Why We Need Women’s Leadership Programs: The Pipeline Is Clogged

Women have entered the professional and managerial ranks of organizations in large numbers since the 1970s and have entered at about the same rate as men for the last twenty-five years in Western industrialized countries. Nonetheless, women remain poorly represented at the senior levels of organizations and constitute only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and about 15 percent of company board seats in the United States. The numbers are worse for women of color, who represent only three of the 500 CEOs. The situation for women in Europe is no better. It seems fair to conclude that earlier approaches—preparing women to be leaders by teaching basic leadership skills, “fixing” their behaviors to be more like those of men, and then waiting for them to work their way through the pipeline—have not produced the desired result of having more women in senior leadership positions in the West. Research reported in 2009 by DDI (Development Dimensions International), involving 12,208 global leaders in seventy-six countries and 1500 organizations, found that women have not progressed as far as men of similar tenure and age in all major global regions. The study’s authors note that even in the United States, more than 70 percent of the top 1500 US firms have no women on the senior leadership team. The authors conclude that the deck is stacked against women from the start of their careers because women do not have equal access to development experiences. Other scholars at Harvard suggest that it is important for women to learn to use a broader and more theoretical lens to understand why development opportunities are not as available to women, as well as why other barriers to women’s advancement exist. In other words, potential women leaders need to understand that systemic forces are at work to create these barriers in order to change them. It is not enough to learn new tools and skills without learning to use them within a systemic context. These scholars suggest that subtle forms of gender bias, which they call second generation bias, create internal and external barriers for women’s advancement to senior levels. Second generation bias is defined as practices and beliefs that equate leadership with behaviors believed to be more common or appropriate for men, which communicates to both women and men that women are ill-suited for leadership roles. This bias interferes with a woman’s ability to see herself or be seen by others as a leader. For this reason, the authors propose that women’s leadership development needs to be grounded in a coherent, theoretically based, and actionable framework, incorporating both theories of gender and leadership. In other words, leadership skills and topics need to be taught within an analysis of second generation bias as a framework that helps point the way to actions. A review of the best practices literature on women’s leadership development programs reveals a consensus on the importance of women-only programs that foster learning by putting women in a majority experience. The literature reports agreement that women are best able to develop strong and authentic leadership identities in all-woman settings. While many of the topics and skills that women leaders need to develop are the same as those found in leadership development programs for men, it should be noted that to support the development of effective women leaders, these topics need to be taught within the context of understanding the special challenges that women leaders face. For example, women cannot use exactly the same negotiation strategies that men use because recent studies show that women are not seen as “likable” when they do, and therefore are not as successful when using the same approaches. Consequently, women need to develop negotiation strategies that work for them in the context of second generation bias or other ways of theoretically framing the impact of gender differences. An effective women’s leadership development program needs to reflect current research and best practices for leadership effectiveness in the twenty-first century and address the unique issues and advances affecting women in leadership. Many organizations now offer women’s leadership programs internally, and some good public programs also exist. Two of my favorite public programs are the Women’s Leadership Community in Minnesota and the POWER of Self Women’s Leadership Program in Texas. Let’s continue to support the offering of these programs. They’re important.   Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Why Do We Have Fewer Women in the Workplace?

I was surprised to read recently that the number of women in the workplace in the United States has declined. In a recent article, Gail Collins of the New York Times reported that the United States now ranks twentieth out of twenty-four industrialized countries for women in the labor force. We used to rank seventh. This can’t be good for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • The US economy has not been robust since the great recession of 2008. Higher employment is needed to stimulate the overall economy.
  • Wages have been stagnant, and Americans report feeling economically fragile.
  • Most US households are more dependent than ever on two incomes to maintain a family. When one parent leaves the workforce in a two-parent family, the standard of living falls for the family.
So, why are women leaving the workforce in the United States in greater numbers than in other developed countries?  Collins says the answer is the cost of childcare. She cites these statistics from the Economic Policy Institute on family budgets:
  • The cost of childcare for a family with a four-year-old and an eight-year-old exceeds housing costs for the family.
  • A single working mother with those same two children spends one-third of her income on childcare.
  • In most states, infant care is more expensive than college tuition.
Other countries, like Japan, which now has a higher proportion of working women than we do, recognize that higher employment rates for women is good for the economy. They implement family-friendly policies, such as subsidized childcare and paid family leave, in order to encourage women to enter and stay in the labor market. In a previous article, I reviewed lessons learned from the implementation of family-friendly policies in other countries. There are many best practices we can learn from. It really does not make sense for the overall economy, for families, or for women’s careers for these obstacles—childcare costs and lack of paid family leave—to exist in the United States of America. Let’s hold our presidential candidates and law makers accountable for correcting this problem.   Image provided courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Now That Men Can Cry at Work, Why Can’t Women?

The cultural climate may finally be changing for men—which could be good news for women in the workplace. In a recent New York Times article, Jim Windolf makes the case that “the cultural bias against male tears” may be a thing of the past. This bias equates tears with weakness and treats the ability to “quash or conceal sadness or pain” as a manly virtue and a sign of strength. I have always felt that suppressing tears and quashing feelings cuts us off from full and authentic self-expression in the workplace. The author agrees that “crying is part of being human, and men are probably just as human as anybody else.” Windolf notes that these days male politicians are practically required to show their humanity by shedding a few tears in public. He recalls that Barack Obama cried in public before he was elected in 2008, and Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner have cried in public, too. While it is true that Boehner still gets teased about how easily he cries, he may have done more than any other politician to normalize the sight of a strong male leader crying. Windolf goes on to identify other examples of men “slipping out of the emotional straitjacket” by crying in public, including Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, and several sports figures such as Wilmer Flores of the New York Mets. Why could this change be good for women?  I have written in a past article about the pressure my female clients are under to suppress their tears at work. They have been told that it is bad to be seen as “too emotional” and that “leaders don’t cry.”  Yet tears are a natural form of expression of a wide range of feelings from intense joy to deep frustration. I offer tips in my past article about how to handle authentic emotion in the workplace. Being able to express a full range of emotion is part of effective communication and authentic leadership. Let’s hope the emotional straitjacket is finally coming off for both women and men in the workplace. I know we’re not there yet, but the signs of change in the larger society are encouraging. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Where Are the GOP Women in Congress?

If you are like me, you’ve noticed that there are fewer Republican women than Democratic women in Congress and wondered why. In fact, the number of women in Congress has been steadily rising over the past twenty-five years, but close examination of the numbers reveals a difference between Democrats and Republicans. In a study recently published in the New York Times, the author, Derek Willis, found that the share of Democratic women in Congress has risen steadily to the current level of 33 percent, while representation by Republican women has been stagnant at roughly 10 percent. While only seventeen Republican women have ever served in the Senate, fourteen Democratic women are currently serving there. Why does this gap exist, and why is it important? The author suggests that “a root cause of the gap is that Democratic women who are potential congressional candidates tend to fit comfortably with the liberal ideology of their party’s primary voters, while many potential female Republican candidates do not adhere to the conservative ideology of their primary voters.” In other words, as the parties have become more polarized, the voters in the primaries have come to demand more and more ideological purity. In this environment, both moderate Republican men and women have declined to run because they cannot win. There are fewer highly conservative female candidates compared with male candidates. In fact, in state legislatures, a major pipeline for congressional candidates, conservative women are outnumbered five to one by conservative men. Given these numbers, the gap in congressional representation is likely to persist for some time to come. Why is this gap important? Willis notes that many studies show that “the presence of women in legislative bodies makes a difference, particularly on the policies that many female lawmakers prioritize, such as health care and children’s issues.” A recent study by the Center for American Women and Politics also found that many female legislators see themselves as representing women in general. For this reason, we need women in Congress from both parties to represent our views and, from time to time, to reach across the aisle to collaborate as they did in 2013 in the Senate to break the budget stalemate and avert a government shutdown. Let’s make sure we are all represented. The future of our country may depend on it.   Photo credit: U.S. Senate, 111th Congress, Senate Photo Studio  ]]>

Why All Leaders Need Emotional Intelligence

A friend and colleague, whom we will call Martha, recently voluntarily resigned from her new job because she felt disrespected and disliked by her new woman boss, who hired her. Martha is a senior human resources (HR) professional who, after a long and successful career in large multinational businesses, decided to move her career within a sector more aligned with her values. She was excited to be hired as the number two leader in the HR department of a respected academic community, but one year later she chose to leave. She explained that she simply could not continue to work for a leader who did not seem able to connect with her, acknowledge her work, show any warmth or caring toward her as a person, or give her performance feedback of any kind, and who discouraged teamwork as well. In short, Martha’s new boss lacked emotional intelligence (EQ). Teressa Moore Griffin writes about leadership effectiveness in general, and EQ in particular. She has described the groundbreaking research by Daniel Goleman, who looked at 188 large corporations and found that “leaders with high EQ were 20 percent more productive and profitable than their counterparts.” In a later publication, Goleman identified four fundamental capabilities required for EQ:

  1. Self-Awareness—understanding your emotions and their impact on others
  2. Self-Management—the ability to keep disruptive emotions under control and demonstrate honesty, integrity, adaptability, and a readiness to take initiative
  3. Social Awareness—the ability to show empathy and take an active interest in the experiences and concerns of others
  4. Social Skill—the ability to develop others through feedback and guidance and to listen, form relationships, and promote cooperation and build teams
Clearly, Martha’s boss lacked at least three out of the four basic competencies for EQ, which resulted in her organization’s unnecessary loss of a highly skilled professional. Martha explained that she loved her work responsibilities and her staff and had great relationships with her constituents within and outside of the institution. But when she realized that she had a knot in her stomach all the time (a first in her career) and was starting to dread going to work on days when her boss would be in the office, she knew she could not continue feeling that way. She made one last attempt in a face-to-face meeting to explain to her boss that they were not connecting, and that she did not feel listened to or acknowledged. She got no meaningful response and resigned. I have written in a previous article about why women and men in leadership need to be more relational with female staff. When I asked Martha whether she thought her expectations of relationship and subsequent disappointment with this recent boss might have been higher because this boss is a woman, she thoughtfully explained that she has worked for many male HR leaders, and male bosses can be dumb about relationships, but they usually know it and will ask for help. They are more likely to ask a woman for help than to ask another man, but they will ask because they understand the importance of having motivated and productive employees and teams. They also tend to give performance feedback because they understand that developing people is part of leadership. Is your EQ where you need it to be for maximum effectiveness in all aspects of your life? Take this quiz to test your emotional intelligence. There is always room to grow to become a better leader, parent, family member, community leader—you get the picture!   Photo credit: Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Do You Work Too Many Hours?

Several of my coaching clients are trying to find a solution to the same challenge—they work so many hours a week that they have no time for relationships, friends, exercise, relaxation, or children. These clients are men and women in large corporations, academia, small businesses, and large and small nonprofits. Their stress levels are high, their sleep quality is poor, or their hours of sleep too few. They often love their work—but they are not happy with their lives. Does this sound familiar? Robin Ely of Harvard University and her colleagues Irene Padavic and Erin Reid of Florida State University and Boston University recently reported the results of a new study they conducted for a large consulting company. The company asked them to conduct the study to determine what they needed to do to retain, and increase promotions of, women. The researchers concluded that the problem is not a lack of family-friendly policies—it is a surge in the number of hours worked by both women and men. Ely explained, “The culture of overwork affects everybody.” Here are some startling facts about the current situation when it comes to work hours:

  • The number of hours worked has increased by 5 percent for high-wage earners over the last four decades.
  • The typical professional employee works 60–65 hours per week, although in some sectors, like finance, employees are expected to work 80–100 hours per week.
  • Long hours have become a status symbol in high-wage sectors.
  • A combination of globalization and technology has created the expectation of 24/7 availability for work.
  • In addition to creating an expectation of 24/7 availability, the use of technology can become an addiction that does not allow for a balanced life.
  • The number of hours worked by low-wage workers has increased by 20 percent over the past four decades
  • Low wages that have not increased as the cost of living has gone up (and, consequently, are not living wages) combined with unpredictable work schedules mean high stress for workers who have to juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Study Findings

In their study, Ely, Padavic, and Reid found that men and women at the large consulting firm were equally unhappy about long work hours. But, interestingly, the women and men dealt with the pressure of long hours differently, with different consequences:
  • Women took advantage of flex-time or part-time policies, and stalled their careers.
  • Men suffered silently and complied with the expectations of long work hours, or they worked the schedule they wanted, without asking permission, with no career consequences. (This same strategy did not work for the women who tried it, however.)
The authors found two cultural assumptions behind these different outcomes:
  • Men are expected to be devoted to work, and it is assumed they are working even when they are not in the office.
  • Women are expected to be devoted to family, and it is assumed they are not working when they are not in the office—even when they are.

What You Can Do

Here are some steps you can take to fight the trend toward long work hours:
  • If you are a team leader, you may be able to create a team culture where people agree to rotate coverage for nights and weekends to give each other dedicated family or relaxation time when there is a need for someone to be on call.
  • You may be able to change the expectation that you are available 24/7 by announcing that you are not available outside the office, at least on some nights and weekends—or during vacations. If you are the boss, you can be a role model by not sending e-mails during off-hours.
  • You may be able to get your boss to prioritize your work and eliminate low-priority projects or reassign them to create a more manageable workload.
  • If a lot of your work requires travel for meetings, you may be able to use technology for meetings instead.
  • Working for a smaller organization may allow you more control over your work life. Some small law firms, medical practices, and nonprofits are committed to real work-life balance. The pay may be less, but the tradeoff may be worth it.
  • Join with others to put pressure on organizations, and governments, to pay a living wage for low-wage workers.
We can all be part of the solution to bring about reasonable work hours and schedules for everyone, but it can be hard to make changes on your own. It’s unlikely that organizations really need us to work all these hours, or that hard-working people can’t be paid a living wage. Start talking with your coworkers and see what you can figure out together.   Photo credit: Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Women in Science: Myths and Facts

Why are there still so few women in the top levels of academic science despite equal numbers of women and men at the undergraduate and graduate levels? Let’s examine some myths and biases about women in the sciences and consider some facts that help explain the current situation. Then I’ll close with some good news!

Myths and Biases about Women in Science

In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Joan C. Williams and Jessi L. Smith note that there are distinct patterns of gender bias that affect female scientists:
  1. The first pattern, which is also a myth, is the belief that women are less competent at science. The impact of this bias is that two-thirds of female scientists in a recent study reported a double standard when going for promotions. They had to provide more evidence of their skills than their male colleagues did to be seen as equally competent.
  2. Another pattern is a familiar double bind for women leaders in many sectors—walking the “tightrope” of being seen as too feminine to be competent or too masculine to be likable with very little room to maneuver between the two extremes. The authors quoted one of the women scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as explaining, “To get ahead here, you have to be so aggressive. But if women are too aggressive, they’re ostracized, and if they’re not aggressive enough, they have to do twice the work [to prove themselves].” Three-fourths of the women in one study reported experiencing this double bind.
  3. A third pattern and myth is that if you are a mother, you cannot also be a high-achieving scientist. Williams and Smith explain that the operating bias is that to be a high-achieving scientist, you must be “tirelessly and single-mindedly focused on research” without the distractions of a family. In a recent survey, two-thirds of the female scientists reported experiencing this bias, and female scientists are more than twice as likely to be childless than American women in general. Can it be that talented women are opting out of academic leadership positions in the sciences and choosing other careers because the price to stay in science is too high?

Training as a Scientist—Structural Barriers for Women

Molecular biologist Sara Clatterbuck Soper offers some insights into the ways that gender bias impacts training opportunities for women scientists. In an article in the New York Times, she explains that training in the sciences resembles the medieval apprentice system—scientists must spend a lengthy period of time training in the lab of an established principle investigator who has near-absolute authority in hiring. This apprenticeship is the pathway to a senior position, and eventually to having your own lab. The problem is the leader’s near-absolute hiring authority. Clatterbuck Soper cites a 2014 study that found that male scientists more often hire other men for coveted training positions. This study reported that the more prominent the men, such as Nobel Prize winners, the larger the gender gap in hiring. The elite male professors in the study employed 24 percent female postdoctoral researchers compared with 46 percent in labs run by women, and 36 percent female graduate students compared to 53 percent in labs run by women. Because training in the sciences requires high-quality apprenticeship and mentoring and so few women are lab leaders, there is a shortage of training opportunities for aspiring women scientists. Clatterbuck Soper explains that women represent half of the graduate students in biosciences but only 21 percent of full professors.

Good News

What is the good news in all of this? Did you notice that half of all undergraduate and graduate students in science are women? That is good news, and it debunks the myth that women are not interested in the sciences. What is needed now is a change in the biases, attitudes, and practices that limit opportunities for talented women in the sciences.   Photo credit: Image courtesy of Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

How to Stop Apologizing

If you’re like me, you say “I’m sorry” way too often when you have nothing to be sorry about. Men apologize too, but recent studies suggest that women are 37 percent more likely to apologize than men. Sure, an apology may be in order when our behavior impacts someone negatively and in a way we hadn’t intended. For example, I recently upset a colleague when I interrupted her during a meeting with a client. I apologized sincerely. I regretted my actions and regretted upsetting her. But too often we say sorry when we have done nothing wrong. Sloane Crosley of the New York Times suggested that this behavior may stem from centuries of women lacking rights and having to be very indirect to survive. In fact, Mika Brzezinski, in her book, Knowing Your Value, shares current-day advice from many successful women about the need to “smile and be relentlessly pleasant” and to be “tough as nails and warm as toast” when negotiating for a raise or promotion. But none of these women suggest that apologizing is ever an effective negotiating tactic, or an effective way to communicate to get what you want—unless you are trying to mend a relationship. A recent article included this list of situations where it is common, and counterproductive, for women to apologize:

  • When asking for a raise or promotion you have earned
  • When asking for vacation time you have earned
  • When reminding someone to do something they said they would do, but didn’t
  • For having an opinion
  • For not responding to someone immediately
  • For having an emotional reaction to something
  • For not getting the dish you ordered at a restaurant
Here are some steps you can take to stop apologizing:
  1. Get clear about what you want before you ask. Many women are so focused on meeting the needs of others that they don’t know what their needs and wants are.
  2. Practice asking for what you want, or saying what you have to say, without apologizing.
  3. Be prepared with information about why you should get what you want. Be clear that you deserve this promotion or raise and present your accomplishments. Be prepared with alternatives if you don’t get what you first ask for, don’t ask yes or no questions, and don’t apologize for asking.
  4. Be direct. Make declarative statements about what you want or what your opinion is, without apologizing. Don’t raise your voice at the end of a sentence to imply you are asking a question instead of making a statement. Many women feel that it is rude to make statements, but your communication will actually be clearer and less confusing to others if you are direct.
  5. Be pleasant. There is rarely a time when being rude is either appropriate or effective. Think about it. If someone is rude to you when they ask for something from you, how motivated are you to get it for them? Being pleasant is useful for everyone but especially important for women. Remember, simply asking for what you want is not rude, so there is no need to apologize.
For many of us, apologizing is a habit and breaking a habit requires determination and practice. Make a pact with a friend or coworker to point out when you are apologizing unnecessarily. Becoming conscious of this behavior goes a long way toward stopping it and support helps. Are you ready to take the pledge to stop apologizing? Have you been successful in breaking this habit? Let me know what worked for you!   Image credit: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Why Is It So Hard for Women in the Military to Fit In?

Two million US women are now veterans. During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the United States military attempted the integration of women into the military in unprecedented numbers (15 percent of service members during these conflicts were women), opening combat and leadership roles to women for the first time. Yet, although women distinguished themselves as leaders and soldiers, Emily King of the Minnesota Women’s Press noted that “service women often feel disrespected and devalued, and many face discrimination.” Benedict Carey of the New York Times and King agree on two of the main factors that make life in the military so hard for women:

  • A sense of isolation for women that undermines their confidence and can lead to depression and suicide
  • The way the military treats sexual trauma, an experience that is more common for women than for men in the military

Isolation—Why Does It Happen?

The isolation women face in the military is not unlike what happens to women in other male-dominated industries and organizations, as described in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. As in other male-dominated organizations, women often see other women as their competition and do not support or bond with each other. King quoted military women who said, “Women generally don’t bond with other women,” and “There’s a sense of competition [between women] . . . fed by their superiors comparing them with other women rather than with their male peers.” While this dynamic of competition is not unique to the military, the impact on women under conditions of deployment and war may be especially severe. In addition, women in the military also have difficulty bonding with their male peers because they must all live together. Fear of rumors of romantic alliances, along with the potential misinterpretation of friendly gestures by a male peer, results in more isolation for women. It is not surprising, then, that their experience of exclusion has led to an alarming level of hopelessness and alienation felt among many women in the military and a resulting increase in the suicide rate for female soldiers during and after deployment. The rate of depression after deployment is also higher for women than men. The exception is for women who found companionship with other women while in the military.

Sexual Assault

King reported that according to government statistics, “About one in four women experience unwanted sexual contact in the military, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape.” Because reporting sexual assault is discouraged by the structure and procedures of the military, the percentages could be as high as three in four women. The chain of command system of determining guilt means that cases are not reported to civilian authorities, and a highly sexualized boy’s club culture means that perpetrators are seldom held accountable. Consequently, little support exists for those reporting sexual assaults. While Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, proposed a bill in 2014 that would move these cases out of military courts to prevent commanders from making decisions about prosecuting subordinates for rape and sexual assault, it did not pass in the Senate.

What Needs to Change?

The military needs to recognize the challenges faced by women that men do not face. To create a healthier and more supportive environment in which women can continue to excel without enduring the psychological and emotional damage that results from isolation and sexual assault, the military needs to make several changes:
  • Encourage supportive environments where women can bond and be supportive of each other. Organizations do this by promoting the formation and functioning of affinity groups.
  • Reward a wide range of leadership styles. As in corporations, while women can adopt a masculine leadership style, this style doesn’t play to the strengths of many women. Having to pretend you are someone you’re not, especially in the stressful context of military deployment, can take a toll.
  • Support passage and implementation of laws and policies that would move prosecution of sexual assault cases to civilian authorities to restore credibility and accountability.
Ultimately, we need more women in the senior ranks of the military, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff level, to get the changes that will allow everyone who desires a military career to thrive and bring their best to their service.   Image credit: Photo courtesy of US Army (http://www.army.mil)]]>

Our Discomfort with Powerful Women: What We Can Do

I recently met a woman from India while we both waited for a train. The first question she asked me was, “Why have you never elected a woman leader in the United States, as we have done in India?” All I could say was, “That’s a good question.” She went on to ask, “Do you think Hillary Clinton will win the election this time? Is the United States ready yet for a woman leader?” I truthfully answered, “I really don’t feel confident that we are ready. The facts are not very encouraging—and I hope I’m wrong.” In a recent article in the New York Times, Bryce Covert cited these discouraging facts:

  • There has not yet been a woman elected to the White House.
  • The US Congress is less than 20 percent female.
  • In 2009, the year after Hillary Clinton conceded the nomination for president to Barack Obama, 13.5 percent of the top jobs in Fortune 500 companies were occupied by women. By 2013, that number rose to only 14.6 percent.
Covert goes on to note two troubling trends:
  • Women and minorities usually make it to corporate leadership in times of crisis.
  • They face backlash and added challenges once they get there that men don’t face.
Covert cited one study of large companies on the London Stock Exchange, which found that those companies who had put women on their boards “had just experienced consistently bad stock performance, while companies were generally stable before they appointed men.” Covert also cited a large study of all the promotions to chief executive at Fortune 500 companies over a fifteen-year period. The study found that “a company’s return on equity was consistently and significantly negative just before a woman or a minority got the job.” Because companies are commonly in crisis when women get the chance to take a senior leadership role, it is harder for women to succeed and more likely that they will be forced out and blamed for the problems. The second trend shows that once hired, women and minorities face challenges and forms of backlash that make success more difficult. Covert cited polling that shows both women and men prefer to have men in senior executive positions. (I have written in a previous article about the preference for male bosses.) In addition, Covert reported research on backlash against women when they act assertively at work. He noted that “female leaders are more likely to be called abrasive, strident, aggressive and even emotional.”  Women of color are also more likely to be called angry and militant when they act assertively. (Read more about this dynamic in another of my previous articles.)

What We Can Do to Help Pave the Way for Women Leaders

Because all change has to start with ourselves, we can take steps to fix these problems:
  1. Support women’s leadership in general. Remember, studies show that both women and men prefer having men as leaders, so we can reverse this trend by starting to be more supportive, in general, of women leaders at all levels and positions.
  2. Notice your own reflex reactions to quickly judge or feel uncomfortable with women leaders. I recently caught myself starting to be critical of a book by a well-known woman. I challenged myself to look for the value in the book, and I found plenty of value. Challenge yourself to ask, “What else could be true?” when you find yourself with an urge to negatively judge a woman.
  3. Whatever your political persuasion, challenge others when they judge a woman candidate as too aggressive, too ambitious, strident, or angry. These were many of the negative adjectives, often expressed by women, that were used to describe Hillary Clinton when she ran in 2008. Challenge people to speak about qualifications, facts, and issues, instead of personal characteristics.
Yes, we have work to do as a country to be ready to elect a female president, but by pushing through our unconscious bias and making conscious choices based on awareness, facts, and issues we can get ready to support women leaders. We can challenge ourselves and others to become aware of unconscious bias that stacks the deck against women leaders. Think about how important it is for girls to have more role models so that they are encouraged to aspire to be all they can be. Your decisions today will impact their future.   Image credit: Photo courtesy of Ralf Roletschek, Wikimedia Commons  ]]>