I read an article today about the famous UCLA Anderson School of Management. The article was featured in Businessweek and takes an uncomfortable look at the difficulties women face to get to the top and be compensated fairly. Sure, that’s nothing new. But the surprising information is that women are leaving their positions at Anderson more frequently than men, and the women who stay are less satisfied with their jobs than their male counterparts. [Source: The Anderson School at UCLA, Report of the Gender Equality Committee]. Given this information, it seems as if it’s hard to keep women happy in the workplace.
Let’s take an honest look at why we struggle to get women to the top and keep them there.
First of all, a woman who wants everything (and let’s define “everything” as a family, a career, and a personal life) is up against a mountain of difficulties. We can divide her challenges into outward and inward obstacles.
On the outward side, there is the obvious: we are still not equal in the workplace. Women never will be equal in the workplace unless we make changes to the workplace. Women bear children. It’s a basic truth. The dual responsibility of being a working mother wears on all women, and we have worked alongside men who have the nerve to belittle us for struggling to fulfill both requirements.
Here’s another basic truth—our civilization needs nurtured children. Of course, some men help out at home and with rearing their children as much or more than their spouses. But by and large, women are still the primary caregivers.
What irks me more than any other obstacle I have encountered in my career as a working mother is that women still have to fight against our society to be respected as both professionals and mothers. We have obviously been filling both roles for decades now. When will our nature be considered a norm instead of a hindrance?
The inward issues we face include our fears of not being good enough, not having enough time, strength, and support to enable us to climb the ladder and stay there. From the minute we wake up until we flop on the bed with exhaustion at the end of the day, there are so many moving pieces tearing at us little by little. And even when we’re lying there, we sometimes can’t sleep for thinking of the mile-long list of things we have yet to do. It’s enough to bring the strongest woman to her knees. Add to all that the pressure to make it look effortless, like we’re not even trying, and no wonder many women succumb and settle for much, much less than they want to (and could) achieve.
The inward and outward pressures women face are so unbearable that many of us falter and never reach our goals. No wonder. The tragic irony is we are expected to be superhuman mothers in our homes, yet we are not respected in the workplace for our ability to bear children.
For men and women alike, our first step has to begin with understanding that wanting equality does NOT mean that women want to be treated like men. Women need systems that give us the unique support women (not men) need.
Currently, it’s the women who display male leadership characteristics like power, strategy, or persuasion who make it to the top. All the while, a whole lot of talent is left behind because not all women are outspoken or have warrior blood running in their veins. Sadly, many talented women who are introverted, humanistic, nerdy, and quieter are left wondering why their voices just don’t seem to be heard. Successful women like me have LEARNED to deal with men in the workplace. I know how to present, prepare, and negotiate to be taken seriously by my male colleagues. In all cases, it means total separation of personal life and career. This fact is becoming more and more clear to me, and the self-realization doesn’t come without pain.
What I find myself wondering is, did successful women who practiced this separation help or hurt all of our advancements? Could this be the reason that Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, irritates so many of us? On one hand, she’s right—we need to lean in harder, and I know she is coming from the right place. On the other hand, not all of us can be expected to want to follow that formula. Her way should be one of the many formulas women can choose from to reach success. But, without functioning role models to show us other ways, where do we get the information and the know-how?
As a professional business and career coach, my mission keeps becoming clearer. I realized this past weekend that my own call-to-action is now even stronger. My movement, The Women’s Code, is dedicated to giving women the confidence, the know-how, and the tools they need to become self-sufficient and self-supporting.
The Women’s Code defines leadership principles for women, it sets standards for a new code of conduct, and it asks for workplaces that allow women to be treated as women. The Women’s Code is our path to equality that fits our nature. Let’s start making these changes today.
My question to you is this: What can you do in your circles to contribute to this movement?