Friday, October 29, 2010

Retaining Female Leadership: Myths and a New Vision

by Nina Carduner

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:
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

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

4 Trends that will Drive the Next Economy

by Jean Brittingham

I’ve been a little sluggish in my blogs recently because I’ve been working on the book! It’s very exciting to see it coming together. In the book we discuss the characteristics, strengths and success stories of women entrepreneurs and the critical role that women will play in the Next Economy. Today I thought I’d share my thoughts about this new economy as I see it evolving.

The real recovery from the “great recession” will come with some major changes that actually portend good things for entrepreneurs. First, there is near-consensus that the recovery cannot be built on consumption as it has reigned in the last 50 or so years. Resources are too limited, the planet is too fragile and large corporations that supported this consumption too easily become institutions unto themselves that care only for their own future and their own profits and fail in a huge and costly manner.

Instead we should begin to envision and shape the next economy—one that is focused on creating a new solid economic base, is powered by a low-or no carbon energy source, is driven by innovation, transparency and collaborative business models and creates opportunity across the entire spectrum of social-economic reality.

There are many thoughts and ideas out there about what will drive and create this new economy.  I believe it will be driven by the following four trends:

  1. A resource-constrained environment on a health-challenged planet
  2. The creation of “mega-intelligence” through collaborations that create in-depth knowledge and insights in the fields of science and technology
  3. A massive amplification of creativity that feeds innovation 
  4. The rise of entrepreneurial collaboratives 

Let’s first look at the issues related to a resource-constrained planet. This is not a hypothesis but rather our reality. Peak oil is around the corner. Coal, while abundant, is a major contributor to unhealthy air and global warming. Increasingly, we will have to learn how to reuse what we have already used and treat the planet as the amazing life support system that it is. This one truth has to be embraced—the planet does not exist for the benefit of the economy. It just exists. If we foul it forever, we are truly lost.

But an economy that benefits humankind, supports the development of peaceful society on earth, and sustains our life-support planet infinitely is not only possible but we can actually begin to see how we will get there.

Mega-intelligence as I am talking about it here is not a new field of study of the so-called super class of genius. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but if brillant individuals could save the world, we would certainly be in a different spot right now. More appropriately, this term refers to the combined or collective intelligence that can be put to a problem through the connectivity and transparency afforded by increasing ubiquitous technology. Our digital connections have taken us well beyond any boundary condition previously thought of around the internet (for those who like to think about limitations) to a place where individuals of different cultures and language are collaborating on projects ranging from nuclear energy to music in the “cloud” and we are lending our personal computing ability to work 24/7 on the worlds most pressing problems—at least those that can be approached through 0s and 1s.

We are at the edge of knowing how to harness and focus this intelligence and the success of recent movements ranging from politics to science assures us that we will solve many more problems together than we have even dared to dream of by ourselves.

Creativity is fuel. It generates momentum and optimism. A wonderful/horrible truth of human nature is that when pushed to the limit, we get very creative. Our survival instinct is strong and often kicks it into high gear to help us out of a tight spot.

The current economic reset represents just such a tight-spot. Even if you don’t understand or care much about economics, it’s clear that something dramatically different is afoot.  Not only is a rebound to the old consumptive habits unlikely—most of us don’t seem to want it. But we aren’t excited about a future that is less interesting or comfortable either. So things are getting creative. Creative ways of working and living, of finding value propositions and new business models and creative about collaboration and wealth creation. Creativity and urgency have energized some amazing collaboratives and innovations.

And finally, whether as a result or a response, the willingness to exercise our entrepreneurial spirit has never been higher. Whether in the clean-energy economy, social enterprises focused on creating breakthroughs in traditionally underserved communities or as spin-offs and internal “tanks” in the big dog corporations, the fall of the old economy has seen the rise of entrepreneurs.

Polar opposites come together to pave the way to a future that is more vibrant, resilient and flexible. A world where entrepreneurial spirit and self-reliance is augmented and magnified by a connected creativity supported by technology that builds communities that learn, grow and make a living together.

You can see why I think the entrepreneurial future is one where women will thrive.
Success in the future will likely be measured more by the quality of your experiences than the 0s after your income bracket. Your net contribution to life will matter more than your net worth. And the inheritances your grandkids will care about are great communities, interesting work and a healthy planet.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Angry, Exhausted, Frustrated and Wrong!

by Jean Brittingham

I didn’t even know where to start when my new-media maven asked me to respond to this post by Penelope Trunk.  I get the power of a hyperbolic title, but really? Women Don’t Want to Run Start-Ups Because They’d Rather Have Children?

There’s so much wrong here it’s hard to set your sights.
At the same time I completely feel for her.

And before I say anything else, congratulations Penelope on leading (what one can hope) will be a great success in your third start-up. It’s clearly been a struggle that lasted too long with too little reward. That in itself is dismaying, but it’s much more distressing when women with talent who have begun to carve a spot for themselves succumb to the models that make entrepreneurship exhausting, silly, and impossible to love.

Let’s begin with the premise behind Trunk’s (and Jeff Steibel’s) definition of entrepreneurism as a disease.  This particular definition suggests that these two (and a few other business writers with this view of entrepreneurship) think they “own” the definition.  Entrepreneurs to them are men (and the OCCASSIONAL woman) who take on VC capital against an unlikely bet and work horrific and thankless hours (the thanklessness comes mostly from the VC partners but also from the team you are driving and the family you are deserting) to breakthrough the probability factor and post an amazing win
Or at least get a buy-out so that you break even.

This isn’t THE Entrepreneur typology; it’s ONE Entrepreneur typology.

The state of the planet, the state of the economy, the state of our lives and the incredible number of human beings who have GREAT ideas they are turning into GREAT businesses means that this is a limited and limiting view of entrepreneurs.

Most importantly--it’s not going to help us construct the next economy.

Instead, I see a future (and many join me here) where both the investment community and consumers take note of and then begin to actively foment support for some different breeds of entrepreneurs. 

While I am not at all sure about the role Solopreneur’s will play in the next economy, it is clear that the reemergence of a craft economy plays a significant role in the future. These individual contributors, who are often working in complex networks and loose affiliations with others, are crazy, all right—crazy smart.
More interestingly (at least to me) are the new breed of social entrepreneur—where a much higher proportion of women are striking out and making a difference while making a living. These social entrepreneurs are developing businesses that offer solutions and hope because they see themselves and their business ideas as an integral part of a better world.

And finally, there are the women who are breaking through and making businesses work well and also work with their lives—businesses that create financial success for founders and a growing contingency of employees. These women believe that you can, and should, have a life and a business, a financial goal and an nonnegotiable ethos, a current reality that works and a future that works better.

Suggesting that women don’t want to be entrepreneurs because you have burned yourself out by “manning-up and buying-in” to a set of investor and personal standards that leave no space for anything but profit, is not the future of entrepreneurs.

It’s not the future of anything.
Life is too short, the planet is too fragile and frankly, Penelope is right—there are children to raise.  The part she got wrong is giving up one to get the other. I believe we can change the rules instead!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Emotional Intelligence and the Impact of Feminine Leadership

by Jean Brittingham

A recent study on group IQ confirms what we at the SmartGirl’s Way have long known—that women have rocking relationship skills.  The study shows that the ability of a group to solve a difficult problem was directly related to the number of women in the group--essentially the number of women increases the collective cognitive abilities of the group. Women are natural collaborators and relationship builders. What hasn’t been well documented yet, is the strong positive effect that these skills, referred to as “social sensitivity” in the study, have on the efficacy and productivity of groups working together in any capacity—including the work environment. 

The growing understanding of the importance of this link and its positive impact on performance contradicts some of western society's most loved conventions—in particular, that smart people alone make a smart group and that feelings don’t matter in the workplace.

In an ever more complex world, the ability to read expression and tone, express empathy, effectively reframe a tense situation, and energize a group through a sense of camaraderie are the winning leadership skills of the future.

When I first became intrigued with “women’s ways at work” and in particular the aspects of the feminine at work in a masculine world, I began to be very conscious and take note of the language women use to describe who they are, what they are doing and how they are doing it. I started noting strong similarities in the skills that women were applying to their lives, no matter what they were doing. I also noticed that women tended not to talk about these skills to men, in particular to the men they worked with and worked for.

I started asking direct questions about this and was amazed at the consistency in the answer—women don’t talk to men about how they think, feel, work, make decisions, create, collaborate or achieve because up to now, men not only don’t understand it they think it is too “soft” and doesn’t belong in the work place. Worse yet, since it is not as natural for men, they tend to diminish the importance of this type of intelligence in the work environment.  This even  after strong uptake (at least theoretically) on the concept of emotional intelligence.

A strong contributing factor to the lack of acknowledgment of women’s unique skills at work has been the intentional (and obviously necessary) effort to create equity between the genders in terms of pay, access and opportunity. Sadly this effort has unintentionally diminished the unique and valuable differences between men and women.

Time to Embrace the Feminine Leadership Skill Set!

Highly refined “social sensitivity” is an outcome of the ability and natural tendency to create strong communities and relationships that endure whatever the circumstances. It is a subset of an amazing array of feminine strengths that we have just begun to openly discuss and tap.

These skills are amazing, awesome, world-changing!!  Why would we want women to leave these capabilities to the other parts of their lives?  They have kept families and society ticking along for millennia. They are the foundation for the way that things work when they are working really, really well.  And they are dramatically missing in business. 

Finally, and maybe most importantly—they are the same traits needed for society to shift to a sustainable and THRIVING existence on our big blue ball. I for one want more of that.