Women in Leadership

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Speech on “The Necessity of Women’s Leadership in Ethiopia”

Standing1The Founder of PRO Leadership was invited to speak at CREW’s annual conference at Resident Inn Marriott Hotel in DC on March 20, 2016. The theme of the speech was “The Necessity of Women’s Leadership in Ethiopia”. The program was arranged to honor Dr. Miagenet Shiferraw, who recently passed away. She dedicated her life to promote Ethiopian women’s rights. The presentation addressed the following questions:

  • What are the key factors that are preventing women from taking leadership? Who are the culprits?
  • What are the prices we are paying for failing to allow women to be at the front and leading?
  • What do we (all stakeholders) need to do to bridge the leadership gap? And more…

Check our website to watch the video when it’s released…

Killing 2 Birds Using 1 Stone, Developing the Leadership Capacity of Women

Women’s right advocacy groups should continue to engage in increasing the awareness of both women and men concerning the existing gender inequality and things to be done to bridge the gap.

The existing advocacy works aren’t adequate. The advocacy works shouldn’t be left to women and to those organizations that represent women alone. Both women and men who understand the inequality that exists, and the dire consequences of this disparity should continue to push regional and global institutions, governments, companies, and community and religious organizations to make changes- Tangible changes in their perceptions, policies, and systems.

While continuing to promote gender equality, the long term and lasting solution is to raise competent women leaders at all levels. In my humble opinion, it’s possible women advocacy organizations to kill two birds using one stone if the lion share of such organizations’ priority, focus, and investment is directed toward building the leadership capacity of women.

The more women become leaders at home, in the neighborhood, work and market places, the more they will have real chances to influence and ultimately bridge both the gender inequality, and the leadership gap that exists at all levels.

PRO Leadership is committed to play its share. We look forward to partner with all concerned stakeholders to bridge the gender leadership gap, and in turn empower women to play their contributions in tackling local, national, regional, and global challenges we are facing. It’s possible. We can use 1 stone (developing women’s leadership capacity) to kill 2 birds- gender inequality and leadership gap…

The Necessity of Women in Leadership

CREW's Conference Flyer March 2016My presentation tomorrow is entitled: “The Necessity of Women’s Leadership in Ethiopia”.

The afternoon program is arranged to honor Dr. Miagenet Shiferraw, who recently passed away. She dedicated her life to promote Ethiopian women’s rights. For detail info, check out the attached flyer.

The presentation attempts to address the following questions:

  1. What are the key factors that are preventing women from taking leadership? Who are the culprits?
  2. What are the prices we are paying for failing to allow women to be at the front and leading?
  3. What do we (all stakeholders) need to do to bridge the leadership gap?
  4. And more…

Note: My presentation is just a little part of this comprehensive program. There are great speakers you shouldn’t miss if you’re in the metro area…

Women in Leadership is a serious necessity…

CREW's Conference Flyer March 2016

It’s an illusion to think that any effort at family, community, national, and global levels succeeds without the full involvement of women. Not just mere participation, when we allow women to be at the front and leading. That is then, we harvest the results of a smart choice as a society. It’s smart to empower more than half of our population, and those women who shoulder more than 75% of the responsibilities and tasks behind the scene.

But, both women and progressive men should make sure to increase the capacity of women. Mere positioning of women in leadership position is futile, to say the least. They cannot succeed in their leadership without proper empowerment.
Though the proactive roles of men in promoting women in leadership is necessary, women themselves should play a proactive role. They shouldn’t wait until they’re given the opportunity to lead. Leadership is their birthright! They should go for it. They should take it by ‘force’ :-)

This is especially important in Ethiopia. A county like Ethiopia, which is constantly challenged by chronic famine, poor governance, corruption, and so on, needs its women more than ever. Having our women in leadership is not a luxury. It’s a must!

Come and honor Dr. Miagenet (see the attached flyer for detail) who was an exemplary woman leader who dedicated her life for the rights of women. Honoring such committed women leaders, who are at the front and leading regardless of the odds that confront them, would inspire other women to take leadership. When we admire and appreciate those who have already ventured to take leadership, those who are tentative and behind the scene will come forth and join the movement.

The movement to empower our women in leadership is OUR movement, not just women’s movement…

Why, Unfortunately, Alice Still Isn’t Too Tall for the Glass Ceiling

VAdamsI’ve just read yet another article about the problem of there being so few women in senior leadership roles across sectors, but which offers no explanation for the root causes, and therefore, no real solutions. I can provide some light on why these gaps remain, and why even after 30 years of women’s leadership development programs, the needle has barely moved. This, despite that the data is clear that that companies with gender balance in the C-Suite and boardrooms do better financially (Catalyst.org, 2004; McKinsey & Co, 2011), and despite that many organizations say they want more women in senior roles.

As an organizational learning and development specialist with diversity & inclusion expertise, a couple of years ago I was hired to lead an evaluation process of the women’s leadership development (WLD) program of a globally respected leadership development company. I conducted numerous interviews with people involved with WLD work and immersed myself in a variety of studies, articles, and books. Themes began to repeat themselves over and again about both the limitations that women impose upon themselves, and the “glass” systems at play that limit them. One reason that I was engaged for this role was because I didn’t come in with particular WLD expertise and therefore had no preconceived notions. But at some point, as certain patterns emerged in my research, I began to see my own life experience as a woman in what I was hearing and reading.

Let me underscore that the primary point in all of this is that WLD is not just a “woman ‘thang.’” If the many men who really do care about women, about fairness and equity, and about improving their organizations’ bottom lines get proactively involved with WLD – this problem would be well on it’s way toward being fixed in a few years time, and to the benefit of both men and women, and their families.

Here are a few reasons for the gender-gap in leadership roles:

1. “Fixing” Women vs. Addressing Limitations within the System: Most WLD programs focus solely on morphing women to fit into the current (often limited) leadership “norms,” whereupon they will inevitably be faced with “The Goldilocks Syndrome.” This means women are always seen as “Too soft or too tough, but never ‘just right’ ”; or “Damned if they do, doomed if they don’t.” (Catalyst.org’s “Doublebind Dilemma Research Project,” 2007) Many women (and men) definitely can benefit from tailored leadership development, but only a both/and approach that also deals with the system at hand is going to work.

2. “The Pecking Order”: Men certainly aren’t entirely to blame for gender-bias. 360 degree feedback studies show that women are at least as hard on other women as men are. Sadly, this holds true around the world, and increases with the level of societal sexism and misogyny. It is one of the inevitable ugly by-products of what is called “internalized oppression” or “the pecking order,” which is when any group that has been marginalized or oppressed for a period of time starts believing the “negative press” about its own group as not being as good, smart, capable, attractive, moral, etc., and starts turning on itself. (i.e. the Brown vs. Board of Education Clark baby-doll experiment),

3. Not involving Pro-women Men in the Re-education Process: Although many open-minded, pro-women men would be natural allies, there is a dearth of training to help them to better discern how (unconscious) male privilege operates and the various manifestations of systemic bias at work. With additional support in understanding gender bias, they could effectively coach other men and be more proactive in addressing sexism in their workplaces. The most valuable allies in addressing any sort of “ism,” racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., are those from the dominant group who can serve as non-threatening exemplars.

4. Conscientiousness over Networking: Women tend to take pride in a) ensuring that the details attached to their roles are carried through with great conscientiousness, and b) in performing miracles with limited resources in hopes of receiving notice and reward. They’ll often eat lunch at their desks to get it all done — while many of their less perfectionist male counterparts head out to local eateries to build relationships, which serves to get them ahead. In other words, because many women idealistically believe in workplace meritocracy, they tend to focus on “getting it right” instead of doing the necessary self-promotion and politicking. They also fear being seen as self-serving.

5. “The Vision Thang” Sacrificed at the Alter of “Being Practical”: 360 degree surveys show that while women frequently rank equal or surpass their male counterparts in most leadership competencies, they are also seen as less “visionary” by all genders. Whether or not one is considered to “have vision” is key to being perceived as worthy of “the helm.” I assert that this apparent “failing” is due to the fact that women are painfully aware of the stereotypical view of females as being emotional and impractical, so many may avoid putting forth more innovative ideas that might be seen as risky. (“Damned if they do; doomed if they don’t.”)

6. Men Need Coaching on Coaching Women: Men, who still comprise most of senior management, are generally not trained on how to coach women, which often requires a wider range of coaching styles. Men can also be apprehensive about societal perceptions of spending time with their female mentees, as freely as they do with their male mentees. Whether it’s going “out for a beer” or spending time alone behind closed doors, either can be misconstrued by some. Men need assistance in learning how to comfortably navigate the unfortunate sexual politics.

7. Perceived lack of experience: Studies have shown that women typically don’t apply for jobs unless they feel they meet ~90% of the criteria. On the other hand, men are more likely to apply even if they only have 50% of the required experience, figuring they will learn what they need to on the job. Therefore, there are fewer women applicants for many roles, regardless of whether they have just as much, if not more of the experience and skills needed for those positions.

8. Lack of Men Advocating for Women as They do for other Men: Even when women do have mentors and coaches, they rarely have “advocates” to the extent men do. Coaches generally offer quiet one-on-one support. Advocates, on the other hand, are in the organizational mix talking up those they think should be given opportunities, akin to “campaign managers” or “talent agents.”

9. Need for Women to Pursue Strategic Field & Line Management Roles: Women tend to work in the departments such as HR, T&D, marketing, and finance vs. those that are seen as more strategic: line and field management, operations, and sales. –Women who want to move up to the top echelons need to be willing to “get in the trenches” and take on some less desirable field assignments.

There were a few other factors that I encountered in my research, including some of the advantages that I believe men have gained through sports training that women generally have had less of. (Another article!) But this list of nine provides some key starting points that rarely enter into the leadership gender-gap conversation, and they need to. — As with any human social identity that has evolved over centuries and generations, “it’s complicated.” But for any real progress to be made in this area, leaders who actually care need to throw away the “broad brushes” and look more deeply at the root causes, just as they do in pouring over their market analyses and forecasting reports.

The task at hand is manageable, if both men and women learn together how systemic gender bias or “sexism” perpetuates itself; how “internalized oppression” unconsciously impacts the confidence of many women and how they sometimes treat one another; and how “unconscious male privilege” continues to keep many good men in the dark about what “the problem” is.

The current system limits not just women, but men, their families, and our future as a society. Our economy, our governing institutions, and our world need all the intelligent, courageous, ethical, and creative leaders we can find. We can no longer afford to limit the potential contributions of half of the world’s population.

About the author:
Veronica has a passion for understanding what moves, touches, and inspires people to their best selves, and communicating to that. She brings special expertise in diversity & inclusion; creativity & innovation; Socratic Method & critical thinking; creative messaging; and leadership development, which includes women’s leadership development. Her mgt. best practice interests include values alignment for the Triple Bottom Line, servant leadership, and Agile project mgt. She currently works with TAG Consulting in Fairfax, VA. Clients from her independent consultancy have included The Center for Creative Leadership, Accenture, Exec Online/Columbia University Business School, Cook-Ross, Inc., healthcare and food service companies, federal govt. agencies, and environmental non-profits. She earned a M. Divinity at Harvard with a concentration on cultural values and comparative religions; did her OD masters work at Johns Hopkins; and completed an undergraduate degree in theater.