Thirty-two of the 500 largest firms in the U.S. are now lead by women. This recent milestone equates to 6.4 percent female leadership, despite women making up 51 percent of the U.S. population. The progress represents a positive trend for the next generation. Also, women-owned businesses are nearly equal to those owned by men.
Today, while men in leadership roles still outnumber women, the balance between the genders is growing every year. This leads me to believe we are making progress.
Peter Northouse, who writes on leadership theory and practice, suggests that, what was once known as “the glass ceiling” is actually a labyrinth. In her book, “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg offers a similar analogy, describing the journey women take into leadership as a “jungle gym.” These new metaphors seem more accurate, suggesting that it is not a straight shot to the top but, rather, an adventure filled with challenges and opportunities.
It seems hard to believe, with all the progress we have made, that women still aren’t expected to reach parity with men in leadership for another 500 years.
Part of this may be because we, as a society, still view a woman leader as an anomaly. Surely there is more to it than that.
In the past, there was a pipeline problem. Women did not have the experience or the education, and didn’t typically pursue careers in the male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
Even today, young girls’ aspirations to pursue careers in these fields are we often discouraged or minimized. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact there are not many female role models in these arenas. Marie Wilson of the Whitehouse Project states, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” On the other hand, someone has to break ground and lead the way.
In my role as an adjunct professor of leadership at Dominican University of California, I see first-hand confirmation of the statistics that indicate women are pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in greater numbers than men. What is encouraging is that the next generation of women — and men — in my classes seem to view the idea of having a woman boss or women in leadership as being the norm in their futures.
I find this exciting, because there is no doubt that women must have the support of men if we’re to break down barriers that might exist in real world leadership scenarios. In addition, businesses are realizing there is something to be said for having diversity of thought and gender at the table. Not only do women make up 51 percent of the population, but they also hold 85 percent of the purchasing power in the United States.
Women’s voices will be critical to the success of all companies in the future.
Another twist in the labyrinth is that women have traditionally had less employment continuity than men, as many stopped working to take on much of the responsibility of child rearing. If one really thinks about it, motherhood should probably be included on one’s résumé, as it certainly contributes to strength of character.
In reality, however, it fuels a gap that often makes it more difficult for women to achieve leadership positions.
In the documentary “Miss Representation,” it was suggested that men vote for men and women vote for men — even among the younger generation. The reason for this is unclear, but it likely stems, in part, from the stereotypical perception that men are more intelligent, stable or better suited for a leadership role.
Susan Duvall-Dickson, Ed.D., is chief operating officer and a principal of Private Ocean Wealth Management in San Rafael.