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Earning Power!: January 2006

Friday, January 27, 2006

Awareness: Five Challenges Women Leaders Face

Many men ask, is there really a difference for women who are appointed to leadership?

Here are five things that women in charge have discovered, often to their own surprise:

1) People will notice that she is a woman first, not her title.

One of the common stories of women put into leadership positions is their surprise that people comment on their gender first. Very often, a woman who rises to leadership just assumed that all women were given the opportunities they were. They often don’t recognize that there is a glass ceiling. They tend to be creative problem solvers, the trait most needed to get into leadership positions. Because they focus on possibilities, often they’ve never studied the facts or statistics that would reveal to them how rare and lucky they are compared with the majority of women.

So when they are given a position of power and authority that comes with visibility in the organization, she expects to answer questions about the position, company operations or the facts and numbers of the business. She is not ready to be questioned on her femininity or prepared to represent and defend all working females. Plus her experience is often so radically different from others in her gender that her answers don’t seem to resonate with the rest of us.

2) People will not assume she is competent for the position; the burden of proof is on her.

When a man is hired or promoted, he will be given the assumption of competence. People presume he is competent simply because he’s already been given a title and authority. Very often it takes a long time, many excuses, and forgiveness while the team overlooks or covers up his mistakes. The presumption of competence is absent for women recently appointed to leadership.

Instead, people are suspicious that the woman was put in power for other reasons, perhaps affirmative action, sleeping her way up or favoritism as if she were the CEO’s pet. This causes jealousy, rivalries, and hesitation within the team to follow her lead, reporting suspicious activities to the authorities if she isn’t 100% on her game from the start, and logging her mistakes to get her out of there and put someone who really deserves it in charge.

3) People will find it easier to stick to stereotypes, caricatures and distance in labeling her rather than taking time to grasp her complexities, realities, and intimacy with who she really is.

A woman who is put into to leadership is not a typical woman. She has really played her cards differently and has some sort of edge or talents that are unique. The value she adds is not something that is easily imitated; otherwise women would not be such a rarity in the upper ranks. And yet it is easier for people to make assumptions than to find out the truth and learn something about whom this woman is and her road less taken.
Instead, it’s easier to say she is a –itch, that she didn’t raise her own children, that her husband is less than a man, that she must not have the same sexual integrity, that she is bossy and doesn’t share her secrets and numerous other myths that not only damage her reputation, but also make it difficult for any other women to rise past the biases into positions of leadership. A common story of women in charge is that they can’t believe people wouldn’t ask her directly rather than perpetuate rumor, or that she is so misunderstood. But human nature is to do what is easiest, and that it to label first rather than seek any depth.

4) People will assume she plotted, schemed, and had a hidden game plan to get where she is.

Because business is a game for guys, they often assume everyone has a “game plan”. Very often, women don’t. A lot of women in leadership “fall into” opportunities because they kept their head down and focused on doing the best job they could in the position they were given. They often don’t even know to ask for title upgrades, perks, larger teams or budgets. They assume if they do well with less, someone up top will come down and tap them for a promotion to a position they didn’t even know was open or existed. Very often it is a position the guys have been suggesting, vying for with the upper brass for months, or counting up the additional benefits to them if they get it.

Many people presume that because of her gender, she is expecting special treatment or favors. The work ethic is so rare, and attitude of entitlement so common, that it is hard for people to believe that many women who become leaders are actually genuine. In fact, many women do set goals for their lives or careers, but very rarely is that actually what happens to them. Instead, the music major becomes the CIO of Charles Schwab. The massage therapist ends up Director at Microsoft. And the Secretary of State really intended to be part of a sports team, she just kept doing favors and solving problems for people that helped them out and ended up getting helped up to a position of power.

5) Men who have “context” will do better with her in charge than those without.

Across the board, women report experiencing coaching, mentorship, and less resistance from men in business who have seen or experienced powerful women before. Perhaps they had a competent working mom so they just expect a woman can be competent. Often they have a working wife, who they learn empathy from so that they are more aware of the issues that women encounter at work. One source says that almost 99% of CEO’s wives stay at home, so often male executives have little context for women who must work, and are not doing it to volunteer or have something to keep them busy. Very often, it is when their daughters have grown to an age where they want to enter the workforce that the men in charge become deeply concerned about women’s wages and opportunities. Women in leadership consistently report that men with working women in their lives take them, their advice and experience more seriously.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Boomer Women: Feminism Retires

The last trickle of the boom is forty, and many have already moved from the workplace to retirement, leaving an incredible legacy to the next generations. Many men want to know if the generation that brought us the “superwoman” be able to leave behind a realistic work and family model for their own daughters?

Theirs is a generation completely explored sex, drugs and rock and rock and roll, leaving ours to discover their downsides. The first generation to enter the Civil Rights Era is now leaving the building, and some people are convinced it is a house of cards.

Perhaps feminism is something functions best for the unencumbered. Women’s rights peaked when boomer women were young. Just by sheer numbers, the boomer generation had the best opportunity to turn the tides of the workplace. With feminists becoming grandmothers, somehow the main topic of discussion appears to have moved away from career and become concerns about “ageing.”

The boomers were a large, powerful and radical generation. Everyone else’s influence seems so finite. After all, there is only one Chief Justice Ginsburg, one Barbara Walters, and one Oprah Winfrey. Who will be picking up the charge?

Career or Family to Career Then Family

Were boomer women able to demonstrate the example of successfully combining career and family? Economist Claudia Goldin’s survey of boomer women wanted to know how successful they were in achieving the dream of “having it all”.

What she discovered in her survey was that no more than 13-17% of all the women who graduated between 1966 and 1979 managed to reach mid-life with both a full-time career and family. She found women with no children had twice the career success of those with kids.

Bag Lady Blues?

Are boomer women less dependent on men than mothers were? Only about 20% of boomer women will retire well off, according to sociologist and author Nancy Dailey, and the biggest indicator that a baby boom woman will retire well is if she is married.

The majority of boomer women lost enormous sums of money from pensions, social security and investments because they still had to trade off seniority for pregnancy and the infant care years before they could return to work in more flexible situations with fewer benefits, if at all.

The focus of feminism was to remove all disadvantages of women, yet today’s young women deem that an unrealistic goal for women today simply because they yield to the realities of biology. Indeed some question if women’s positions are disadvantaged compared to men because they find greater purpose in mothering.

It’s the economy according to moms, stupid.
The result of the era’s efforts can be summarized in three ways to look at a woman’s worth, economically speaking:

1) What she actually earns while in a paid career,
2) What she could have earned or opportunity cost, had she continued a career uninterrupted,
3) What someone would pay to get the same labor they get for free from a home-maker, once she leaves the paid work force.

Women’s worth tends to be unlike men’s because either her paid career is usually shown as underpaid, stuck in traditionally female professions, or lacking consistency. Authors such as Warren Farrell talk about this as if women devalue themselves by their own career choices.

Because women’s careers tend to be more of an “in and out” of the work force pattern, they accrue a large penalty in promotions and benefits they weren’t able to take advantage of because of lost seniority or prioritizing child raising over career, and the discrimination that results from the biases and stereotypes associated with these patterns. Authors like Evelyn Murphy talk about this with statistics that a woman loses $700,000 to $2 million over her working lifetime.

Finally, different organizations and authors like Ann Crittendon have tried to quantify how much a man would have to pay for a cook, nanny, housekeeper, chauffeur, and so on if he didn’t have a wife. This leads to figures anywhere from $50,000 to $800,000 annually for a woman’s worth.

Career-wise, homemaking is the largest occupation for women, beating nursing, teaching and childcare. It is at once a very dependent position and an enviable one. After all, homemaking is what working men and women aspire to when they retire. This is why the majority of women continue to do to the preparation of future workforce for companies as unpaid labor. Working people always talk about someday being as lucky as stay at home moms.

Whose side are you on?

In fact, feminists are divided against themselves. When women fight women, who is the oppressor? One side wants to quantify what a homemaker’s work is worth to prove she is not a “dependent.” The other wants to ignore most women are homemakers, getting them out of the house, working to prove women are not dependent on anyone.

The second opinion, the more popular politically, inherently devalues the first, which is experienced by the majority. The second also gives men a great excuse not to participate at home, because the only worthwhile economic activity is going on at the office.

Wrong War, Wrong Time

The truth is that the wage gap isn’t really a product of men versus women, it is a result of unencumbered women versus mothers. Wage equality isn’t exactly a gender issue, but an issue of parenting. Single, childless women have similar opportunities and paychecks to men. It is when children arrive that women put children first by de-prioritizing their earnings while men put family first by earning more.

It is the urgency of children’s needs that stops the married couple from putting off chores until later, causing even the mother who earns more than her husband to have more daily housework than him. It is having a wife at home full-time that is the most commonly shared characteristic of CEO’s in the Fortune 500, and why a Catalyst survey reflects that less than half of elite female executives have any children while the 90% of women have a child by age forty.

Since the coining of the word feminism in 1894 by the Frenchman Charles Fourier to the present, women have achieved the right to vote and yet do not elect women to office, women are the largest percentage of undergraduates and yet have not achieved critical mass in workplace leadership, women have reproductive rights and pregnancy protection at work but overwhelmingly choose to keep having kids, spoiling their own chances for wage equality under current workplace circumstances which offer no assistance after the child’s incubation is complete. Universities have moved away from women’s studies to gender studies. But until we realize that these courses are family studies and a new definition of home economics courses that even the boys should take, we will not accurately or adequately be addressing the issues in a meaningful way.

What can Boomers Do?

Retirement isn’t the end for the baby boom. Anyone can see that with the empty nest comes a tremendous amount of ability to focus on the next cause to conquer. Perhaps the best pattern for boomer women to follow is career, family, career, and contribution to the cause. There is plenty of time left to improve conditions for our grandchildren by making the office less hostile to mothers.

Let’s find the 20% that had it all. We can use their example to continue to clear stereotypes that women are either a “dependent” or dependent by understanding our gender interdependencies. Maybe it was naïve to believe that superwoman could save us. But instead of throwing her out entirely, telling all of us to stay home, we should shake it out, refine and reframe the idea that working women are beneficial rather than reject it entirely.