Women in Leadership Today and the Men Who Opened the Door for Them
Should women open the door for other women to walk through? Growing up in the 80’s, I always assumed the answer would be “Yes.” Literally speaking, opening and holding doors for others is commonplace, usually expected and most certainly polite. However, in the professional world, it appears today’s female leadership did not walk through doors held by other women.
Over the past decade, I have recruited, coached and interviewed hundreds of women, and every time I make the same inquiry- who was the female that influenced you by modeling leadership or mentoring you? More than 90% of the time I get one of two responses: first, that no one mentored them directly = instead, their leadership growth has been an evolution of on-the-job learning sprinkled with some training along the way.
The second response usually starts with a big smile and a coy remark like, “It was not a she, it was a he who saw something in me and gave me the opportunities and feedback I needed to become the leader I am today.” Naturally, this response sparked a follow-up inquiry and conversation during this ten-year period, and I would like to share some of my findings.
Gentlemen open doors for women.
No, I am not referring to well-groomed, high born, bowing men opening doors for fair maidens as they curtsy. The men I have been referred to and spoken with regarding their mentoring of female talent often display a gentle demeanor and a humility that attracts people to them. They are able to create safe environments for female talent to take risks and offer feedback to help them make needed corrections. They take pride in the talent they help groom and enjoy watching them grow into their own greatness.
Strong women raise men that open doors.
Great male leaders that assist female talent in finding their way very often speak of a strong maternal figure in their life. This role is the model that enables them to see possibilities for the women they lead. The fondness in their voice when they speak about their mothers is one of great reverence, and this respect seems to transfer to the women they mentor along the way. This debunks the old myth that strong women are gelding - in fact, it seems they play a vital role in developing strong male leaders.
Respect for talent, no matter the package, is a competitive edge.
Female talent offers a balance at the leadership table and, in short, can become a competitive advantage. That’s right, a co-ed team is better! Every single male leader I interviewed stated first and foremost that the females on their teams, like the males, all had the skills and aptitude to become great leaders. The main difference that was identified is that females need some confidence building so they can begin to see themselves as these senior leaders see them.
This is not an “Ode to Men,” but a call to arms.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Well all that’s great, but why aren’t women opening doors for their fellow females?” Simply stated, there weren’t any. The senior executive female workforce of today, unfortunately, didn’t have access to female leadership when they were rising through the ranks. The easiest way to explain this is with a timeline: only in the past 40 years have females become a large presence in the workforce, much less leadership roles.
- 1967: Executive Order 11375 extends affirmative action to include discrimination based on gender
- 1968: Sex-segregated help wanted ads are made illegal; Supreme Court rules that women who meet the physical requirements can work at jobs that had been previously restricted to men only
- 1970: It becomes illegal to change the job titles of women to pay them less than men
- 1974: Supreme Court rules it’s illegal to pay women lower wages simply because men wouldn’t work at the lower rate
- 1978: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is put in place, making it illegal to fire, deny a job or prevent a promotion to a women because she is or may become pregnant; Betty Lehan Harragan publishes Games Mother Never Taught You, the first book to offer women guidance on how to get and maintain power in business and the rules of engagement to achieve success in a man’s world
- 1986: Supreme Court rules that sexual harassment is illegal
- 1990: The first time women serve in combat during the Gulf War
Today, the ratio of men to women in the workforce hovers right around 50/50. Though this is positive, women in executive positions only reach about 17%. These women are in their mid 40-50s, putting them born right around the time Executive Order 11375 was extended. It’s no wonder there were no females around to open doors for them!
This is a call to arms for women who are now in leadership roles to begin opening doors for upcoming talent, male and female alike. The ultimate goal is to hear more men and women recall just as many female leaders as males who saw greatness in them and fostered it into reality.
After all, that is the very core of all great leaders.
Guest author bio: Lexy Thompson has been coaching since 2007 and has had the honor of coaching hundreds of wonderful people on their journey to discover who they are. She is a certified Stand Out Coach, NLP Practitioner, Human Capital Strategist and Strategic Workforce Planner, and Dream Coach. She has facilitated Strengths conversations for corporate executive teams, non-profit organizations, government organizations, penal facilities, families and many special interest groups. The last 12 plus years of her career have been spent in the Human Capital and Talent Management space, working with people and organizations in transition. In 2011, Lexy co-created Fokal Fusion, a People Strategy firm that assists organizations and leaders in optimizing talent and building support for the competitive advantage of human capital.