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PART 3: The More Things Change For Women—The Less They Do. A Fusion Of Wisdom and Research

Jul 13, 2020

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Nancy Fredericks

Nancy Fredericks pens Women Lead Change's "Mindful Mondays" column, appearing the second Monday of every month. Fredericks is a preeminent Business Executive Strategist, Author and Thought Leader. Corporations like Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Adobe, Allergan and Transamerica have retained her to optimize individual and organizational performance. You can find her at www.CareerStretchZone.com. The views of Nancy Frederick's blogs represent her own and not necessarily the views of Women Lead Change.

Evaluating business cultures is a serious and necessary assessment to lining up a rewarding and fulfilling career.

Can you remember wearing an outfit that looked good on you, perhaps you even received compliments? But as hard as you tried, it was impossible to accept the praise. It didn’t feed your soul. Even after adding a cute little belt, that was all the rage, the outfit never felt like you.   

Careers established in a culture unsuited for your style, as with the outfit scenario, chafe. You can be employed in a culture that isn’t yours. You merely have to work harder and be more conscientious to thrive.  

I’m curious why so many women remain imprisoned in business environments unsuited to who they are? Is it a lack of confidence or the fear of risk, or is it you’re so busy striving to fit in that you never contemplated any other avenue? Not a good strategy for your future. 

Accenture found that in a culture with more parity, everyone rises: Women are four times more likely to reach senior manager and director levels, where men are twice as likely.

Culturally, women have experienced many wins over the years. Let’s hold those victories tight, so we don’t lose ground.

There’s no question women executives have progressed far more than the female workforce today can ever imagine—I know that better than many, which is where the wisdom of this blog comes into play. We’re getting closer, but we haven’t made it to the top-most levels of our companies in equal numbers. Research attests to the fact.

I remember years ago walking down a long hallway to the Managing Partner’s office for a meeting. Wow! Recognition from the highest-ranked leader in the Los Angeles office, one of the big five CPA firms.

My mouth was dust-dry. While my mind was on fire, mentally practicing leadership dialogue. I knew this was my opportunity to prove my worth. Oh sure, I’d met with the top dog before, but never for anything other than to receive directions or report in on progress. Now, I’m on his calendar to merely talk—no agenda.

Little did I know disappointment was in my future. 

I walked into his over-sized, corner office to meet with this 6 foot plus tall, cigar-smoking (Yes, back in the days it was legal to light-up in the office.), Texan, who leaned back in his big, creaky, leather chair before beginning: I understand you read a lot of books, young lady (Yes, also acceptable in those days.).

Yes, Sir, I responded. Inside I was like a puppy dog wriggling in pleasure for all he was about to share. 

Well, said he, drawing in a long puff on the cigar, I would hold that in if I were you

Shock ignited every nerve in my body. Shakily, I asked, Am I to braggadocios? (Yes, that’s what came out of my mouth, I swear.) 

No, he replied, leaning across his desk for emphasis, you’re coming on as too intelligent. Oh, by the way, you’re dressing too well, so I would dress down a bit if I were you. There was more of the same, unsubtle tearing down, but my brain was numb, and I can’t remember the rest of the “helpful” suggestions.

I do recall at the end of his litany, I questioned, Sir, are you displeased with the results I’ve generated for the firm?

No, he assured me, you’re doing a great job. Best anyone in your position has ever done.

Well, Sir, can you tell me at what point does all of this shifting you’re asking of me turns me into someone who doesn’t bring value to the organization as I’m no longer uniquely me?

There was no response to my question, but in my heart, I’m still asking companies this question in some way for you. I can’t imagine anyone working today will ever experience such a decimating conversation with senior leadership, so let’s celebrate that, but we have so much further to go. 

Research always brings home the point for me, and I hope it will help you step closer to parity in your career. 

Partner With Men: 82 percent of working women believe access to and networking with female leaders will advance their careers, regardless of their professional level (KPMG Research). 

Yes, reaching outside yourself for support from your network is a good thing. And think broader. Men, too, must be a core resource co-creating your career progression. Not to mention, in large part, they own the organizational power. So, they’re instrumental in addressing underlying cultural changes blocking women from standing fully in the light of leadership.

And there are men ready and willing. Research by Catalyst shows 86 percent of men are personally committed to interrupting sexism in their organization. However, only 31 percent feel confident in doing so, regardless of the culture

We can’t do it alone just as men can’t do it alone. Find those enlightened men in your organization and partner together with them to effectively unlock professional pathways for your success and that of other women.

Don’t Take Offense: Women, who experience actions contrary to what they judge acceptable behavior, often take it on as a personal attack. The moment you personalize the situation, you harm your career by appearing weak in your organization’s eyes. 

There’s no question women experience many more troubling incidents than do men in business, but taking umbrage is not the fix. Though far fewer episodes crop-up today than in past years, some office cultures aren’t ready for employees to directly address the issue. You wouldn’t be wrong to think women and people of color get more push-back when challenging than white men. 

It’s no surprise with Accenture reporting employee perception of leaders’ efforts to build more inclusive cultures hasn’t shifted much in the last several years:

  • The 2018 index was 55, 
  • 2019, 58, 
  • and 2020, it was back to 55, again.

However, this is no excuse. 

Simmering emotionally, but never saying anything, isn’t the answer. Little cultural change emerges out of such a response. No one learns, nor will anyone have the chance to grow from the encounter. And the reality is its imperative companies are inclusive. 

Accenture’s research found that in more equal cultures, everyone rises: Women are four times more likely to reach senior manager and director levels, and men are twice as likely. While according to McKinsey & Co.: The most gender-diverse companies are 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability

Working Harder Isn’t The Answer: Female executives are more industrious than men. There’s no question about it. They even work hard at changing their leadership style, with 66 percent of women in a KPMG study believe they need to change their leadership style more than their male counterparts.  Women consider that sweat equity is the answer to succeeding in business. Hive sums up: women work 10 percent harder than men in today's offices. They note women are assigned and spend more time on non-promotable tasks than men. These tasks may be beneficial to the company, but don’t contribute to career advancement for women.

So, when the culture isn’t working for you… don’t work harder. Instead, start thinking smarter. What does that mean? Focus your valuable time on projects that improve the bottom-line or have strategic value to the organization. Stop being the savior when it comes to work that holds little importance for the company. Delegate grunt work to someone lower on the hierarch or take a performance hit by not completing it. I know these are bold action steps. But as long as you continue to support a culture that isn’t rewarding you, you continue to lose professional ground.  

It never was acceptable—and now it’s outrageous—for women to be twisted and pried and pressured into altering all of the giftedness we bring to the table merely to fit a narrow, antiquated view of leadership, where we’re left feeling uncomfortable in our own skin.

Yes, it takes courage to work within our business cultures to be recognized and fully appreciated as 50/50 co-creators of this new season in corporate America. There’s little doubt that systemically evolving a business culture is a slow, arduous process. And it will never transpire if we women don’t start taking steadfast, strategic action to nudge it in the right direction.



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Category: Mindful Monday