Women in Leadership -- The Most Underutilized Asset.
By Dr. Rick Johnson
Monday, 6th July 2009
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I am definitely a card carrying member of the Baby Boomers;I also admit that during my early career in the 70's, I could have undoubtedly been considered a poster child for the "Male Chauvinistic Pig" movement.

However, experience and maturity have taught me a great lesson regarding leadership and the abilities, intelligence and values of the female employee. Today, I firmly believe that women in the workplace are the most under utilized asset this country has.

We have come a long way from that chauvinistic attitude of the past that believed men are simply better, more natural leaders; the belief that women's careers were compromised by their responsibilities at home? Yes we have come a long way.

But, Statistics are still shocking for women who hope to succeed in the business world. Today, women occupy 40% of all managerial positions in the United States but only 6% of the Fortune 500's top executives are female. (Newsweek Magazine)

In your industry this percentage may even be lower. The "glass ceiling," or the idea that women successfully climb the corporate ladder until they're blocked by this transparent ceiling, has been accepted as the largest obstacle to female leadership in the workplace. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin claimed to have put millions of cracks in this ceiling but it hasn't been completely shattered yet.

This ceiling represents many characteristics that even most men would challenge and yet they still exist. There are barriers that limit industry's ability to capitalize on the enormous amount of leadership potential that exits in almost any work place in this country. Barriers that women encounter at all levels include prejudice resistance to women's leadership, leadership style issues and family demands.

These obstacles may even create an uneasy feeling for women or their relationship with leadership and the power it commands. A few female leaders have told me that they fear that the power of leadership can give off the impression that they are ruthless or pushy. These are Issues that challenge their basic character and femininity; Challenges that men don't have to encounter.

Diversity is Strength

Companies that recognize the female leadership talent pool that exists within the confines of their own office will implement specific initiatives to leverage that talent.

One of the very basic and first steps to recognizing this talent is to begin evaluating the female employee based on specific contributions as opposed to hours worked. Creating work teams, project teams and management teams that include more than one loan female allows that talent to grow and prosper instead of being suppressed by male domination. Closing the leadership gap and leveraging this talent has to become a priority for businesses of all nature if we are to remain competitive in the global environment.

For this country to have this much inherent talent and yet very few women in the top levels of the chain of command is disturbing.

But Women have Babies

So What!! The idea that women having babies need broader support and special handling is simply hog wash. Women that strive to be leaders and want to contribute at a higher level of hierarchy are often more capable of managing a life balance than most men. And yet, experts have stated that the average lifetime earnings of a highly-skilled female leader who has a child in her 20s is $625,000; while the average lifetime earnings for those having a baby in their 30s is $750,000. For those who have no babies, lifetime earnings reach $913,000." Does that sound discriminatory?

Women in Business have been Stereotyped

Rachael Roy, a top designer and CEO of her own company stated that "Many young women apply self worth to the attention they receive from men. This type of attention is instantly gratifying."

This is unfortunate because this type of gratification contributes to the stereotype and inhibits leadership confidence and leadership integrity. This is social conditioning. There is no more important skill in attaining success than your ability to communicate effectively. Yet women are often sabotaged by their communication skills.

Differences in how men and women communicate are rooted in social conditioning. Stereotyped behavior has been expected of women since time began. Women are not expected to argue, displaying anger. Women are expected to be polite in the workplace and not curse. They are expected to be cooperative and, by and large, docile.

Men Have Different Rules

The same rules or expectations do not apply to men. Women have always been encouraged to speak softly and smile a lot and yet men are not chastised for emotional outbursts most of the time. This gender differentiation begins early in life.

Men in the business world generally have few, if any, qualms about issuing orders or voicing complaints. Many women tend to be uncomfortable pulling rank; they seek agreement and consistency. Disagreement and conflict don't affect men in the same way; some even enjoy it, while women typically go out of their way to avoid confrontation.

Men expect and are expected to be successful. We certainly are willing to take full credit when we do succeed. The principle for success on the part of women is different. Many women only hope to be successful. When women do succeed they are more apt to demonstrate true leadership character by attributing their success to teamwork or the support of their peers and subordinates.

Women Do Have Power

Traditionally, in the business world, the male model of authority was considered superior to the female model of collaboration. However, it's becoming abundantly clear that effective communication is the essence of good leadership and that is what really counts. Either style can be effective based on ones individual leadership model. The key to success lies in focusing on and creating for one's self a style that encompasses the best of both authority and collaboration with an emphasis on a servant style of leadership.

Women as a group can be very powerful if they would only embrace that power. They must reject in disbelief that business is strictly a man's world and that they must follow mans rule. Women have different values, different styles and different approaches to many things. Men could be well served to listen more. We must leverage every asset we have to maximize success. Women may not have all the answers but I submit they may have many that we as men haven't realized yet.

So, as you review your employee development plans, don't ignore the potential that may exist at the receptionist desk, customer service or accounting where you traditionally find many of your female employees. Search for leadership potential regardless of gender and you may find a number of diamonds in the rough.

Rick Johnson, expert speaker, wholesale distribution's "Leadership Strategist", founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage. Need a speaker for your next event, E-mail rick@ceostrategist.com.

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