As well as a glass ceiling, women who are successful and become CEO’s also face a “glass cliff“(1). If you work twice as hard and are twice as smart as your male counterparts and actually land a CEO position, you face more challenges as a CEO because you are a women(2).
Women CEOs are more likely to be recruited to companies that are in trouble to begin with. Either because the “first string” (of men) passed on the job, or the board needs to show that they’re thinking outside the box and recruiting a relationship-strong leader (i.e., a woman).
Then women CEOs are more likely to be the target of activist shareholders. Boards and CEOs used to be able to ignore them, but now they can create real headaches while owning a minority of the company stock.
Lastly – and this will sound familiar to many women out there – women CEOs get more negative attention from the press. Even when they objectively do better in comparable situations.(3)
What Does the Research Say?
Diminishing, denigrating, and dismissing 50% of the potential brain-power and creativity available to solve hard problems in an ever-connected and accelerating world based on their gender our one’s own ego is
For a long time women were told they’re the problem, they need to change, that they need to lean in – even by other women.
I argue that women’s attitudes and behaviour isn’t the problem. It’s men’s attitude and behaviour that’s the problem.
For example, this research analysed calendars, emails, and sensors attached to people in an office setting. Their hypothesis was that women had fewer mentors, less face time with managers, or weren’t as proactive as men in talking to senior leadership – all factors in determining future promotability. Turns out none of these were true when they analyzed the data.
So the researchers concluded that it wasn’t the women’s behaviour, but how the women’s behaviour is perceived by men. The way that people with the decision-making power perceive them. Which is another definition of bias.
When I shared this with my sweetie – who is a strong and successful woman in her own right and doesn’t need any of my damn help thank-you very much – she gave me the eye-brow. The one that says “thanks for playing, Captain Obvious”. Then we laughed and laughed.
The Bare Minimum
What do we men need to do differently?
First, I want to acknowledge that some people will have stopped reading at this point. Either because they don’t agree with me, or they think it’s not their problem, or they think they aren’t biased against women, or maybe I’m just boring. If you’re still reading and look forward to picking up your game, thank-you.
The bare minimum:
- Don’t be a creep. Don’t stare at her chest, don’t make comments about their appearance, don’t flirt, don’t ask for dates, don’t encroach their personal space, so so so don’t touch her, and don’t make creepy comments behind her back to fellow creeps(4).
Some men never figure this out: the waitress at the restaurant doesn’t smile at you because she likes you. She does it because it’s her job and because she works for tips.(5)
Also, you don’t get credit for not doing these things. Remember, it’s the bare minimum.
The Next Level
But let’s assume you’re not a creep, which you probably aren’t. Here are some other things you might want to watch out for in your own behaviour:
- Don’t interrupt. Let people finish their sentences. You may think it’s just the give and take of a conversation, brain-storming, or debate. At best it’s rude, at worst its verbal bullying. I am guilty of this, especially when I get excited about a topic or issue. I used to wonder why people thought I was obnoxious…
- Stop mansplaining. Don’t explain things to women they already know and didn’t ask you to explain. If you didn’t know what mainsplaining is, start watching for it. Imagine what it’s like to be a woman having her own book explained to her and you’ll understand how oblivious and obnoxious it is. Again, I’m amazed how often I catch myself doing this, even though I’m trying really really hard not to (and no, I don’t get to take credit for not doing something.)
- Don’t hepeat. Don’t repeat what someone else said and take credit. This happens often enough that it has its own word and twitter hashtag.
What are some positive things we can do, to be a good ally and a good leader?
- Set the example and expect others to do the same (see above).
- Start questioning your own bias, and fight to overcome it. This is also a great exercise in better decision-making all around.
- Promote women. Fill the leadership pipeline with people of ability, especially that first critical promotion to management.
- Step on the creeps – you may not be a creep, but leadership means setting the example. You have a responsibility to stop others who are “misbehaving”. If you tolerate creepy behaviour, you are complicit.
- Set ground rules for meetings that include respectful listening (see above).
I hope you found something helpful in this article. If you did, please let me know.
(1) I was listening to NPRs “Secret Life of a CEO” series, which is interesting in itself. I recommend it.
(2) Because it’s never just one thing ever when situations go south. And if you’re a woman, to hell with you in particular, apparently.
(3) Yes, I know you too can use Google to cherry-pick counter-factual arguments, research, and articles. I’ve read them, thanks.
(4) Think of it this way: the consequence of a bad date for men is a wasted evening. The worst case for a women experiencing a bad date is rape and death. It’s not fair, but you can empathize why some women might be a bit sensitive when it comes to these things. The consequences are wholly disproportional.
(5) Maybe you are that charming. I really don’t know, but I doubt it. Maybe it really is a genuine office romance, but those are usually are really really bad idea. Especially if it’s someone who works for you or you work for them.