With Mary Barra tapped as heir apparent to lead this country’s largest corporation and Janet Yellen confirmed as the next Federal Reserve Chairman (yes, that’s what they’re calling her despite the fact she’s no “man”), you can hear men breathing a collective sigh of relief. They hope that maybe now women will quit complaining about being overlooked for the top spots in their companies and the political arena. After all, there are more women at the helm at Fortune 500 companies than at any other time in history and Yellen will arguably be the most powerful finance person on the globe.
Well, not so fast. With about two dozen women Fortune 500 CEOs, that’s a whopping 4.8 percent of the total. And women in politics? The 113th Congress saw a record number of women elected: twenty. That’s just twenty percent in the 98 years since the first woman, Jeannette Rankin, was elected to Congress in 1916. At that time she proclaimed, “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”
In 1984 I worked as an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist at the then oil company giant ARCO. Back then women were told we needed to get more women into the pipeline before we would see changes at the top. So women went back to school, eventually surpassing men in graduation rates, entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before, and proving that their contributions as leaders significantly pushed up the bottom-line. Along with McKinsey and Catalyst studies that tie profits to gender diversity at the top, Roy D. Adler and his colleagues at the California school of Pepperdine University consistently found the “correlation between high-level female executives and business success has been consistent and revealing.” The better a company was at promoting women, the better it tended to rank in terms of profitability. Three decades later, the best we can do is 4.8 percent?
The Turning Point
Do I think women make better leaders and CEOs? You bet. If ever there was a time in history that cried out for women’s leadership in all facets of life from politics to corner offices, that time is now. Here’s why:
We’ve reached what physicist Fritzov Capra calls “the turning point.” It’s that time in society when the people who have power, no longer know how to use it to solve current problems, but they won’t share that power with other people who could help them. Take a look around the world. It’s filled with corporate greed, poverty, war, famine, global warming and in the U.S., a Congress that has done less than any other in history. And who’s at the helm? Right, 20 percent women in Washington and less than 5 percent in corporations.
It’s also clear that command and control leadership is dead. When the boss says, “Jump”, workers the world over no longer respond, “How high?”; they ask, “Why?” Motivating today’s workforce requires a skillset largely possessed by women: encouragement, listening, collaboration, transparency, giving tough messages in tender ways, and enlisting support are just some of the reasons why companies with more women in leadership roles outperform those with fewer.
Women have had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. No matter how high you raise the bar for them, they complete the hurdle. Not only do they walk the talk, they have the track record to show for it. Part of this is because on four of the five facets of emotional intelligence, the sine qua non for successful leadership, women exceed men: self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills. (In the area of motivation, men and women are equal.)
And finally, we’ve filled the pipeline. Catalyst reports that in 2012, women comprised almost 47 percent of the workforce and 51.5 percent of management, professional, and related positions. With those statistics, why aren’t they at the helm? Why do women continue to be relegated to “always a bridesmaid and never the bride?”
Meeting the Challenge
Part of the answer to that question lies in the fact that neither politics nor corporate life are particularly hospitable to women. It’s the unusual male executive who is faced with the unwinnable task of juggling work and family responsibilities on a daily basis. Sure, some men wish they had more time to spend with their families. Yet the burden of providing day-to-day care for children and aging parents is far more likely to fall on the shoulders of a woman.
Corporations, congresses, and parliaments around the globe would be lucky to have more women in critical roles. The problem now is convincing women why they would want these roles. Decades of being demeaned, bullied, and marginalized have caused women, particularly Millenials, to redefine success and reconsider why they should clean-up the mess made by their male counterparts. Leaning in is the furthest thing from the minds of these women. They struggle to simply survive under the avalanche of responsibilities at home and at work.
If we are to meet the challenges of the “turning point” it is critical that we create social change that allows women to be full partners in the leadership process without having to do double-duty each and every day of the year. This means corporations must develop in-house policies and programs that provide employees, regardless of gender, with choices that enable them to make a meaningful contribution at work (whether that workplace be an office, congressional chamber, hospital, or fast food facility) without sacrificing their personal values. It’s not just the “right” thing to do, it’s the “smart” thing to do if we are to have the slightest chance of solving the pressing problems faced today and tomorrow.
Dr. Lois Frankel, President of Corporate Coaching International, is the author of bestselling business books for women, including the 2014 revised and updated 10th anniversary edition of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. For daily coaching tips follow her @drloisfrankel.