A recent magazine, exploring the subject of women and leadership, carried an article titled, ‘Women can beat men at their own game’.
My question is, “why would they want to do that?”
Trying to ‘beat men at their own game’ is not only a foolhardy tactic but one that will simply ensure that women leaders who succeed in this will merely join the majority their male counterparts on the ‘irrelevant leadership scrapheap’. Not a pretty place to be.
Why is it that so few women are to be found in the ‘corner office’. South African statistics in 2004 confirm this to be the case in that only 1.9% of CEOs and MDs in the Rainbow Nation are women. A far cry from the progress being made within Government circles! In fact the United States, Britain, Australia and Japan do not fare much better when it comes to the relevant statistics.
This question is all the more intriguing when considered against the backdrop of women participation in leadership Graduate programmes. Here the statistics are far higher which only serves to highlight the question as to what happens between these programmes and arrival at the corner office? Women, having got to (or at least got close enough to sniff) the corner office, have decided it is not for them. The demands placed on life at such altitude means that most women leaders are simply not prepared to pay the price. The cost to life away from work is considered too high and in fact that is the point, there apart from work. These are the positions that demand both heart and soul and whilst providing rich rewards, the irony is that there remains little time to enjoy the rewards! Women who see the demands associated with occupying the coveted corner office are simply not prepared to pay the price that is required. The power and prestige associated with such territory seemingly does not hold the same magnetism for women as it does for men. While the current business context sees that as a regrettable negative, I believe it to be a commendable attribute.
Whilst women remain every bit as capable as men in the competition for the corner office, Linda Tischler, the author of the article referenced above, asserts that they are also not willing to as hard as men for the right to occupy that space. This is partly due to society’s allowance to men to focus entirely on competing whilst being less forgiving on women who wish to do the same. Perhaps this can be illustrated in another way through a recent conversation I had: Chatting to a woman in a senior leadership position within a large retailer, she reflected on the contrasting responses from employees towards a male colleague and herself.
“When he does something that is not liked it is excused as ‘well that is just the way he is’ and people get on with it – but when it is me, I am referred to as ‘the bitch’ and the response is often less that cooperative. He can get away with things that I cannotâ€¦it is as though it is expected of him but not of me and this is very frustrating.”
So the natural response is for women to ‘toughen up’, get their guards up and when the bell sounds, come out swinging with a, “I’ll show them” kind of attitude cheered on of course by a vociferous ringside chorus of, ‘sisters are doing it for themselves.’ They are encouraged to, ‘beat the men at their own game’. Compete, hunt, kill… after all it is the survival of the fittest, a winner takes all scenario and so women are drawn into employing tactics that are, for the most part, doomed to fail. Men have made competition an art form over centuries of bloody practice during which their skills in applying such tactics, combined with what seems to be some natural genetic engineering at work, gives them (us) an unfair advantage. After all, if it is a boxing ring we are talking about, no authority would even consider allowing a lightweight in the ring with a heavyweight. It just wouldn’t be a contest.
But what if it wasn’t a boxing ring? What if the corporate environment was changing from a ‘boxing ring’ to something else, something where bulk, killer instinct and gloves where attributes about as helpful as a snorkel in the desert? And while some MacGyver out there might come up with an application for a snorkel in the desert the point is, it would indeed take a MacGyver to do so!
“Changing to what?” you ask. Well it could be anything actually but let’s go with a children’s . A ‘children’s playground?’ is your incredulous response to this seemingly ludicrous analogy which induces some involuntary winces from the men readers and I suspect, just the hint of a smile from the women readership. . A place normally more frequented by mothers than fathers and certainly the undisputed home of the ‘little people’. This is the place where ‘serious play’ occurs daily. A place of laughter, tears, painful lessons, chaotic activity, imagination, respect, variety and above all, fun. The little people want to be there, love being there and the hours melt away in the midst of the frantic activity and noise that attracts onlookers, inducing in them memories of a long forgotten playground attitudes and activities. So what if, instead of viewing the corporate environment as a boxing ring, we reframe it as a playground?
I believe that the corporate environments that will succeed in the emerging Connection Economy will resemble playgrounds more than they will boxing rings. Yes, they will still be competitive and naturally the odd scrap will occur, but the environment will resemble that of a playground. The February 2004 edition of magazine (10 Best European Companies to Work For) noted that each of the companies chosen were considered to work by their employees. In essence, people wanted to be there or as Jim Jannard of Oakley framed it, “I want our people when they walk in to be so stoked they can hardly stand it. I want them to be dying to come back tomorrow. I want them to be desperate to find a place where they can use their own particular talents to add to us and make us great.” Jannard could be describing a playground.
So, if this is where corporate environments need to be heading, why would women who get to occupy the corner office, want to keep things the way they are? Why would they be lulled into trying to ‘outbox’ their male predecessors and counterparts? Change is needed and who better than women leaders to introduce such changes. Now, I am not saying that men won’t or can’t lead such change but it is just that they will battle the prevailing winds of tradition as well as their own make-up (or even instincts) in doing so. Of course there are some notable exceptions with Richard Branson coming to mind almost immediately. However, the reality is that no longer can we maintain the current status quo in our office environments as we shift into a Connection Economy. This reality is compounded by the arrival of Generation X (the Bright Young Things – those between 20-35) and their move deeper into the corporate changing rooms. The challenge will be to make the necessary changes and my message to women leaders out there is simple: Don’t follow the way it has always been done – don’t box! The rules of the game are changing (just as they have done throughout previous changes from one economic context to the next) and savvy leadership will be required.
I remember chatting to a senior Vice-President of an international pharmaceutical company in Moscow about such matters. Her response was one of resignation that bordered on despair, “I know what you are saying about women in leadership is true” she commented, “but if I really wanted to introduce the changes I know are so needed in the corporate environment, I would have to leave and start my own company”. More and more women are doing precisely this and it will be worth watching the results of these companies as they grow and find their feet in the Connection economy.
Smart women don’t box and savvy leaders focus on building playgrounds. You might not be able to do anything about the former but certainly leaders everywhere can engage in the latter activity. My advice: Go on… be a Player!
I was reading a similar article in The Citizen, Sat 16 July by Monique Vanek entitled ’Where are all the women CEO’s?’. Gusti Coetzer (a senior partner at Leaders Unlimited) was quoted as saying ’There is no longer discrimmination against women on companies’ short lists. Women are their own worst enemies. I don’t believe in a glass ceiling. Those who do are just making excuses’. She is backed up by Bryan Hattingh, CEO of Cycan, who suggests that women have become their own worst enemies by wanting to be a Super CEO and a Super Housewife.Then Johan Redelinghuys, managing partner of Heidrick and Struggles, exacerbates the matter with his take that ’When Heidrick and Struggles is asked to look for women candidates to be CEO we have tended to find there are not enough women in the first line ranks with enough experience to choose from. This is probably because not enough women have enough drive and ambition to succeed, though they have the ability to do so. Women choose to have lives of a different kind, such as focussing on their family. They are not willing to make sacrifices’.As the owner of a successful business for 11 years, I have 2 children aged 7 and 10 and went on my own as I realised that working in my previous job was not conducive to raising a family. And for those who know me, I am probably Super CEO AND Super Housewife. The difference is I control the balance in my life, not a company. And I would like to add my 2 cents worth.Firstly the view that sacrifices need to be made to succeed in the corporate world is seriously outdated. More and more women who want to raise their families AND make a meaningful contribution to society realise that the only way to do it is on their own terms. And so they start their own business or they work for a company who has the same values. Work is not always done between 9 and 5 and not always at a desk in an office. The shape and nature of work is changing.Secondly I believe that the boxing ring was created by men for men, not women. We are expected to play the game, with the rules having been created by men who had wives at home who raised the children and cooked the meals while they created their empires.Women have the ability to resolve a work-related problem while shopping for groceries and are able to take a brief from a client while waiting at the doctor with her child. And when you are self-employed, you have the flexibility without the work guilt.And so I agree entirely with Keith. Women have started to find their own voices, their own feet and their own way of doing things. And there is already a large number of women-owned businesses who are quietly going about it without much fanfare. But slowly and surely they are helping to change the nature of the way we view work. And with technology as a partner, these businesses could soon become a force to be reckoned with.In the meantime what happens in these large companies where women are leaving to start their own ventures; where the baby boomer men are getting older; where generation X and millenials are not seduced by the corporate trappings; where the environment is constantly changing to adapt to this new way of working. What is their future?
There is no doubt that women are *slightly* more emotionally clever than men. Many wars in history have been started due to women – and I’m sure emotions and clever manipulation on the part of some of the women involved played a large part. I agree that women should not attempt to compete with men “in the ring”. In my humble neutral opinion they should concentrate on using what they are good at, as a tool (or weapon perhaps?) in order to compete. If women focus on those abilities that put them at a natural advantage over men, it can pave the way for a new kind of interaction in the business world, when it comes to competition. And men will have to learn to adapt! (although the “metro-male” movement are already a sign that men will have those adaptive abilities). As the previous comment writer says, women are excellent multi-taskers. They are malso uch better at reading subtle emotions (e.g. lies, insincerity, trust etc) than men and can probably use those feminine techniques to great advantage. As emphasize change more towards a Connection Economy, women will become (more important) key players: connecting with others using feelings will bring one much further than connecting with others using the impressive results-oriented profit chart you recently compiled at 1 o’clock in the morning.
With my observations amongst my peers, what i have seen is that the bright young things have all these role models who happens to be those few women who have the “corner office” and they want to do everything it takes to be those women, but what is heart breaking is that these women either have divorced or if they are still married and have children, their kids are vowing not be like mommy because mom is never home. Yeah we have the money, but we never had a mother.Now you have a generation Xer who is sitting at cross roads,beggining to climb the career ladder and all,this is one of the main questions they ask themselves: do I go full out on my career and pay the price (get the corner office and loose everything else) or do I play a different game?? All I am saying and am in so much agreement with Keith, is that it is not about beating the men at their own game, but its all about playing a different game and making new rules. Yes Keith I am such a subscriber to that school of thought. ‚Let the games begin‛
I’m not convinced that a playground is a softer or safer place than a boxing ring 🙂 Particularly since the language of the latter is being maintained in the playground! A google search for “Connection Economy” results in a link to this article together with the words….”to take advantage of the ’Bright Young Things’. Do you believe that those ’Bright Young Things’ are not smart enough to reject those words? A true woman business leader wouldn’t appreciate that language in the playground 🙂 She aims for gentle and respectful interaction – not the words of competition and power.I see the emergence of women leadership as being perfectly timed to co-incide with our need as a species to focus on nurturing our planet instead of competing for scarce resources. The focus on protecting our environment naturally needs to be supported in the business world. Its this quality, rather than the gender, that is going to be the way forward. Many men have nurturing qualities, just as many women are power-hungry and competitive! That’s what I think, as of today. It may change tomorrow with new knowledge 🙂
No sooner did I submit that comment that I had another thought! It goes beyond ’nurturing’ qualities that our world needs right now. Its the quality of humility that is going to be vital to our survival! And humility is something that women have been practising for a long time. In using the word ’humility’, I don’t mean subservient. I mean having the grace to acknowledge that we don’t know everything and have much yet to learn before we unleash further destruction on our planet. Having the humility to admit when we are wrong. Having the humility to learn from our children. Having the humility to acknowledge that we are perfect in our imperfection. And yes, all of this does related to business because there has never been a greater need for this quality than in a time when our younger generations are more savvy than the elders, in some respects. Hmmm – I wonder where this train of thought will take me next 🙂
Ok, last one. Just wanted to apologise for what appears to be bad grammer in the above comment, but is in actual fact typo’s due to the speed of my thoughts and eagerness to share them 🙂