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Six reasons women are not leading corporations

Wednesday, May 22, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Kathy Caprino

As a trainer and leadership developer of women, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of HR and senior executive leaders the past 10 years about women, growth, and paving the way for women’s ascension to leadership in corporate America.

What remains so disappointing and in fact, shocking, is that despite the irrefutable business case for the need to balance corporate leadership ranks with more women, we’re making very little progress in advancing women to senior leadership roles.

Organizations are not digging deep enough to understand this failure. Leaders and HR directors are committing diversity dollars, launching initiatives, conducting training and holding networking events to move the needle, but they rarely have the hard data needed to understand why women are leaving before they reach leadership, or why, if they stay, they are not being promoting into leadership.

Here’s a start — six top factors I’ve found that are keeping women from leadership roles:

1. Women’s work styles and values are not fully understood or valued. It’s an indisputable fact – women and men are different in many core ways, grounded in their neurobiology and their cultural training. Corporate America remains male-dominated at the leadership level. The work and communications, decision-making process, leadership values, focus and "energy” of women are not understood or valued. The emphasis many women leaders place on connection, empathy, emotional intelligence, consensus building, risk taking, mutuality and questioning are often misconstrued as a "less-than.” More training must occur before women and men wholly embrace their differences and understand that diversity makes us stronger and more competitive.

2. Women can’t bring their whole selves to work. During a class I taught at New York University last summer, my students and I discussed the importance of bringing our whole hearts and spirits to our work. Every woman in the class agreed that authenticity and being able to bring our whole selves to our work is essential to our fulfillment and success. But the males in the class vehemently disagreed. They felt that full transparency at work was not at all desirable. They confirmed this with male friends and colleagues who all agreed that it’s not safe (or desirable) to bring their whole selves to the workplace. Most women don’t want leadership roles if it means they can’t be true, transparent and authentic. If the environment is crushing and the competitive terrain negative, women have to pretend to be something they are not. That’s not sustainable and it’s not worth it.

3. Life, family and work priorities clash fiercely. Women are still performing the majority of domestic and childcare responsibility in the home, even when there are two spouses working full time. If leadership believes that work-life balance is a pipe dream, then it’s contributing to the problem and helping force women out.

4. Extreme 24/7 work demands can drive women out. They present a barrier to women who need to prioritize life outside of work. Women are not less ambitious than men. The cost of ambition – and the struggle women face trying to "have it all” — is the heart of why we have so few women leaders today.

5. Marginalizing women is more common than we want to admit. Women are still being diminished, sidelined and suppressed because they are women and differ from the leadership norm. Women are pushed aside regularly when they make their family priorities known or demand time off after having a child (and don’t kid yourself, this is a form of discrimination).

6. Women need to be step up. I’ve read scores of comments by women who believe that if we talk about how women are holding themselves back from leadership, we’re blaming women instead of a broken workforce model. I disagree. Yes, the model needs changing, but this is a complex problem. Individuals have the power to take accountability, step up to what has to be done and have the courage to make change, both on the individual and the organizational level. No, I’m not saying "Be more like a man.” I’m suggesting that women understand what’s needed to succeed and embrace their authentic personal brand; build their confidence; enhance their communication, leadership and decision-making skills; forge vital partnerships; and step up to their fullest potential to claim the leadership authority they want.

In the end, creating a pathway for more women in corporate leadership will require change on all levels — individual, organizational and global. But we must start with you and me, today.

Kathy Caprino is a nationally recognized women’s career and leadership coach and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. Author of Breakdown, Breakthrough and founder and president of Ellia Communications, Inc., Caprino is a contributor to Forbes, Huffington Post and AARP. Follow her on Twitter at @kathycaprino. For Kathy's original post on this topic, visit her Forbes Leadership blog "Career Bliss."

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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