“Women simply do not have the aspiration to pursue C Suite roles which is why we do not see equal numbers of men and women in leadership positions.”
I have had this conversation more times then I wish to remember when working with organizations on increasing gender diversity in the leadership ranks. The aspirations of women can be a very perplexing yet popular topic of conversation in the leadership ranks of organizations.
In coaching hundreds of women leaders I have seen women select themselves out of the senior leadership track many times. This causes the leadership of the organization, particularly if they are primarily male, to conclude that women simply do not share the same level of aspiration as their male counterparts. I do not believe this, but I do understand how this conclusion is reached. I believe that many women do not want to execute on the roles they see in the way they have seen them fufilled. I also believe that women often have detailed and more complex criteria for career opportunity evaluation then their male counterparts. Many women with deep leadership potential are looking for a different type of leadership experience in a different type of organization. A successful woman leader told me recently that her male counterparts talk about “the big game”. They tell her that the career experience for them is a game and they always want to win the game. They go on to say that sometimes, however , you do lose the game. It happens and if you do lose- you just move on to the next game. It is just a game. She was emotional when she told me this story. She very strongly stated that her clients and her employees were not part of a game to her. She could never look at her experiences as a game. Her work had deep meaning for her and she could not work as hard as she did without that meaning. I have the “meaning” conversation ten times more frequently in coaching conversations with female leaders then with male leaders. Women very often highly prioritize the need to derive meaning from their careers. Women frequently talk about impact, making a difference, changing the world. I am not suggesting that men do not derive meaning from their work, only that women are much much more focused on this aspect of career planning then their male counterparts. Women have shared with me that they must have deep meaning from work because they have to make so many difficult choices about how they spend their time. Given all the roles that they play, all the choices that they have , there must be deep meaning and engagement in their work or there is not enough reward for them to make the sacrifices they must make to succeed.
These differences in career perspectives impact the manner in which we work with women leaders and emerging women leaders in succession planning and career coaching. I have worked with organizations where the male leadership team wants to increase gender diversity but has failed to do so. When I arrive on site they talk about the women who have “declined” the track or self selected themselves out of the running for certain leadership roles. This is very confusing for the male leadership teams who , most understandably, look at the career path experience and motivation from their own experiences and perspective. It is very difficult for them to understand all of the criteria an emerging woman leader might have in her decision making tree regarding any given opportunity. The good news is that we can understand this criteria and when we do it makes all the difference. Women have deep, high level aspirations that rival their male counterparts. We are able to tap into these and when we do we begin to see the changes we are striving for in our organizations begin to take shape.
The good news is many many women will place themselves back on the track to the highest leadership ranks when they can envision the role differently. I have seen this happen over and over again. These successes can be achieved through organizational and individual coaching. After all- if we are striving for gender diversity in the leadership ranks to increase organizational performance- we want true diversity in the manner in which the role is executed. This means women leaders must be encouraged and given free rein to change the manner in which the roles are designed and fulfilled.
This is an interesting piece and the rationale given for failing to take on the challenge of leadership as a woman holds true for me. I do hold the view that my career should have meaning and anything that I choose over another should have a premium value.
It is often difficult to be in an environment where women leaders are not readily embraced by their peers and also by male counterparts. I think that may also be another reason for women shying away from leadership positions. Such experiences can be emotionally draining and painful and in a way serves as a demotivator to women. I am extremely curious as to how as women we can rise above this challenge.
Mary Bennett says
Thank you for your comment and your question. The answers to how women can rise above these challenges is different for each woman. The journey we take is very personal and unique. Having said that there are some commonalities in strategies women can use and organizations can use as well. Women need to regularly think about their personal definition of success , values, aspirations and progress toward those. In addition women need to compare this with their current situation and scenario. There are often many things we can do as role models to make a difference and begin to participate in morphing the organizations we are a part of. Having a network, understanding how to navigate the organzation, industry, having female role models ( and male) and also knowing what your personal vision of life and work integration looks like are critical areas to work on regularly. Starting a women’s initiative to help the organization understand why 1/2 of it’s population of talent may be on the outside looking in – and why this is a business problem- is also a step some women choose to take.
As for organizations- I have outlined some of the steps they can take in previous posts. Thanks again for your comment…