Gloria Feldt is the best-selling author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a frequent keynote speaker, 30-year CEO, and passionate women's advocate.
How Women Succeed by Being Who They Are
Study after study finds that companies with greater numbers of women in leadership make more money. Managers are learning they must retain high performing women to succeed. Today's economic and social turbulence has jarred traditional boundaries, opening opportunities for women prepared to take them. Christine Lagarde is now atop the IMF. Crain's New York credits women such as Jill Abramson, the first female managing editor of the New York Times and Newsweek/Daily Beast's Tina Brown with coming to the rescue of the media industry.
While many doors have opened in the legal sense for increasing numbers of "first" women in almost everything, overall numbers remain numbingly immobile. Despite women being 60 percent of college graduates and half of the workforce, they hold just 18 percent of upper management positions across all employment sectors. Women sit in fewer than 15 percent of corporate board seats and hold a penurious 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.
Though many structural and cultural barriers remain, my own research finds an equally pernicious barrier within. Many women resist embracing power even within their grasp.
When women earn today's average 77 cents a dollar compared to men, "nice-girl" salary negotiating tactics cost us a cool half million dollars on average over a working lifetime.
Even though we may feel stuck or helpless, but we are in the best position to unstick ourselves.
Since the days when mimicking men's severe navy suits, learning to play golf, and talking tough were advised to make our woman-ness less visible, we've learned that co-opting women into acting like men doesn't serve any better than being stereotypically female or dropping out to escape dealing with sexism.
Authentic leadership belongs to women--so they can give their best, earn their worth, and advance to their highest abilities. To do this, women must define, align, and redesign.
Define: Both women and men often are mired in outdated views of power based on power over others. No wonder many women reject power, not wanting to treat others in ways they have known and detest, shunning abuse and discrimination. But when power is described as the power to accomplish things, to innovate, to make life better for ourselves and others--I see women's (and men's) faces relax, and they say, "I want that!"
When Julie Gilbert was an executive with the giant consumer electronic firm, Best Buy, the strength of her gender lens let her define why business was suffering: it had been created by men for men, yet female customers had become the primary purchasers of its products. "When I engaged the woman's voice," she said, "I became more myself. I could breathe. I had ideas that frankly I used to think about all the time in executive meetings but had never ever said."
2. Align: The world turns on human connections. Timing and preparation help. As Ellen Gustafson, co-founder at age 28 of The Feed Fund, told me, "Women, as we get more senior, have to remember that the more we can make it easier for all women to do well, the better we will be."
Similarly, Anne Doyle, who blasted through many doors, from being the first female sports journalist to report from the men's locker room to trailblazing as an automobile executive, demonstrates in her book Powering Up how "going it alone is a losing strategy." Promoting advancement is more than mentoring; it's aligning with actively willing sponsors who promote women's advancement.
3. Redesign: "She Negotiates" is a women-led organization teaching alternative dispute resolution. Says co-founder Victoria Pynchon, "I'm no longer in the win-lose, bomb them back to the stone age business. Now I'm helping people - particularly women - have the courage to speak up and encourage others to exercise power with them."
Best Buy's Julie Gilbert says empowering women and elevating their authentic voices "lifts all boats of opportunity not only for women but also for men, kids." With more women in leadership, metrics showed a 5 percent annual decrease in female employee turnover, and a whopping 300 percent increase in women managers--and an 11 percent increase ($4.4 Billion dollars annually) in revenues company-wide.
When women redefine, align and redesign their power in ways that promote fairness, equality and respect, all of us gain. The winning strategy is not to be like men after all, but to be more authentically ourselves.