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Why are there so few women leaders in government and business? Is the problem discrimination? Or that women sometimes hold back? Or both? Here's my take.
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I was involved with a local Occupy movement, really started by a group of women. I was asked to help teach facilitation, which I did, but only for women. Right away I noticed a gender difference. The process was well defined on how one may speak (like holding a talking stick), and often we used a progressive stack (where individuals who were not as well represented could take the talking stick first). First, I noticed that men were more likely to walk to the front of the line (I worked to teach the women to gently move them to the back). Second, men were more likely to speak over the speaker (the facilitator was also taught how to deal with that). Finally, I saw when we didn't use the progressive stack (only twice) not a single woman spoke (and many were in attendance). What I found very, VERY encouraging is that one young man came up to me during one of our meetings and he asked me this "can you help me so that I can learn to be more patient and wait my turn". So, yes, women need to speak up and be heard, but we need more young men who are willing to change their nature to be more patient and wait their turn.
 
There are hard wired differences in brain development from before birth. Testosterone makes us more impulsive and impatient. 
 
What percentage of that number represents women of color, +Nicholas Kristof ?

I have had struggles with being a strong woman of color working with both male and females managers. In my experience, males have been more nurturing in recognition and as supportive mentors, because they don't look at me as competition or with jealousy.  

The system definitely needs to be more supportive and it has to start on the individual level where we are respected and valued as colleagues and leaders. We all have various strengths and can do more together.

I am blessed to have support from male and female colleagues in the sustainable realm.
 
If there is discrimination some will hold back.
 
Having worked in investment banking and then, having become fed up w/ the (largely, male) herd mentality which tramples over sound ethics and fair financial dealing, as a co-director of a shelter for abused women and children, I think there's more to this than simply women being more assertive. Many women have experienced the rage, anger or cold fury elicited by speaking truth to abusers of power - which is generally (white, in business circles) male power. Men do experience this, too, of course, but I've noted they tend to rank themselves more than women do, so many may fail to examine leadership in its full context of ethics, future consequences and with care for longevity of healthy, balanced relationships. I know how many times, and in widely varied circles (finance, banking, economics, social justice and ministry), I've been verbally bullied for speaking assertively and with supporting factual bases. There seems to be a particularly vicious edge that many men acquire when a woman, in particular, speaks forthrightly and knowledgeably. Most women back down in the face of such constant aggression and transgressions of ethical boundaries. It's hard not to retreat. That said, I agree with your skepticism about women bosses. The worst boss I had in NYC (investment banking) was a woman, and the best boss I had was an ethical, wise man. Jerks and aggressors aren't gender-specific. Abuse of power is done by both, but frankly, in business, men have more of it to abuse.
 
Great article Nicholas! And Anandi - love your comments as well. I actually had a conversation with someone from Catalyst on Friday about a Visible Minority report done here in Canada in 2007 and wanted to find out if much has changed - which to my surprise (not really) haven't. I agree with Sheryl  where she said that we need to Lean In - I particularly loved this point "We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it's wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve." I believe that this is one of the barriers to our success. The other being lack of sponsorship and mentors for Visible Minority women (see Catalyst report on this) and organisational barriers. Most companies who do make advancement of women a priority do not make diversity & inclusion part of that priority.   My discussion with Catalyst focused on not only the need for Organisational change and for men to be a part of that change, but  also the need and the  importance of us Visible Minority women working on the "stuff" what I call the "Elephant Syndrome" that gets in the way of our own success. The "Elephant' can be any of those messages that Cheryl mentioned, because it is something that we women do and often times we don't deal with the "stuff" that gets in the way of our success.While there may be a lack of sponsorship and mentors for visible minority women, how many of us are putting our hands up, or even asking for high profile jobs? I have reflected on my career and I have identified the places where I would've put  my hand up or b. Go after the higher rating on my Performance Appraisal. But due to my own self-sabotage, I lowered my expectations and wasn't assertive enough. So yes more diverse groups reach better decisions so we women need to stop playing small, identify our "elephants' and "Lean In".
 
Oh and dead on again Nicholas - it doesn't necessarily mean that women are more nurturing. There are lots of women who are jerks in the workplace. And lack of support is evident based on conversations I've had. Something interestingly enough can be tied to the "Elephant Syndrome" which is tied to lack of confidence. Why so some women lash out? Is it the fear of scarcity? That there isn't enough room for both of us?
 
Does the male to female ratio have to be 1:1 in order to consider an institution accomodating?

If men were largely in the minority, would anybody question where all the men were? I highly doubt it. Nurses and teachers are both woman dominated...and I think thats good and not worth questioning.

My point is the public and media frequently question the presence and abundance of women in any given institution, but I've never heard the reverse. And thats okay....to be concerned with the presence of gender seems to be averse to the qualifications needed to hold said position.

As far as elected officials go, women more often play the role of family matron...she wants to have a position that also allows family time, and we all know public office demands much, much more.

And as woman population and voting rises, so will the presence of women in public office....same with minorities.

The answer to a more gender "equal" government? TIME.
 
Have you seen the Danish political drama Borgen? It is brilliant and shows how difficult it is for a woman to balance a high powered position with family life and motherhood. 
 
Right on +Karlyn Percil. The 'crabs in a barrel' syndrome is also hurtful to girls and women, and quite apparent in my own experiences and community.
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