leaders - 4.5.12
I have been thinking about leadership a lot recently. Some of my thinking originated in a conversation with my sister-in-law, who was interested in my perspective on what makes a leader a leader. These germinating ideas on leadership were cultivated on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., where I was able to attend a White House briefing on issues important to women.
One after another, officers and directors of federal agencies and departments, whose initiatives and decisions impact the lives of 51% of our population, made their presentations. I was struck, mostly, by how many women sat up on the stage, informing the gathered crowd on how our government attempts to serve the girls and women in our country. I was gratified to see that these women had risen to the top of their fields, and admired them for their passion.
When I came home, a blog post caught my attention. The authors bemoaned the fact that, despite evidence that women score higher than men in almost all metrics of leadership skills and traits, so few women rise to the top of many professions.
Why is that, the blog asked?
Why is it that a mere 16% of seats in the U.S. Congress are held by women, while only 3% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs? This, despite the fact that evidence abounds that when corporate boards include at least three women, there is a consistently higher return on equity than when there are fewer or none.
The question as to why this is so is not easily answered. Some claim that when women are offered promotions, they are more likely than men to consider the impact on their families. Some complain that women have to work twice as hard as men do to achieve similar recognition. Others, like FaceBook COO Sheryl Sandberg, claim that women take themselves out of the running much too quickly, either because they lack the confidence or because they anticipate that, as mothers, or partners, they will have less time to devote to high-powered careers. There are those who claim that most industries and structures are still male-dominated and that the more connected and interpersonal style of women is less valued. In order to make it, a woman has to change her fundamental approach, something she may experience as inauthentic, which may cause her to back away from an upwardly mobile career.
I am not arguing with any of the proposed causes for the inequity in leadership distribution. My guess is that all of them have a ring (or more than a ring) of truth attached to them.
But it did make me think. It made me imagine how we can prepare girls for a future in which they choose with confidence the path they take. It made me wonder how we can fully and intentionally embed in girls the traits and skills that make a leader a leader. While we cannot control the world in which we launch our girls, we can influence how we prepare them to face that world.
What would we choose for our girls to know and learn in this domain? For me, it would be traits like integrity, the courage to stand up for what is right, to speak up and be heard, to take responsibility and to follow through, to take risks with confidence and to not be afraid to fail. There are, of course, many more traits that would fall into this category. But no matter what, it would also mean creating a context and culture in which these traits are not only encouraged and valued, but in which they become a natural, instinctive part of the discourse.
I would also want all each girl to have the skills, the tools, to enact leadership and the positions that come with it. I would want her to be skilled at running meetings, at managing conflict. I would want her to have financial literacy skills that will provide her with the agency and the independence she needs to make choices in her life.
I would want for her to learn, early on, that all decisions in life have consequences – for the balance she seeks, for financial stability, for the children she may choose to raise. I would want her to make those choices, fully capable, fully informed, and without the worry that her eventual path marks her as unfeminine and inauthentic.
And for the boys and men in her life?
I would want for them to look at all girls and women through a new lens – a lens that acknowledges that girls and women contribute a valuable perspective. I would want for them to know that when girls dream, speak and act, the future holds greater promise.
For together, girls and boys, women and men, we are bigger than the sum of our parts.
Thursday April, 5, 2012
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