Anyone who has been following the coverage of women in the workplace, for example, this series in the Wall Street Journal, knows the general story line. Professional women enter workplaces in numbers roughly equal to men, but with each rung of the career ladder, there are fewer and fewer, until the number of women representing the very top leadership of large corporations is a tiny fraction of the total. Explanations for this disparity have moved beyond blaming ingrained bias or unequal roles in family life to more subtle, behavioral issues, as reflected in a report published by a partnership between Leanin.org and McKinsey and company. The report affirms the key point that organizations need to make a significant and sustained investment to change company practices and culture so women can achieve their full potential.
Women tend to think that their good performance alone will be recognized and rewarded, without giving sufficient attention to promoting their effectiveness to those in a decision-making role. They feel they have to have 100% of the desired qualifications for a job, while men are more willing to go for roles for which they may lack some critical skills. Communications are challenging – women have a far more narrow range of acceptable styles than men do. Women are also more likely to feel they have to execute perfectly, without making a distinction between mission-critical tasks and those that are more in the ‘nice to do’ category. They often don’t dedicate the time to build networks effectively or strategically.
While the topic of women’s leadership has not been a research focus of mine, it’s certainly of personal interest to myself and many of the highly skilled, competent and successful women I know.