I was pleased to be asked to do an interview recently about Women in Leadership and was enthusiastically telling my 8 yr old daughter about it. As she is part of a very different generation, which I think they are calling Gen Z (referring to what, I don’t know – end of alphabet, zombies), her perspective was quite interesting.
She asked why there was a focus on “Women” in Leadership and not “Men” in Leadership and why anyone would be treated differently at work. After going into a lengthy response about celebrating how amazing women are and how far we’ve come all while desperately trying to stick to the facts instead of imposing my own opinions, she once again asked – but how are they treated differently? I was a little stumped.
I know it’s a question of the ages and many a study, expert and even feminist has asked the same thing but the simple fact is that it’s a very good question.
Why is it that women are still battling to be considered equal in pretty much all contexts but especially at work?
We know that the glass ceiling is still there and while there are so many strong women taking big strides in leadership roles such as Arianna Huffington (read Thrive – it’s great), Sheryl Sandberg, Heather Reisman and even Hillary Clinton, they are still the minority in terms of representation of leaders in every sense. I am not just talking about heads of business or state but also the fact that more and more girls become less like leaders in their everyday lives as they hit the pre-teen years.
Leaders and leaders-to-be at work are, almost to a fault, involved people in every other aspect of their lives. It’s part of their nature and they tend to develop these skills from early ages. The problem is that more girls (twice as many than boys) stop being involved in extra-curricular activities as they hit puberty. This is shown clearly in their drop in participation in sports (see article by Women’s Sports Foundation), as well as educational and arts-based activities. The stats show that social stigma and lack of positive role models are big causes for this dropout.
Why do these girls stop developing as leaders?
It seems that media, society, etc., are essentially telling these girls that it is bad to be a leader and if they are a leader, they may be considered bossy and maybe even a bully. These girls are listening to the naysayers because they don’t have enough strong female leaders (or progressive male leaders) to show them differently.
I know that many people and amazing groups are working so hard to counteract this but, frankly, I think that all that needs to happen is that everyone (including the strong women who are leaders) need to simply develop the perspective of an 8 yr old girl. A girl who doesn’t understand why there are any differences. A girl that, in her world, can play the same sports, do the same schooling and eventually do the same jobs as the boys and who, in her innocence, doesn’t see this changing anytime soon. These girls don’t think and act like a girl but instead simply think and act like a person.
This simple, but very inclusive, mindset is the ideal that we should all strive for. Let’s all strive to teach and coach our current and future leaders to be thinking of someone’s assets, skills, personality and talents and not their gender (check out the amazing Dove’s Like a Girl Campaign for an example).
Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to celebrate Women In Leadership and instead be able to simply celebrate Leaders?
I plan on continuing to work to instil this message in my own future leader as well as my career coaching & leadership clients everyday and hope everyone else does too!