Women: We Need You As Leaders

By: John Keyser

As many of my clients and other readers know, I believe we need a societal change in order to gain a great many more women in leadership roles.

I read two articles in the past few days that prompt me to want to write about this today.

The cover story in this week’s Time Magazine, the March 26th issue, is titled The Richer $ex: Women are overtaking men as America’s breadwinners. It’s by Liza Mundy, whose book is about to be published.

While a lot of what is contained in the article I applaud, i.e., that women are finally getting attention for all they bring to business, there still are facts that make me grind my teeth. For example, women generally are paid 25% less than men for the same job! Another example, while women are 54% of the workforce, they hold just 38% of the managerial positions, and this percentage goes way down as the positions get higher. In fact, women hold only 3% of CEO positions.

This is such a complicated issue. Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend, a very capable vice president of a major consulting firm, who said women are not good bosses, and she singled out a female boss from the past that she felt was not helpful. She then discussed her present boss, a man, whose communication, helpfulness and encouragement are non-existent. Yet, it does not occur to her to say that men are bad bosses.

This is a dynamic I hear often and, frankly, do not understand. We pin a label on a women in business but not on men. Why is that? It has to change!

The other article that I just read is a CNN interview of Christine Day, the CEO of Lululemon, a highly successful athletic apparel company, which has grown in revenues to $1 billion from $297 million in her four years of leadership. What I especially respect about her principles are:

  • Let her people do their jobs, e.g., she gives each store manager a set amount of money to paint their store twice each year and they are free to choose the color, and she gives them each a set amount of money to give to charities of their choosing in their communities.
  • She believes training is a top priority and that promoting from within for managerial positions helps maintain high energy and develop an engaged organizational culture.
  • When mistakes are made, they are discussed, lessons are learned, and they move on.

These are exemplary leadership principles. No wonder Lululemon is doing so well.

I was please with both articles, the Time article in particular, as it has already brought considerable media attention to the subject. I only wish the article had gone beyond women as breadwinners to women as leaders.

What are the key qualities and actions of highly effective leaders? Many would say visionary, charismatic, decisive, risk taker, and confidence. True, and what about:

  • Caring for colleagues?
  • Developing relationships?
  • Conversations?
  • Making people feel important and appreciated?
  • Inclusiveness in decision-making?
  • Asking for advice?
  • Offering constructive feedback?

Both sets of leadership qualities and behaviors are equally important and, in general, women are naturally better at the second set than men.

I hope the Time article and Mundy’s book open up important conversations that go beyond the statistics and begin to analyze the importance of leadership in business and the qualities that women bring. Here’s why – 50% of the people in the U.S. do not feel they have a productive working relationship with their boss, and most bosses are men!

Let’s learn from one another, women from men and men from women, as we all try to be our best selves as leaders.

This article was originally published by John Keyser on commonsenseleadership.com

John Keyser has had a long career as a senior executive with Johnson & Higgins, then after a merger, with Marsh & McLennan. His principal responsibilities and his passions were superior client service, understanding specifically what his clients needed and wanted all around the world and delivering to that standard, as well as training and developing his companies’ people so they could maximize their success. He is a believer in Tom Peters’ principle: pay close attention to and take care of your people and they will pay attention to and take good care of your clients. He subsequently joined non-profit organizations, first as executive director of Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and then as head of development for the Georgetown University Medical Center. John is a Georgetown University liberal arts graduate and also a graduate of the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program, which is accredited by the International Coaching Federation.

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