Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women on Business writer
March is National Women’s History Month and it has me frustrated about the excruciatingly slow movement forward for women in leadership positions. While it’s important to look back at the many brave and determined women who have made significant contributions in history – when I look at the here and now, I see a bit of a stalemate. I wonder if many women aren’t lulled into thinking that because they see more women in positions of power, we’re doing just fine. The fact is, at the rate we’re going, women are not going to get to a fair and equitable proportion of the pie during our lifetimes.
And the problem is not limited by any means to the U.S. In fact, the European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has said she would consider calling for quotas requiring businesses to hire more women and wants to see 30% of women directors on boards by 2015, and 40% by 2020. In Norway, companies are required to have at least 33% to 50% of each gender depending on the size of the board.
Though most women agree that greater diversity in leadership is important – even critical – for organizations and that it has been shown to reap financial and many other rewards, there are a variety of opinions about how to get there.
In a recent article from BBC News, one female executive, Carmen Watson, managing director of a recruitment firm said, “Quotas are not inherently good because both men and women need to feel that the women have earned their way to the top.” She went on to say, “What is needed is cultural change…” Amanda Jobbins, a Cisco Vice President in Europe, is in favor of quotas, saying “To change business recruiting and promotional trajectories…is simply going to take too long…” and she supported quotas to speed up the process. Helena Morissey, founder of The 30% Club which aims to achieve change from the top working through company chairmen stated, “We know we can’t solve the problem of female under-representation overnight, but are confident we can make a significant difference to the make-up of boardrooms through concerted voluntary action.”
While I can see the viewpoint of each of these women, it seems to me there’s a component lacking in their recipes for change. I believe that women must unite in a more focused way around the problem. Women need to be aware of the issues, know the statistics and philosophies of the companies we work for and purchase from, and hold organizations accountable. If women speak with one voice – and with their economic and political clout – a difference can be made. After all, we are half the population and half the working force. We have to find a way to attain half of the leadership positions.
What do you think? Please share!
Laura Beardsell-Moore says
I wonder if it is a confidence issue for many women? Perhaps we don’t feel like it is an achievable ambition? If this is the case, then it’s a terrible shame.
There is also the issue of precedent. If you see others that you can identify with in a position that would otherwise seem like a wild aspiration, then you believe that you can achieve a similar thing yourself. If you don’t see anyone that remotely resembles you, your background or your lifestyle in a position of power, then it’s an enormous wrench to imagine yourself in such a place.
Success breeds success: What we need are more examples to inspire us to realize our aspirations. (The question is, where will these examples come from?)
Marquita Herald says
There was an article on the Daily Beast a few days ago about Princeton and how even though women have been attending the U for years now, they continue to “lag behind men in leadership roles.” The sources quoted insisted it has nothing to do with discrimination or lack of opportunity, but that women tended to “prefer behind the scenes roles.”
Whatever the reason, I’ve seen it as well. I was a District Manager for a direct sales company for nearly 10 years and there were around 700 mostly women Reprs in my area. Time and again I watched women grow their businesses just to the point of achieving some recognition suddenly give up. It was really heartbreaking, especially after listening to someone talk so passionately about achieving that goal.