Where Are the Women CEOs?

In business and in politics, few women have made it to the top—none in politics in the United States, as seen with Hillary Clinton’s recent loss in the 2016 presidential race. And Catalyst reports that the percentage of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has been stuck at 5 percent for a very long time. Why has there been so little progress? One factor explaining the dearth of female CEOs is described by Katrin Bennhold of the New York Times as the phenomenon of the glass cliff. The concept of the glass cliff, coined in 2005 by two professors at Exeter University in the United Kingdom, posits that “women are often placed in positions of power when the situation is dire, men are uninterested and the likelihood of success is low.” Bennhold gives the example of the election of Theresa May to prime minister of the United Kingdom right after the Brexit vote, which put her immediately into a lose-lose situation where her chances of success were very low. Bennhold goes on to note that all the men responsible for Brexit “stabbed each other soundly in the back” and ran away. Julie Creswell writes that researchers at Utah State University also report that women are more likely to be promoted to the top job of troubled companies and then “[lack] the support or authority” to make necessary changes. In other words, women are less likely to succeed in glass cliff appointments, and their tenure is often shorter because they are under conditions detrimental to success. Susan Chira of the New York Times describes other factors that contribute to the low number of female CEOs, based on interviews she conducted with dozens of senior women who competed to be CEOs but did not succeed. These women concluded that the barriers for women are “more deeply rooted and persistent than they wanted to believe.” They reported these barriers:

  • Women are not seen as visionary.
  • Women are less comfortable with self-promotion and more likely to be criticized (and villainized) when they do grab the spotlight—and they are often perceived as unlikeable.
  • Men continue to be threatened by assertive women.
  • Women are disproportionately penalized for stumbles.
  • Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive and can be caught off guard by the ruthlessness of competition at the top. One executive explained, “Women are prey . . . They [men] can smell it in the water, that women are not going to play the same game. Those men think, ‘If I kick her, she’s not going to kick back, but the men will. So I’ll go after her.’”
This latter point may also explain research from Utah State University, as reported by Creswell, showing that female CEOs are 34 percent more likely to be targeted by an activist investor who forces them out. A study from Arizona State University found that, out of all chief executive appointments from 2003 to 2013, one in four women-led companies were attacked by activist investors. What can be done? Chira notes that Deborah Gillis, president and chief executive officer of Catalyst, says that it’s not enough for leaders and boards to pay lip service to valuing diversity and advancing women and minorities. They need to put their money where their mouth is by withholding bonuses from leaders if they do not promote women and minorities and increasing bonuses if they do. They must also continue to grow the number of women on corporate boards. More women are seriously considered for CEO appointments when women are board members. Without these efforts, the deck is stacked against women getting the chance to demonstrate leadership from the top.   Image courtesy of businessforward (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Women and Minorities in Law Firms: The Glacial Pace of Change

Women have enrolled in law school in equal numbers with men in the United States for the last twenty years, and minority enrollment has also steadily increased during this period. Recent studies, compiled into a series of articles by New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson show both good news and bad news about the current status of women and minorities in law firms. Olson reports good news based on a study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). This study shows that women and minorities made small gains in 2016:

  • Women made up 22.13 percent of partners, up from 21.46 percent in 2015.
  • Minorities made up 8.05 percent of partners, up from 7.52 percent the previous year. Of these, 1.81 percent of partners were African Americans.
  • As associates, women held 45 percent of the positions, a slight decrease from 2009 levels. Minorities made up 22.72 percent of associates, up from 19.67 percent in 2009. African Americans made up 4.11 percent of associates, which is below their 2009 level.
  • Disabled lawyers are scarce.
  • Minorities are represented at higher levels among summer associates but are not hired into permanent jobs.
James G. Leipold, executive director of the NALP, notes that these averages mask big discrepancies by law firm size and geography, and these small gains reflect an “incredibly slow pace of change [that] continues to be discouraging.” Why is progress so slow? Research on women lawyers probably holds answers for minority lawyers as well. Olson reports on a study showing that female law students are clustered in law schools with lower rankings. Because jobs with higher wages and long-term job security go to graduates of highly ranked, prestigious law schools, Professor Deborah J. Merritt of Moritz College of Law asserts that “women start at a disadvantage.” Olson also says women are “underrepresented in the higher echelons of law, including the ranks of judges, corporate counsel, law school deans and professors.” The access to these highly ranked law schools is not a level playing field, either.
  • Fewer female college graduates tend to apply to top-ranked law schools, and, when they do, they are less likely to be accepted. Admissions processes at law schools remain murky and lack transparency.
  • Fewer women are enrolled in law schools that claim to place 85 percent of graduates in “gold standard” jobs (full time and long-term).
As noted earlier, the numbers of women and minorities promoted to partner remain low. Olson reports on another study showing that even when women do make partner at large law firms, there is a pay gap of 44 percent between male and female partners. While there are a variety of possibilities for why this discrepancy exists, two seem most likely:
  • There is an “old boys’ network” at play because of connections made at prestigious law schools that result in the hiring firm landing more deals for large accounts.
  • Men are better at receiving credit for originating big cases that impact annual compensation.
In fact, though, many female partners feel that those credits are awarded arbitrarily, often behind closed doors by all-male management committees, and do not accurately represent women’s contributions. Olson reports on three discrimination lawsuits against three different law firms by three different female partners with such claims. In these cases, the female partners complain of pay cuts, demotions, and terminations, even though they were top earners in their firms. I suggest we watch for the resolution of these gender-bias cases for Kerrie L. Campbell, Traci M. Ribeiro, and Kamee Verdrager. Perhaps these lawsuits will force law firms to change their culture to become more transparent and equitable. Unfortunately, too often it takes a lawsuit to bring about change.     Image courtesy of Rep. Nancy PelosiCC by 2.0.]]>

Myths about Women’s Careers: New Research – Part II

recent Harvard Business Review study of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates, spanning three generations (baby boomers, generation Xers, and millennials) sheds light on some myths and gaps in expectations about women’s careers that persist across generations. Because this study focuses on Harvard Business School graduates, who are a highly educated and ambitious group of women and men, I think the findings are particularly eye-opening for the rest of us in that they provide a window into how entrenched attitudes about gender roles are in our society. These entrenched attitudes affect our careers as women, as well as our overall satisfaction with our lives. The big question for many of us is, “Haven’t things changed for millennials?” Some of the following findings from this study can help answer this and other questions about gender gaps in our careers. The researchers found the following about expectations for career priority for men upon graduation from Harvard Business School’s MBA program:

  • More than half of the boomer and generation X men expected that their careers would take priority over their spouse’s or partner’s (this attitude was slightly less prevalent for men of color).
  • 50 percent of millennial men expected their careers to take priority, which is only slightly less than previous generations.
  • 39 percent of white men and 48 percent of men of color anticipated their spouse’s career would be equally important.
The career priority expectations for women upon graduation from Harvard Business School’s MBA program were different:
  • The vast majority of women across racial groups and generations anticipated that their careers would rank equally with their partner’s.
  • 75 percent of millennial women expected their careers would rank equally with their partner’s.
  • 26 percent of millennial women expected their partner’s career would take priority. Notice the big gap in expectations between millennial women (26 percent) and millennial men (50 percent).
  • Only 7 percent of generation X women and 3 percent of boomer women thought their careers would take priority over their partner’s.
The study’s authors also looked at the reality for career priority after a number of years in the workforce and found that 75 percent of generation X and boomer men reported that their careers had, in fact, taken precedence (this was less true for black women and men). This is much higher than either women or men expected upon graduation. Men in the study shared the following expectations for family responsibility upon graduation:
  • 75 percent of generation X and boomer men expected their partners would be the primary child-care provider (somewhat lower for black men).
  • 66 percent of millennial men have this expectation.
  • 33 percent of millennial men expect to do an equal share of childcare, compared to 22 percent of generation X men and 16% of boomer men.
Again, women’s expectations upon graduation for sharing family responsibility differed:
  • 50 percent of generation X and boomer women expected to have primary responsibility for childcare.
  • 42 percent of millennial women expect to do so, which is only slightly less than previous generations.

Impact of Findings on Career Satisfaction

This study showed that all women were more likely to have egalitarian expectations for both career priority and for child-care responsibility than were the men, and the generation X and boomer women reported disappointment about how their careers ended up taking lower priority. The authors of the study reported that “traditional partnerships were linked to higher career satisfaction for men, whereas women who ended up in such arrangements were less satisfied, regardless of their original expectations.” While the expectations for equality of millennials show a slight improvement, this group is too early in their careers to know yet if their reality will be different. Remember the story of my client, June, in part I of this series published last week? As long as our deeply entrenched attitudes about gender roles (that women’s careers are less important and that childcare is the primary responsibility of women) remain unchallenged, they will play out in both organizations and families as barriers for women’s careers, and change will continue to be very, very slow. The gap between women’s expectations and their actual experiences will continue to be large. It’s no wonder that there are so few women in senior leadership roles—but let’s not blame women. Entrenched attitudes present both internal and external barriers to women realizing their potential.  Let’s work together, women and men, to challenge existing attitudes and practices both at home and at work. What do you think about the findings from this study? What changes would you like to see in the ways women and men balance career and family responsibilities?]]>

Myths about Women’s Careers: New Research – Part I

research reported in the Harvard Business Review dispels several commonly held myths about the lack of equity in advancement for women and why so few women are in senior management. Here are three of the myths:

Myth #1: Women fail to achieve equality because they take themselves off the career track to have children.

Myth #2: Women value careers less than men.

Myth #3: Having children makes employees less reliable, less driven, and less creative.

In their study of 25,000 MBAs over three generations (baby boomers, generation Xers, and millennials) of graduates from the Harvard Business School, the authors found the following:
  • Only 11 percent of generation X and boomer women with children under eighteen were out of the workforce full time to care for children. The figure is 7 percent for women of color.
  • Both women and men expressed the same amount of ambition upon graduation from the MBA program across the three generations.
  • Both women and men in senior management teams were likely to have made career decisions to accommodate family responsibilities, and they were still able to perform at a level sufficient to achieve senior management positions.
So, why do men achieve more success in their careers? As Lisa Miller of New York Magazine put it, “Most women work full-time through their child-rearing years, and yet they achieve less than men at work because, well, they’re women.” In other words, both workplace cultures and societal attitudes—not the choices women make—are responsible for women achieving less. The following story demonstrates how workplace and societal attitudes may be impacting women’s careers: I have a coaching client, June, who has been driven to be a senior leader since she was a small child. She always earned good grades, completed two advanced professional degrees, and worked hard. Although she worked for two major corporations, she was not able to get the challenging assignments or promotions that she desired and felt ready to accomplish. She was frustrated and unhappy at work. When her son was born, he provided an excuse to step out of the corporate world, which did not seem to value her. She and her husband agreed that she would stay home full time with their son, although that had never been her plan. She explained that she would never have left her full-time position if she felt that challenging opportunities were available to her. She still longed for meaningful work, but the part-time opportunities available to her were neither interesting nor demanding, and she was growing more unhappy by the day. June’s story reflects the impact of the three myths about women and work. While June did value having a career, she may not have been considered for challenging assignments or advancement because she was of childbearing age, and she was assumed to be less committed to a career. None of this was actually true for June, and her company unnecessarily lost a bright and talented worker. What can organizations do to keep talented women and men? Here are five tips:
  1. Discard the myth that women don’t value careers; provide opportunities for their advancement and development, even when they are in their childbearing years.
  2. Provide a way back into full-time work for women and men who use family leave time or flex time when starting a family.
  3. Provide meaningful and challenging part-time work opportunities for both women and men who want to cut back for awhile when they start a family, but who do not intend to step off their career path.
  4. Stop punishing (by judging harshly) women and men for wanting to share family responsibilities and temporarily requesting flex-time and part-time work.
  5. Support couples in being equal partners and sharing family responsibilities.
But wait! There’s more! Read about more interesting findings from this myth-breaking research next week in Part II.]]>

Women Are Better Leaders Than Men

New research conducted by the leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman and authored by Bob Sherwin shows women scored higher than men on twelve of sixteen leadership competencies at all levels of management, including the executive level. So why is it that, worldwide, only 3–4 percent of CEOs are women? Two key reasons why women continue to experience a glass ceiling at senior levels are

  • The persistence of negative stereotypes about deficiencies in women’s leadership capabilities despite more and more data showing the inaccuracy of these stereotypes.
  • Second-generation bias, defined by Debra Kolb and Jessica Porter in their new book, Negotiating at Work, as, “an organization’s policies and practices that appeared gender neutral [but] could have unintended but differential impacts on different groups of men and women.”
The good news is that data from recent research about the value that women bring to organizations is adding up, and we can use this data as a chisel to chip away at negative stereotypes and invisible structural barriers.  

About This Study

The sample for the Zenger Folkman study included the 360-degree feedback data for 16,000 leaders in a wide variety of industries. Two-thirds of the leaders in the study were male and one-third female. All participants had feedback from their managers, direct reports, and peers.  

Research Findings

Women scored higher than men on twelve of sixteen leadership competencies measured by the 360-degree feedback assessment, and ten of these differences were statistically significant. One surprise in the findings was that while most people polled by the researchers assumed that women would excel in the nurturing competencies (developing others, inspiring and motivating others, relationship building, collaboration, and teamwork), in fact, these were not the strongest scores for the women. The largest positive differences for women were in taking initiative, displaying integrity and honesty, and driving for results. Women also outperformed men in the nurturing competencies, but their strongest scores were in getting tasks done and delivering results—counter to some negative stereotypes about women leaders. These results held up across functions usually considered traditionally male, such as sales, legal, engineering, IT, and R and D. The study’s author notes, “Only in facilities management and maintenance do [women] not do well.” Also, the higher the women rose to the executive level, the more positively they were perceived. I think it is significant that this last finding is based on feedback from people who actually knew and worked with the leaders. In contrast, the “likeability” literature, reviewed in my previous blogs, seems to show conflicting results when women advance, but that research is based on hypothetical leaders described in case studies and may not be as meaningful as the findings reported here.  

How to Chip Away at Negative Stereotypes

  1. Be informed. Keep a file of articles with research showing positive findings about women in organizations. In addition to the information reported here about women being better leaders, I have written in previous blogs about other positive research findings, including
    1. Men are more confident, but women are more competent.
    2. When women lead, performance improves.
    3. Start-ups led by women are more likely to succeed.
    4. Innovative firms with more women in top management are more profitable.
    5. Companies with more gender balance have more revenue.
  2. Inform others. Circulate articles reporting positive data on women that challenge existing stereotypes and help make the case for promoting women. Make sure to include your boss on the list you send information to, and bring it up with her or him from time to time. This can help your boss justify fighting for an opportunity for you behind closed doors.
  3. Join with others. Join with other women and men who want to identify the second-generation bias in the policies and practices in your organization and raise them up for scrutiny and change. Second-generation bias, as described by Kolb and Porter, is unintentional and invisible, but can create significant barriers for women and other nondominant groups. You can work with others to make biases visible and open a pathway to change.
Negative gender-based stereotypes and second-generation bias are deeply entrenched, but we can chip away at the barriers they create if we are persistent and informed.]]>

Can I Be Your Friend and Your Boss?

I really like one of the women I supervise, and we have become friends. We’ve started socializing outside of work, and I really enjoy her company. Lately she has been coming in late and leaving early. I feel she is taking advantage of our friendship, but it is awkward for me. I don’t know what to say or how to say it. I am really uncomfortable with confrontation, and I don’t want to damage our friendship. What should I do? Gladys needs to learn to handle two challenges in this situation: (1) dealing with conflict or confrontation and (2) eliminating boundary confusion to have healthy relationships with coworkers as both a boss and a friend. Women in my research and my women clients frequently report these as common challenges.

Avoiding Conflict

Paula, a nurse who participated in my research on women’s relationships in the workplace, sums up the theme of avoiding conflict with friends as follows, “We weren’t raised that way [to be direct and confrontational]. We were told that women didn’t do that … you were to be seen and not heard.” “Seen and not heard”—I remember being told this when I was growing up. I thought I had to avoid confrontation because it could damage a relationship and was not “nice.” But I eventually realized that damage to the relationship was much more likely to occur by avoiding conflict and not dealing directly with differences. By letting bad feelings pile up, I was creating distance and mixed messages. Dealing directly with misunderstandings or hurt feelings and clearing them up actually makes relationships stronger. Many of us don’t have the skills to be direct, but excellent resources are available for learning these skills.

Boundary Confusion

Boundary confusion grows out of one of our strengths as women—we are often comfortable with having fluid boundaries and developing friendships with bosses and colleagues at work. Scholars agree that women tend to emphasize the fluid nature of the boundaries between personal life and work life. But fluid boundaries can also cause confusion. Scholars, and about 25 percent of the women in my research, propose that women bosses learn to distinguish between being friends and being friendly with other women at work. I would go a step further and say that this does not need to be an either/or option. We can be both friends and friendly as the boss, but we need to be able to name our role—boss or friend—in any given interaction. We also need to have a clear understanding of how the relational expectations differ for these two roles.

Use a Tool Called Role Hats

Gladys can be the boss of her friend, and they can be friends outside of work. I say “outside of work” because it is important that Gladys’s other direct reports not see her showing favoritism in the work environment toward her friend. The key is for Gladys and her friend to learn how to discuss and negotiate their roles and relationship boundaries. Sharon, the CEO of a healthcare services organization, describes a useful tool called role hats: To be friends at work requires total transparency. I explicitly name the role that I’m coming from—boss or friend. And we are always clear about how the hats work—what I can and cannot talk about when I have my boss hat on and how I see my responsibilities. We can also be friends outside of work as long as we stay clear about our hats. The key, then, is to be explicit about your expectations. Gladys can let her friend know that as the boss she is responsible for managing the workload and morale of her department. Accordingly, her friend cannot come in late and leave early. Here are some steps she (and you) can take to clarify role boundaries at work:
  1. Start by sharing your desire to maintain your friendship and have a good work relationship as well.
  2. Name all the functional roles involved in the relationship, such as boss, friend, or colleague.
  3. Discuss each person’s needs in each role, and really listen to each other.
  4. Exchange suggestions for behaviors that could meet each person’s needs in each role.
  5. Establish ground rules for how you will alert each other to your use of a role hat, such as:
    1. Ask me which hat I’m wearing.
    2. Ask me to change hats any time, and I will tell you if I can and why (or why not).
Good relationships, both inside of work and outside, are important for our well-being, satisfaction, and success. Keeping them strong and healthy takes some effort, but it’s worth it!]]>

Are Women Better Decision Makers?

recent article in the New York Times by Therese Huston says yes!—women are better decision makers in stressful situations. Huston cites research by several neuroscientists that shows that in low-stress situations, women and men make decisions about risk in similar ways. When stress is introduced, however, women bring some unique strengths to the table that result in better decisions. Here are some examples of the positive impact women have had:

  • Credit Suisse examined 2,400 global corporations from 2005 to 2011, which includes the years just before and after the financial crisis, and found that companies with at least one woman on their board outperformed comparable companies with all-male boards by 26 percent.
  • Several studies show that investments run by female hedge-fund managers outperformed those run by male managers.

Read more

Why Confidence Matters for Women and How to Get More of It

  • Doubted yourself and felt you didn’t deserve a promotion or success?
  • Felt you were a fraud or an imposter?
  • Blamed yourself when a project or exam did not go well?
  • Realized you had asked for less than you could have gotten in a negotiation?
  • Obsessed about being perfect as you researched, prepared, or copyedited your presentation?
  • Hesitated about putting yourself forward for a promotion or other opportunity?
  • If any of these thoughts, feelings, or actions are familiar, you are in good company. Scholars Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, in their Atlantic Monthly article, “The Confidence Gap,” summarize a large collection of research that shows the negative impact of women’s lack of confidence:
    • Men overestimate and women underestimate their readiness for promotions, their abilities, and their actual performance. Women apply for promotions only when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Men apply when they meet only 50 percent.
    • Men initiate salary negotiations four times more often than women do, and women ask for 30 percent less money when they do negotiate.
    • Women assume blame when things go wrong, and men blame external circumstances.
    • Women feel the pressure of perfectionism—which actually limits productivity—much more than men.

     What You Can Do to Overcome the Confidence Gap

    Though the confidence gap may seem daunting, you can overcome it. The following actions can help you increase your confidence in the workplace—and beyond:

    Develop a Support System

    Create and nurture a support system of people, women and men, who understand the gender dynamics related to confidence. Your support system should include people from your personal, professional, and organizational contexts who will challenge and encourage you to put yourself forward for opportunities that you may not feel you are qualified for, negotiate for higher salaries and fees, and stretch yourself to do “good enough” work rather than trying to be perfect. As an executive coach, I often push my female clients to ask for double the amount they were going to ask for—or for a significantly higher title than the one offered—and they often get it. And as we know, women have to “smile” while negotiating to avoid being seen as too assertive and, therefore, unlikeable.

    2. Be an Ally to Others and an Effective Boss

    Other women need you to challenge and encourage them to ask for more and to do “good enough” work. Male colleagues can also be important allies, and both male and female bosses need to help their female employees overcome the confidence gap. Many male bosses hesitate to tell female employees that they seem to lack confidence for fear of being seen as sexist. In fact, they may see a female employee as not being ready for a promotion if she doesn’t speak out in meetings when she may feel she is too junior to participate. Understanding gender dynamics can help bosses see that they need to use different approaches to support male and female staff. One of my coaching clients, a male CEO who has an all-female management team, does a great job of seeing the pattern and naming it. He pushes his female managers to apply for promotions they don’t think they are ready for and to face challenges that they hesitate to take on. They have responded to his encouragement and gone on to great success.

    3. Build Skills

    The good news is that showing confidence involves skills that can be learned. Classes in negotiation, presentation, meeting management, and feedback skills can help you feel and be perceived as more confident. A women’s leadership development program can teach you more about how to be successful in the business environment while leveraging your unique strengths as a woman. Scholar Richard Petty says, “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” Don’t hesitate. Even in the face of self-doubt, which will always be lurking just under the surface for many of us, push yourself! Each success will build your confidence.]]>