It has been well-documented that retaining and promoting female talent into top-level executive management has been a serious challenge for American companies and corporations. Women comprise about 50% of the American workforce and yet, of all the chief executives in the top 500 us companies (in 2009), only 3% were women.
This gender imbalance has been explained primarily by blaming women. Explanations for the disparity include things like:
- Women leave the workforce to raise children (this myth has been debunked)
- Women work shorter hours (usually forced into neo-traditional work roles)
- Women don't want to be in positions of leadership (maybe true if we lived in a vacum)
- There aren't any qualified women (this was true in the 80s because women had not been in the workforce for very long)
The common message threading through this list is, "women, it's your fault there isn't gender parity." Companies openly recognize the importance of retaining female talent and express a commitment to do so, yet shockingly, 70% of businesses don't have a plan or strategy to follow through with their intentions! And when companies do implement a strategy, they usually focus on narrow solutions like flexible work schedules without addressing the broader system at play within their organizations.
"The Female Vision," persuasively illustrates how a system that repeatedly underutilizes the unique talents of women is alienating more and more women as they reach the top. Helgesen & Johnson have written a well-researched book that offers a new perspective on why women leave when they break through the glass ceiling and reach the glass cliff. One phrase that came up over and over in their independent research was, "It just wasn't worth it." This sentence alone speaks to a much larger systemic culture issue that is not adequately captured by the current understanding of the lack of female executive leadership. In a brief summary, they discovered women often find it difficult to act on their unique skills and talents because companies are not structured in a way that values or allows for the expression of these traits. With frustration and personal defeat, women quietly exit the pathway to corporate leadership.
Personally, I found this book to be affirming and energizing. Many of the stories are eerily recognizable and the research is clear. Yet, The Female Vision constructively offers compelling systemic solutions for organizations and businesses that want a refreshing approach to capitalizing on and developing their female talent.
Check it out: The first chapter is free for the Kindle!
Reposted with permission from Secretariain't.