t seem to negotiate for ourselves.Deborah Kolb, co-founder of Negotiating Women, Inc., a training and consultancy firm and co-author of Her Place at the Table: A Women’s Guide to Negotiating the Five Challenges of Leadership Success, tells women, “you need to negotiate the conditions of your own success.”

Start honing your negotiating skills today by reading, taking a course and learning from both female and male role models.

Networking and Support

It is crucial to network with and support other working women, both inside and outside of your current company and industry, as well as with your friends and family. Men have advanced in business through the fabled “Old Boys’ Network.” Women, too, must stick together and move forward as a group. Big numbers are always good; women will succeed by using multiplication, not division. And, that means all women must work together to benefit all women. In addition, women must support men who want to share equally in homemaking and child rearing and who encourage their partners’ professional endeavors; women’s success will be their success, as well.

Facebook president Sheryl Sandberg might be poised to launch the next and third wave of feminism and a new women’s revolution. I hope we can all support her in this effort. Her recently published book, Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead, follows her 2010 TED talk.

Nerve

Obtaining leadership training and bringing your networking up to speed will take some time and effort, but it will be worth it. Taking that last lap around the track for equality at work and at home won’t be easy, but you won’t be alone.

It will take nerve to look a hiring manager in the eye and negotiate for a higher starting salary, better benefits, inclusion in the bonus pool, bigger staff or larger office. It will take nerve to ask your boss to promote you to the next level, give you the opportunity to lead a project team or recommend you for a seat on the board. It will take nerve to tell your husband that it’s your turn to accept that big job offer that will require you both to move across the country. And, when you have achieved the position, salary, benefits, bonus package and perks that you want, it will take nerve to make your first presentation at the annual or board meeting and go out there every day and prove yourself.

But, somebody’s got to do it! As McKinsey’s Dominic Barton says, “The only sustainable competitive advantage is talent. How could you not consider half the world’s population?”

How indeed? By working together to ensure that the female half of the world’s population is fully considered for all roles, including the top spots, starting today.

Until next week,

Jeanne

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