Why Women Do Not Need to Behave Like Men to Be Good Leaders

The messages to women about how to advance in organizations still, regrettably, urge women to behave like men, but men don’t seem to get messages that say they need to change at all. Reward systems in organizations still undervalue feminine workplace values and leadership behaviors and predominantly reward masculine ones. For example:

  • Assertiveness is rewarded more often than collaboration.
  • Women are urged to work long hours and pretend they don’t have children. (I’m not joking.) Women in a financial services firm whom I just interviewed are told not to talk about their families—even with each other—if they want to be considered for advancement.
  • Women must show they are task focused by not “wasting time” on building teams and relationships by soliciting or listening to input or problems.

Ruth Whippman, writing for the New York Times, notes that “anything (in most organizational cultures) associated with girls or women . . . is by definition assigned a lower cultural value than things associated with boys or men.” She goes on to say that “the assumption that assertiveness is a more valuable trait than, say, deference is itself the product of a ubiquitous and corrosive gender hierarchy.”

I agree with Whippman that achieving equality in organizations means, in addition to parity in representation, that organizations must come to value both feminine and masculine workplace values. These differences are described by Dr. Joyce K. Fletcher in her book, Disappearing Acts, in the table below:

Masculine Workplace Values Feminine Workplace Values
·       Task focused

·       Isolation and autonomy

·       Independence

·       Competition—individualistic competitive achievement

·       Hierarchical authority

·       Rational engagement is valued (focus on task, logic, and the bottom line—leave personal matters at the door)

·       Leadership style is directive

·       Community and team focused

·       Connection

·       Interdependence

·       Mutuality—success achieved through collaboration

·       Collectivity, or flat structure

·       Emotional engagement is valued (notice body language and process, encourage relationships, share feelings and personal information, and show empathy)

·       Leadership style is supportive

Fletcher emphasizes that organizations and society need both masculine and feminine values to have healthy and productive environments and relationships. When they are not both valued and our society and workplaces are out of balance, with a higher value placed on the masculine, as they are now, many problems occur for both women and men that could be prevented. For example:

  • Whippman notes that the emphasis on masculine assertiveness has led us to many of our current social problems, such as #MeToo, campus rape, school shootings, and President Trump’s Twitter rages.
  • The problem is not that women are not speaking up but that men are refusing to stop to listen to others and reflect on the impact of their behavior.
  • The problem is not that women apologize too much, as suggested in magazines and books, but that men don’t apologize enough. Whippman quotes a study that suggests women apologize more because they have a “lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” She is quick to point out that many of our problems with male entitlement and toxic behavior can be traced back to a “fundamental unwillingness among men to apologize.”
  • Rather than pouring money into encouraging only girls to take up STEM subjects, why aren’t we also pouring money into encouraging boys to become nurses? Are we saying that boys have no capacity for empathy, or that nursing isn’t considered masculine enough to count as real work?

Imagine having organizations where both masculine and feminine workplace values were rewarded and valued for leadership—where leaders could be valued for being both task and relationship focused, both competitive and collaborative, both directive and supportive—where leaders could be role models for how to have both careers and families rather than hiding the fact that they have families. This dream scenario is possible, and having a balance of both feminine and masculine values and behaviors will create more productive, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. We need men to “lean out,” though, rather than blaming the victim and putting all the pressure on women to become more like men. Women and men have to work together to make these changes in organizational cultures. Women can’t change things alone, but the results will be organizational cultures that are better for everyone.


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New Research: Americans Believe Women Are as Competent as Men

I had mixed feelings as I read the report by Maya Salam of the New York Times about new research on the public’s opinion regarding women’s intelligence in comparison with men’s. I am thrilled with the results from by Alice Eagly, a well-known social psychologist at Northwestern University, that reflect this significant measure of social change for women. At the same time, I feel exasperated about how long it has taken for Americans to see women as competent. And I feel sad about the underrepresented women in the United States who are still not valued and women in all regions of the world who are still voiceless and powerless. Nonetheless, this research by Eagly is good news. Salam notes that the study “published by the American Psychological Association . . . found that a majority of Americans (finally) believe women are just as competent as men, if not more so.” (Emphasis in original.)

Eagly and her colleagues studied opinion polls from 1946 to 2018 looking at how Americans rated a number of factors, including competency (defined as intelligence, organization, and creativity) along gender lines. Here’s what they found:

  • In 1946, 35 percent of people thought men and women were equally intelligent.
  • In 1995, 43 percent thought men and women were equally intelligent.
  • In 2018, 86 percent thought men and women were equally intelligent.

Eagly reportedly told Salam that these findings represent “massive social change.” Eagly notes that one important factor contributing to this change is that until recently, few women were in visible leadership roles. Salam notes that this situation is now changing: in 2019, college-educated women edged out college-educated men in the workforce and, for the first time, six women stepped forward to run for president and were visible on the debate stage for the first two Democratic debates.

Many women are stepping into visible leadership roles. Here are just a few:

  • Christine Lagarde—Already a groundbreaking visible leader for some time now, Christine Lagarde has just broken another barrier. David Segal and Amie Tsang of the New York Times report that she has just been named the new president of the European Central Bank, becoming the first woman to be picked for this role. She will leave her post as the head of the International Monetary Fund where, appointed in 2011 as the first woman to hold that post, she successfully steered the economies of many countries reeling from the global financial crisis. Lagarde is committed to promoting women as a moral urgency. She states that her research shows that “a higher share of women on the boards of banks and financial supervision agencies is associated with greater stability. . . . If it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today.”
  • Julie Sweet—David Gelles of the New York Times reports that Julie Sweet has become the first female chief executive of Accenture. With her appointment, twenty-seven women now lead S&P 500 companies. Her promotion means that slightly more than 5 percent of the biggest public companies in the United States are currently led by women. Sweet has been a leading voice within Accenture for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the development of more female leaders in the corporate world. She intends to maintain her commitment to diversity and inclusion in her new role.
  • Sarah Zorn—As she completes her term as the first female regimental commander of the Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, Sarah Zorn provides another example of a woman in a visible leadership role. Alyssa Schukar of the New York Times notes that “for most of its 176-year history, the Citadel . . . did not admit undergraduate women.” Only in 1995, when Shannon Faulkner won her two-year court battle to be admitted, did the state school allow women in, by a ruling from the Supreme Court. Twenty-four years later, women make up 10 percent of the Citadel’s student body, and 25 percent are students of color. Since Zorn ascended to regimental commander as a twenty-two-year-old junior, the school has seen a record number of female applicants.

These women are just a few of those breaking barriers to become visible examples of women’s competence as leaders. We still have a long way to go to reach parity, but change is moving in the right direction—slowly but surely.


Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Women and Cross-Generational Friendship

While in my forties, I met a woman, Becky, in her eighties who, like me, had chosen not to have children. I was worried that I would feel lonely in my old age and regret my decision. When I met Becky, I asked her if, now that she was in her eighties, she felt lonely and regretted her decision not to have children. She replied, “I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I’m old, but I’m not lonely yet. The secret is to have younger friends!” That was the most liberating perspective I had ever heard, and I stopped worrying. I have been cultivating, nourishing, and cherishing my friendships with younger women ever since I met Becky, and my life has been enriched in so many ways.

Not surprisingly, I was delighted to read recently of two types of intentional cross-generational groupings gaining momentum in the United States. The first type is intentional cross-generational gatherings in person and online for personal and professional support. The second type is a movement that brings socially active progressive millennials and social activist Roman Catholic nuns together to learn from and nourish each other.

Abby Ellin, writing for the New York Times, reports that intergenerational women’s groups are forming both in-person and online to “share stores, concerns and triumphs” across generations. Meetings take place online and in cities across the country, convened by individuals who recognize a need for personal and professional friendship and support among women. Participants can range from twenty-nine to ninety-three years of age in these meetings, and the topics vary widely:

  • Money issues
  • Blended families
  • Widowhood
  • Invisibility after fifty
  • Problems between mothers and daughters
  • Professional advancements and double binds in the workplace
  • Living and coping in times of political uncertainty
  • Understanding our aging bodies (age thirty to ninety)

The author notes that women of all ages can find it difficult to make new friends as adults. The demands of work and family life can leave women feeling socially isolated. She also notes that millennials and boomers who work together often tend to stick with their same-age cohorts outside of the office. That’s why the purpose of these intergenerational groups is not only to exchange information but to create settings where people can discover common interests and cross-generational friendships can form. These friendships are enriching when wisdom and energy are shared in both directions (younger to older and vice versa). Here is a sample of some of these gatherings:

  • Honey Good and Moxie!—informal gatherings in Palm Springs and Chicago and other cities around the country, convened by Ms. Honey Good
  • Spaghetti Project—a monthly, work-related gathering in Manhattan created by Erica Keswin
  • Generation Women—a monthly reading series in New York and Sidney, Australia, where women from multiple generations read short stories and essays together

The second type of intergenerational group that recently emerged, called Nuns and Nones, is described by Nellie Bowles in the New York Times. The pilot project, launched by a group of millennials (who are the least religious group of people in America), came about when a group of young social activists, who also describe themselves as spiritual but not religious (Nones), went looking for intentional communities of people living radical activist lives with total devotion to their causes. During their search, one of the millennials, a thirty-two-year-old man named Adam Horowitz, realized that the people already living this way are nuns. A six-month pilot project was launched by Horowitz and a group of progressive millennials with the Catholic Sisters of Mercy in Burlington, California. Bowles quotes one of the Nones, Sarah Jane Bradley, as explaining, “These are radical, badass women who have lived lives devoted to social justice. And we can learn from them.” The group moved into the convent for six months for the pilot project, and Nuns and Nones is now running groups in a dozen cities. In each group, sisters and millennials meet regularly and sometimes live together. Each group benefits in some of the following ways:

  • The young people are learning old wisdom traditions that can feed change.
  • The sisters find themselves called back again to a larger vision through discussions with millennials.
  • The young people learn to avoid burnout by studying the sisters who have made social change a lifestyle.
  • The nuns, whose numbers have been declining steadily since the 1960s, get help with holding on to their property by moving young people into convents.
  • The young people get low-income housing in exchange for helping take care of the sisters.

These intergenerational relationships are good for everyone. Just ask Becky!


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Five Reasons Why It Is Time for Universal Day Care

Did you know that we almost got affordable, high-quality universal day care in the United States in 1971? Katha Pollitt writes in the New York Times that bipartisan legislation, the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971, was passed by both houses of Congress—and vetoed by President Richard Nixon. Nixon’s veto resulted from pressure by the Christian right to resist “communal approaches to child rearing” that would undermine “the family centered approach.” In 1971, the women’s liberation movement was gaining steam and beginning to threaten established gender roles. Nixon was able to prevent a veto override by appealing to an existing hostility toward women working and being mothers and to a fear of communism in our Cold War culture. But as Pollitt notes, times have changed. Most mothers of small children now work (and some always did), and the fear of communism has been replaced by the growing popularity of mixed economy, social democratic welfare states successfully modeled in Western Europe. Pollitt argues that it is time to put affordable, high-quality universal day care at the top of the Democratic Party agenda ahead of proposals for free public education, health care for all, and a living wage. She notes that while these are all important causes, if we cannot afford them all and must choose, universal day care would help the most people and do more to change society for the better. She explains that “only about a third of Americans age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher” (though more would probably try for a degree if it were affordable). By comparison, 86 percent of American women are mothers by the age of 44 and are struggling with access and the cost of day care. Pollitt notes that the lack of stable and affordable day care in the United States creates a crisis for families and has a huge impact on women’s employment:

  • Women who want and need to work and who have partners are often the ones who quit to stay home when day care is not stable or affordable. This lack of stable and affordable day care is a primary reason that women’s workforce participation has stalled and even decreased.
  • When unstable day care arrangements fall apart and women miss work, they can be legally fired. Being fired is economically devastating for their families and especially dire for single mothers.
  • The decision for women to quit working because of day care costs has more implications for a woman’s future than just a lost paycheck: she will have less Social Security in her old age; she will have fewer promotions during her working life, even if she returns to work when the children are older; her skills may become outdated; she will lose professional contacts while she stays home; when a woman stays home, previously egalitarian couples often revert to traditional gender roles, which are maintained even when she goes back to work.
Pollitt argues that now is the time for bold policy agendas, and universal day care should top the list because “It’s good for workers and employers, for communities and families and children.” Specifically, it would do the following:
  1. Create lots of jobs
  2. Alow lots of people to go to work
  3. Raise incomes
  4. Relieve stress and unhappiness
  5. Give children a good start in life
It does seem that now is the time for universal day care. Actually, it is past the time when we should have both affordable, high-quality universal day care and paid family leave in the United States. Caitlyn Collins reminds us that the United States is “the only country in the industrialized world without federally mandated paid maternity leave.” The levels of stress that American families experience is an urgent political issue that requires a political solution. How many people do you know who would benefit? Let us hear from you.   Photo courtesy of https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/kids-playing-with-puzzle-education-concept-gm669922316-122456419 (iStock standard license).]]>

How #MeToo Exposes Our Antiquated Laws: Women Are Not Protected

In many instances over the past year, #MeToo has helped multiple women discover they were abused by the same powerful man, but the victims were unable to file a criminal complaint because the statute of limitations had expired.

High-profile examples include Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times notes that in another high-profile case, that of disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the prosecutor just announced that no charges will be filed for domestic violence committed against several women because their cases are all past the statute of limitations. Bellafante explains that there has been pressure on the legal system for some time to expand or eliminate these time frames, but little progress has been made. She notes, “Serial predators will continue to elude punishment, given that the crimes they commit often occur over a period that can span decades. Cases built on one or two recent accusations [like those of Weinstein and Cosby]—ignoring along-term pattern of abuse—easily fall apart.” There is now abundant evidence that the trauma of sexual abuse combined with fear of retribution by powerful abusers often causes assaults to go unreported until well past the statute of limitation allowed by law.

Our laws need updating in other ways as well to hold sexual abusers criminally accountable. For example, Bellafante explains that it was not clear what crimes Schneiderman could be charged with for physically attacking and demeaning aseries of women with whom he was involved:

  • Felony assault requires the demonstration of significant injury, such as a broken limb.
  • Misdemeanor assault requires proof of substantial physical pain but does not include mental anguish.
  • A prosecutor must be able to prove there was intent to cause physical injury, which can be invalidated by claiming that injury resulted from momentary passion or anger but was “not intended.”

In addition, our laws need clarification and expansion to include protocols and standards requiring colleges to call the police to report campus rape and assault. Instead, new rules recently released by Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education protect schools but not students. Dana Bolger explains the following about these rules:

  • They narrow what counts as sexual harassment. The rules require that harassment must be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access” to education. Even a rape may not count as sexual harassment under this standard because a one-time act of violence is “not pervasive.”
  • They only hold schools accountable when they are“deliberately indifferent” to sexual harassment.

We also need to clarify the standards used to hold someone accountable for rape or attempted rape when there are no corroborating witnesses. The deck is stacked against women regardless of how long it takes them to come forward to seek justice for an assault.

Our laws need to change.

Photo courtesy of southernfried (morguefile)


California Passes New Legislation to Put More Women on Boards: Why This Matters

Patrick McGreevy of the Los Angeles Times writes that in August 2018, the California legislature passed a bill, approved on a 23–9 vote, requiring firms based in the state to include women on their boards. This bill mandates publicly held corporations in California to have at least one woman by 2019. By 2021, at least two women will be required for boards with five or fewer directors, while at least three will be required for boards of six or more. The coauthors of this bill, state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and senate leader Toni Atkins, explained that because only 15 percent of the directors of public corporations in California are women, while women make up 52 percent of the state’s population, women’s interests are not adequately represented on boards. In an earlier post, I wrote about the benefits of diversifying boards:

  • Boards set long-term direction and policies, including those that create family-friendly workplaces.
  • Boards are in charge of hiring and firing CEOs. Research shows that people tend to hire others like them. With few women and minorities on boards, talented women and minorities may be overlooked for CEO roles, keeping the glass ceiling in place.
  • Companies with more diverse boards pay higher dividends and enjoy more stable stock prices.
McGreevy notes that Senators Jackson and Atkins agree that having more women on boards will benefit the economy. The senators also stated, “We are not going to ask anymore. We are tired of being nice. We are tired of being polite. We are going to require this [change].” Vanessa Fuhrmans and Alejandro Lazo of the Wall Street Journal explain that “the U.S. has no federal requirement for female representation on company boards and no other U.S. state has successfully pushed such a mandate.” In contrast, the Guardian reports that the European Union has proposed that boards increase female directors to as high as 40 percent, following similar mandates in several other European countries. This follows a trend in the EU, where the number of women on the boards of the largest companies more than doubled between 2005 and 2015. Once again, California leads the way for the United States. Change doesn’t happen without pressure and legislation. Those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo will do so—unless they have no choice. Electing women to public office will keep moving us forward. What other legislative goals might improve representation for women in the corporate workplace?   Photo courtesy of rawpixel.com.]]>

Working Women Are Happier

An interesting new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and the Chicago Federal Reserve, which looks at eighty years of workplace history, reports interesting findings: over time, women have become happier and more satisfied with work, while men have become less happy and less satisfied. Evan Horowitz of the Boston Globe notes that the researchers acknowledge the challenges of measuring something like happiness and satisfaction when they don’t use a consistent year-by-year survey that asks the same questions. But the researchers explain that they built their research on several existing solid studies and devised new methods of data analysis to draw the longitudinal conclusion that only women have improved their working lives. Here are some reasons for this gender difference offered by the researchers:

  • Changing social norms allowed more women to enter the workplace in recent decades.
  • The work options available for working women have expanded dramatically since the 1950s, and even more so since the 1990s.
  • Women have been shifting into better jobs with less clerical activity and more professional and managerial jobs and fewer assembly-line jobs.
  • More women than men now graduate in the United States with college and graduate school degrees, which increases their options.
  • Lower-educated women have enjoyed the greatest increase in workplace satisfaction, possibly because they were the most constrained to begin with under the old gendered rules.
What about men? Why is their satisfaction lower than in the past? The researchers have some suggestions:
  • While physically demanding work, such as mining and assembly-line work, has become less common, men seem to enjoy factory work much more than women do. Consequently, the shift from assembly lines to desk work left women feeling more content and men feeling less content.
  • The shift from assembly-line work also coincides with the erosion of labor union membership and job security, leaving men feeling more stress and less contentment even when they are able to find factory work.
The researchers note that their findings of decreased happiness and satisfaction with work for men “is consistent with a growing body of research about the struggles of men.” While I definitely do not wish for men to be less happy with their work, I do note, with pride, the increased happiness of women in the workplace. I am grateful for the struggles of the second-wave feminist movement since the 1960s to open up work options for women. I remember when very few options existed for women. The struggle is not over. I have written recent articles about the gender pay gap and challenges that women still face with having access to leadership roles and to nontraditional jobs. But I am pleased that we have more options and are happier. Do you “remember when”? What do see that is different for women now?   Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash]]>

Why We Don’t See Women as Leaders and Why This Matters

The number of women leaders in the largest companies in the United States declined by 25 percent this year, as reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times. Because the number of female chief executives is small to begin with, the departure of even one, such as the recent departure of Denise Morrison as the CEO of Campbell Soup Company, has a big numerical impact. In fact, the number of female CEOs has dropped from thirty-two to twenty-four in the past year. Why does it matters that so few women are CEOs and that the numbers are declining? One reason is that unconscious assumptions about gender determine who gets seen as leadership material when managers need to hire or promote. In a study reported by Heather Murphy of the New York Times, both women and men almost always draw a man when asked to draw an effective leader. Murphy reports on another study where research participants were asked to listen in by phone to a fictional sales meeting. In some of the “meetings,” study participants heard “Eric” offer change-oriented ideas while other participants heard “Erica” read the same script. When research participants were asked to rate the speaker, either Eric or Erica, on how much he or she had exhibited leadership, the Erics were far more likely than the Ericas to be identified as leaders, even though the Ericas shared exactly the same ideas. Murphy cites Nilanjana Dasgupta of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who explains that “when people are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile [male], they will be more likely to notice leaders who fit that same profile in the future.” In other words, even when a woman acts like a leader, her talents are less likely to be noticed or identified as leadership because the generally accepted profile of a leader is a man. This inherent bias is why it matters that the number of women in high visibility CEO roles in big companies is declining. Murphy points out that we need to see more women in leadership roles to expand our unconscious assumptions about who can be an effective leader—and instead the numbers are declining. In fact, depressingly, every female executive who stepped down during the past year was replaced by a man. Miller notes that the obstacles for female executives are rooted in biases against women in power. In fact, Miller cites two studies to make her case:

  • Both women and men have families, but caregiving is considered to be a woman’s problem and, therefore, limits the opportunities made available to women.
  • Leadership ability does not appear to be affected by gender differences. A study of 2,600 executives found no difference in multiple areas assessed, including interpersonal skills, analytical and managerial skills, and general ability. Yet women were much less likely to become chief executives.
This problem is clearly a vicious cycle. Because we don’t see women in executive roles, women don’t get the opportunity to be hired or promoted into executive roles. We have to keep challenging both women and men to examine their unconscious biases about who can be an effective leader. We must also continue to push for more women on corporate boards who will hopefully push for more women to be considered for CEO roles, and we need to elect women to office where they can raise these issues legislatively. Let’s keep asking, “Where are the women?”   Photo courtesy of Vector Open Stock (CC BY 2.0)]]>

The Women of Nike Force Change

The women of Nike, the sportswear company, got tired of their complaints to human resources about sexual harassment and discrimination falling on deaf ears. The women experienced retribution for filing complaints, and several high-level women left the company, sharing that they left because of frustration with the toxic company culture that they could not influence. So the women of Nike took matters into their own hands—and the public saw another example of employees bringing about change that would not have happened otherwise. Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper, and Rachel Abrams, writing for the New York Times, report that after years of complaining to human resources and seeing no evidence of change or accountability for bad behavior within the company, a group of women decided to covertly survey their female peers, “inquiring whether they had been the victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.” Those who had a complaint or a story to tell completed a questionnaire, sharing shocking and frustrating anecdotes:

  • Explanations from several high-level women about why they had exited the company, including a pattern of watching men get promoted while equally or better qualified women were passed over.
  • A range of stories about demeaning behavior toward women, such as male superiors referring to women using a vulgar term for women’s genitals or being called a “stupid bitch” by a boss.
  • Stories of women being excluded from the inner circle of mostly male decision makers.
  • Examples of a culture belittling to women where male supervisors openly discussed their favorite strip clubs during work outings.
  • The story of a senior manager who mentioned a female employee’s breasts in an email to her.
  • The story of a manager who kept magazines on his desk with scantily clad women on the cover and bragged about his supply of condoms.
In most of the examples above, the women recounted going to human resources to file a complaint or ask for action to punish the offender. More often than not, human resource managers told these women that they were wrong or that corrective action would be taken—but it never was. In some cases after a complaint was filed, the offender was promoted and the woman complaining was laid off. Finally, when the package of completed questionnaires was put on the desk of the CEO by the women, things started to change. Several top male executives exited over the next few weeks, including the head of diversity and inclusion, and the exits are continuing. A major overhaul is taking place of the human resources processes and internal systems for reporting sexual harassment and discrimination. Nike is a huge company but huge companies can change quickly if the right kind of pressure is applied from within and made public. And clearly, without pressure change does not happen. Thanks to the women of Nike for taking the risk to tell their stories.   Photo courtesy of perzon seo (CC BY 2.0)]]>