It is time to dedicate some blog space to a segment of my audience that gets little direct attention. I am talking about females who serve in leadership roles. I always write with an open mind about the topics I share, and I seldom differentiate between male or female. I still believe “leadership is leadership”, regardless of gender.
Yet with all we’ve tried to implement in the modern workforce to enlighten ourselves, engage work teams, and inform new generations, I still see age-old trends emerging from time to time. In male-dominated organizations, the female role gets compromised.
I’m going to go out on a limb and address several of the most egregious ones I know.
First a Background Story
If you’ve followed my blog or heard me speak, you know I am the only son of a hard-working single Mom. So my familiarity with these topics started at the dinner table when I was a young boy. I watched as my own mother, who was a talented and capable business manager, come home most nights tired and weary from fighting battles; not just the usual battles, but the extra battles of defending her right to be in the room at work.
She had a hard plight. She worked for a home builder in an incredibly macho-man industry. As I got older I watched her go toe to toe on a job site with foremen twice her size. She worked closely with the architects so she knew what had to be done with a new build. Yet the foremen would often try to cut corners and expedite things, leaving out key design features she was trying to introduce into a stale market. Interestingly, Mom usually won.
She didn’t win by using her female charm which could have been easy at 5’5″ with a 16-inch waist and legs to die for (yes, I know I am talking about my Mom). Rather she chose to employ solid fact and logic with a great deal of technical detail that left most of those old grizzled hired hands’ heads spinning. She also knew how to effectively use the “help me help you” technique before that was a thing.
Her work was not isolated to office duties. She was Chief of Staff for the owner of a residential construction company. Her scuffles on the job sites became legendary among the various project leads and superintendents the company hired. In no time she had her own reputation for being tough but fair on making her demands come to life out in the field.
So please don’t tell me I cannot appreciate what women in the workforce are dealing with. I’ve heard a lot over the years. If you think “Me Too” is a new concept, try dialing back the clock to the 50’s and 60’s (think Madmen).
Here are the issues I run into from time to time. I list them in no particular order.
Dealing with Female Executives
First, there is “We don’t know what to do with ‘them’.” Yes, I’ve actually heard that from a group of male executives. My answer is “Really?” The obvious solution is to forget gender and deal with the matter in the same way you would deal with a male counterpart. Any mindset closely related to this is so incredibly naive and archaic. A senior manager who utters such nonsense is really not much of a leader.
I’m encouraged when I enter fairly high-intensity worksites and the female bosses get to act and behave in concert with their male peers. They can give and take with the best of them.
Next, there is the conundrum of a Type-A, hard-driving male boss being called a ‘tough but effective leader’ while the same Type-A, hard-driving woman executive is just a B#*&H. Again, how sophomoric and low on the emotional intelligence scale. The mindset needs to be adjusted to view these same traits as equals. Yes, I know some female executives who are terrible bosses but painting all of them with one wide brush is very inappropriate. There is an equal if not greater percentage of male bosses who simply suck at what they do.
Yes, it’s a worn-out cry from the field, but sadly still true in many situations. The gender gap on the pay scale has closed in recent years with most publicly traded companies settling up, but small, privately owned businesses still suffer the curse here.
On this point, I double-checked my position with several female executive coaches I know who specialize in working with other female leaders. The unequal pay conundrum is still very much alive and well.
The working Mom’s were the first to attempt to open the discussion about work-life balance. Why? Not because it was a nice cozy idea, but because it was a necessity. Juggling the load for being Mom and worker just didn’t always even out. Dropping kids at school and picking them up took its toll. And yes, there are some great “Mr. Moms” who have chosen to shoulder the kid management duties of the house to free the wife up for career pursuit, but the tug is still there.
Why shouldn’t we figure out a better balance of workload versus personal need? Seldom is everything a priority at work. I know companies who build a culture around jam-packed calendars and endless meetings but is that really necessary? If you run one of those companies, you can make adjustments and productivity might actually increase.
Creating succession plans is not limited to the bigger, publicly traded companies. Even entrepreneurial shops need good continuity planning. Allowing younger females equal opportunity for fast track and high potential program access should be a priority. Yet, for most of the reasons I’ve already covered above, there is a disparity that remains.
Providing effective mentorship and coaching for up and coming workers, regardless of gender, should be a priority.
THERE IT’S DONE
This is my list. If you know more examples, please share in the comments. This is a dialogue that should not be left unattended.