In a world where “body empowerment” for women has been co-opted by advertising to mean the perfect fitting pair of jeans, we need to look beyond the superficial and find ways for women to find the perfect fitting leadership role.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that advertising takes such a limited view of women controlling their lives. Women control over 80 percent of all consumer spending, but fewer than 15 percent of creative directors at advertising agencies are women. Wouldn’t more women in charge at ad agencies drive higher sales?
There are many reasons why women are needed in management roles.
While women are 52 percent of the professional jobs in America, they make up only 15 percent of senior executives, 8 percent of top earners, 17 percent of Fortune 500 board seats, and only 5.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEO’s.
Similar situations exist in politics: 19.4 percent of the US Congress is female, and only 12 percent of state governors. Women do a bit better in state legislatures, but at 24.8 percent are still vastly underrepresented.
Yet, women are widely found to have the needed skills to lead. In a decade-long study of male and female corporate executives that collected feedback on over 45,000 leaders, women executives were perceived to perform better on 10 dimensions of leadership, including taking initiative, integrity, result focused, developing self and others, motivation, relationships, and collaborations. Men were perceived as having better skills in only two areas: technical expertise and strategic perspective.
And it is more than just perception, research has shown that companies with female managers generated higher returns on equity and had fewer governance issues.
Women have long been found to have different approaches to problem-solving than men. Women have higher Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills than men, especially in the areas of emotional awareness, relationship building, and empathy. Researchers have even found that women are less likely to take part in corruption than men.
For some women, this raises the question of how working at this level effects our children. Findings here may surprise you. Women working in the first three years of a child’s life have been found to correlate to higher grades in school, with the effects magnified if the mother works through the first 15 years of the child’s life. Research has shown that children do not suffer behavioral problems later in school. Teachers were more likely to rate the children of working mothers as higher achieving, and they were found to have fewer problems with anxiety and depression. And, the impacts are long-lasting. Women who had working mothers are more likely to work and have larger responsibilities and wages than those who had stay-at-home mothers. For sons, there isn’t a difference in their working life, but they are more likely to share household chores.
Certainly, women have made a lot of progress in the last 40 years. Women are more likely to have advanced degrees, leadership roles, and run for political office. Since the 1980s, women students have outnumbered men on college campuses, with nearly 60 percent of students being female, yet only one in four college presidents is female, a rate that hasn’t changed in over 10 years. Salaries and participation in management ranks for women in business grew steadily in the 1970s and 1980s, but have slowed since the 1990s, with the gender wage gap and representation stalled over the last 10 years. In the political realm, women are even more underrepresented. While U.S. women rank 28th for economic participation and opportunity by the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks 72 out of 145 countries in political empowerment.
At this current rate of progress, it will be the end of the century before women are even close to parity with men for leadership roles in business and politics.
So what can be done to address this gap? Since the term “glass ceiling” was coined, many companies and organizations have developed programs to increase women’s access to leadership roles. Programs that have been shown to have positive results are recruitment, eliminating evaluation bias, encouraging mentoring relationships, providing networking opportunities that are gender-neutral, adopting zero-tolerance for discrimination and harassment, and providing flex-time for men and women both. There are now more resources than ever to help women seek elected office, from Vote Run Lead, She Should Run, and Ignite National which trains high school and college women to run for office. These programs and organizations deserve our support to ensure that women achieve these leadership positions.
And once women have that perfect leadership role – whether in business or government – it would be wonderful to have a pair of perfect fitting jeans.
Christina Hanger is the CEO of a Dallas, TX, nonprofit and a former senior executive for Fortune 50 companies and software start-ups. She is a Dallas Public Voices Fellow. This article was a collaboration with her cohorts.