Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
The other day I went into the closet where I store my off-season clothes and saw my “Hillary for President” baseball cap. It made me feel sad again. Not that I haven’t moved on – I truly have – but seeing the cap stirred up my sense of frustration that we haven’t been able to put a woman in our country’s top leadership position.
Did you know, according to the organization “50-50 by 2020,” that 63 women have been elected or appointed to serve as prime ministers, presidents or chancellors in 47 countries from Argentina to Yugoslavia? But not in the United States – unless you count the Fox television show “24.” This is their second season with a female president and if you’re looking for optimism, the show used to have a male African-American president – and that was before Barack Obama.
I think it’s great that we have a few women (including Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State) who are powerful and visible as representatives of our country. However, the real breakthrough will come only when a woman is elected to the highest office in the land. Why? I believe the prescription for finally breaking down stereotyping and vanquishing ignorance is for people to become accustomed, on a day-to-day basis, to having a woman in charge – with all her strengths, failings and unique leadership skills.
Research has shown that most women have very different leadership styles than men. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how those differences play out in the office of president? Would a female leader change the paradigm through more comprehensive communication, longer term decision-making and valuing success above power? Would she be collaborative, ethical, and empathetic? Studies have shown these as some of the strengths that women possess. However, they are gender-specific behavioral stereotypes and in reality, the way in which our hypothetical female president leads will depend on the specific woman elected and her individual style.
The path to gender equality will only come through greater understanding and appreciation of individuals and their unique talents, and cannot be achieved until precedent is broken and a fundamental shift takes place. In business, a critical mass of women is necessary at the top echelons of organizations in order for women’s voices to be heard. In politics, there’s only one top job – and for women to be seen as true equals without limitations, a woman must hold the office.
What do you think? Please join the conversation!
Jen Dalitz says
I’ve seen unconscious gender bias in place on so many occasions that I see this as a much more important issue to tackle than glass ceilings. Why in talent and succession planning meetings do people leaders still discuss a woman’s marital status and whether she has kids (or is likely to have them) as an indication of her flight risk? (yes, it really does happen.) Why are men usually described by their people leaders in these discussions in terms of their competency attributes (the sorts of projects and work he’s undertaken of past), whereas a woman is described to those not familiar with her in terms of her physical attributes (what she looks like). Why do we still assume that leadership roles cannot be performed on flexible terms (when all the technology has long existed for work to be performed and monitored remotely and on flexible terms)? These are all examples of unconscious bias that I’ve seen in play time and time again. They perpetuate the stereotype that leaders are male, that their life revolves around their work and that the old way is the only way. We need to bring examples of bias and stereotypes out into the open and give women the confidence of knowing they’re not alone in experiencing these issues – this will give women the confidence and energy to keep pushing on when they’re faced with such obstacles.