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A Call for Women in Leadership

This is a first critical step for women to be recognized as leaders.

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During this era of #Metoo and #Timesup, public commentary and social media has been raging about inequities across all industries from Hollywood, to the local diner, Fortune 50 companies, the doctor’s office and Silicon Valley. There has been a sea change. What has transpired recently demonstrates women’s voices are being taken seriously in ways that were not in past generations. This is a first critical step for women to be recognized as leaders.

Women have been told to “lean in,” but many women have leaned in until they fell over. For the last forty years as women have entered the workforce, she has learned how to ignore the slights and the oafish comments as well as the awkward silences. She has learned how to get men to keep their hands to themselves after alcohol-fueled company parties. She learned not to bring attention to her gender, never talk about these things, especially with men. She has learned how to calibrate her dress, talk and demeanor. She has been punished for the “resting bitch face” and mastered the art of the three quarter smile. She has made many accommodations and now wants her fair share of leadership positions. The American workplace is trying to reform itself more than ever and the time is ripe for women to advance to leadership.

When an organization wants the best and the brightest, they are no longer white and male. Women receive sixty percent of undergraduate degrees and graduate degrees. Approximately, forty percent of MBA graduate degrees are earned by women. And, equally important, women tend to earn higher GPAs. In 1965, just 1.2% of graduates from the class of 1965 at Harvard Business School were women. In 2017, that number reached 41% percent. Women have made significant gains in educational attainment in recent decades, better positioning themselves not only for career success but also for leadership positions. Since the 1990s, women have outnumbered men in both college enrollment and college completion rates, reversing a trend that lasted through the 1960s and ’70s. And women today are more likely than men to continue their education after college.

Women can self-reflect on these questions that address some of the barriers and micro-inequities she confront daily:

How would you answer these questions?

  • Have you ever questioned yourself if you have the right qualifications and the ability to lead?
  • Have you ever felt the “fear of success” or “imposter” syndrome?
  • Have you been accused of not having the right stuff for leadership?
  • Have you noticed how men at work can command the attention of everyone in the room?
  • Have you ever been astonished at not being recognized for your expertise?
  • Have you ever felt insulted when you have been left out of a critical meeting?
  • Have you ever been for admonished for speaking up passionately and told to calm down about a decision?
  • Have you ever been accused of not being nice when you behave competitively or forcefully?
  • Have you noticed when you focus on getting the job done rather than pleasing others, you become an outcast?
  • Have you ever caught yourself apologizing when it wasn’t really necessary?
  • Have you had your hand slapped when you question authority?
  • Have you ever behaved assertively and been accused of being aggressive?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these, you’ve been ambushed by your own communication and perceptions as well as that of your colleagues, manager and CEO. You already know this. You have on many occasions walked away from talking with someone at work or during the Monday morning staff meeting scratching your head, saying, “I don’t think I was taken seriously”? Welcome to the world of women in leadership.