Welcome to The SHAPE of a Leader. I write this blog with the SHAPE leadership development program (for women pastors) I lead in mind, but it is for all who are interested in leadership, faith, and the intersection of the two.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Women Leading Women

The leadership consulting group Zenger Folkman has been one that I've always respected.  They do deep and thorough research into how to be not just a good leader but an extraordinary one.  When I saw a recent blogpost they did for Harvard Business Review, on gender differences in leadership at the executive level, I was a bit nervous to read it.  I thought they might diverge from what I've always believed - that we need more women in the C-Suite.

Now, I've never claimed to be a feminist. I simply believe that by nature, women bring a different perspective - one that's needed. Given that, I naturally ask the question, why aren't there more?  And, does it really make a difference?

Here's a link to the original blog (they received so much feedback, they posted another related blog this past week:


As you would suspect, they found that the higher you go in an organization, the fewer women exist.  They also not surprisingly found that women excel at "classicly women" areas.  And then they had this to say:

"But the women's advantages were not at all confined to traditionally women's strengths. In fact at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows."

When they dug into why, one of the things they discovered is that women who want to serve in the more male-dominated areas work really hard to succeed - and so they do.   

So why AREN'T there more women in the C-Suite?  Certainly some women just aren't going to make the sacrifice that is expected of them - they prioritize their families (or whatever else tugs their heartstrings) over work.  But that can't explain it all.  What else is there?  Here are some things I've found over the years of paying attention to this topic:

  • Men are far more likely to choose other, younger, men to mentor.  They'll see someone who reminds them of a younger version of self, and they will go to bat for them.  This is less common with women, and it is uncommon for men to mentor women.
  • Women tend to need an invitation.  Our natural response to increases in responsibility is, "Me?" or "Why me?" or "Not me!" rather than "Why not me?"
Take those two facts alone and you can see that women aren't doing themselves or each other any favors.  Now add this:
  • Women live in a culture of collaboration and an even distribution of power.  Lifting up one of our own above and beyond the rest is just not in the ruleset of our culture.  And there's a whole lot of unwritten and unsaid "stuff" that goes along with this, that results in the fact that women often don't know how to support each other. Period.  
It seems as though step 1 to getting more women in the C-Suite is for women to begin supporting each other in any and every way possible. And to celebrate when one of our own is promoted, honored, and admired.  ... no woman left behind...

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