The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
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Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Elusive Difference, Part 1

[NOTE:First published on ZoomInfo's Insight Report in May 2007, this article is now republished on The Consultant's Desk in order to preserve its access.]

Wow! January 2007 entered with a landmark event. For the first time in U.S. history, a woman took the third most powerful office in the country. Although she’s maintained a stellar track record of being more than capable of handling executive-level decision making, building alliances, enforcing rules, accurate listening skills, as well as speaking and presentation agility, the wisdom of and her ability to serve in that office became a question of the day.

She firmly asserted her having merited the position by unflinchingly making the decisions that were required, based on solid reasoning. She did not waffle. She did not apologize. She did not pander for the typical “soft” persona. Well, maybe she did during her acceptance speech. But in the ensuing days, the gloves were off and the sleeves were rolled up. What the country and the office require is a leader. Nancy Pelosi advanced as one.

Finding Women Candidates - Management and Executive

If there are women in Congress who are as capable as Pelosi, most certainly there are women in all ranges of business who are equally qualified in education and training, decision making, and so on. The question then becomes one of why there are so few women in these positions.

If we use education as a filtering-in criteria, there is definitely a pool of candidates. Out of the more than 12 million women who have earned a Master’s degree or higher (in 2004), compared with only 7 million of their male counterparts, there are only 16 percent who are in Fortune 500 company C-level positions and merely 15 percent who serve on those boards. The other issue is where these accomplished women can be found because, going by the statistics, they really do exist.

Bureau of Labor Statistics analyses of men and women who have completed more than four years of college shows from 1990 to 2004, the numbers are nearly equal, and the gap is closing on an average of 1.85 percent every five years.

One difficulty cited as a reason for not finding qualified women for executive and boards positions is that the pool is too small. Additionally, nearly everyone is vying for the same candidates. It’s important to take off our blinders to means of finding and recognizing qualified talent.

A November 2006 article noted that one of the reasons there are so few women in Fortune 500 and public corporation executive positions is because the process takes so long; it tends to suffocate asserting one’s leadership skills. Women opt for fast-growing smaller, private companies or start their own in order to jettison their progression and exercise their abilities in a more affirming environment.

Importance of Gender Representation

Any good organizational consultant will tell you that having diverse views adds value to an organization’s bottom line. It stands to reason that the more perspectives you add to the mix, the less tunnel vision there is. Eliminate tunnel vision; create vision of not only the goal but multiple goals and diverse paths for achieving any one of them.

It’s been noted that women are excellent listeners, tend to be more empathetic, and are accustomed to handling multiple projects simultaneously. However, another important factor in having a woman’s perspective in executive, decision- and policy-making positions is that she can provide the insights with regard to purchasing power and preferences. In other words, women in representative positions can help an organization recognize unseen advantages and opportunities.

Overcoming the Myths

There are many objections to women’s serving in positions of leadership. It’s amazing we have any at all! But like the disabled, there are those 16 percent who have pushed through the marble ceiling and go to the war table every day. The getting there was fraught with a plethora of objections. Some of them look like:

  • They’ve been out of the industry for years while raising kids. They’re no longer abreast of current practices.
  • Allowing them to work on flex time and alternative schedules just doesn’t provide the amount of time required to be a real leader.
  • Work from home just isn’t workable for executives.
These objections (and others) pander to the stereotypes. These days, maternity leave can be as short as six weeks. The other thing is, there’s now paternity leave that can run for as long as 18 months. Additionally (and overcoming several of the objections to women as executives), a recent University of Maryland study found that over the last 40 years, women are working more hours and have also increased their number of parenting hours while still remaining quite competitive in their field.

The burnout factor of the Internet Bust and accompanying demands for overtime (sometimes as much as 40 hours per week) caused people to start taking a hard look at what’s important. Quality of life won. Work-life balance and flex schedules are equi-gender.

While the objection to working from home may be valid for some types of professions, let’s put this in perspective. The executive who’s a road warrior is just as much a type of work from home/suitcase as the telecommuter. It is doable. Many men are opting for this. Perhaps this road warrior / telecommute personality is one that should be sought.

[go to The Elusive Difference, Part 2]

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