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16th June 2012

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On Women and Leadership: High Heels Shouldn't Bring You Down →

As Sheryl Sandburg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, said in her 2011 commencement speechat Barnard

Above: Sheryl Sandburg has had to fight her way up the ladder in Silicon Valley

College in New York, perception of success differs by gender.  Women attribute their success to “working hard” or people helping them or “getting lucky”; men own their success and attribute it to being awesome.  On top of that, for men, success and likability have a positive correlation-~-for women, it becomes a negative correlation: both men and women dislike women more as they become increasingly successful.  This is a problem, because it serves as a deterrent for women pursuing leadership opportunities AND because it reinforces the idea that women aren’t meant to BE successful in careers, that their place is not at the top of companies or in office, etc.  Other studies, though I forget where exactly I found them, indicate that men find women less appealing as they become more successful in their careers as well, creating another disincentive.  Who wants to end up alone with nothing but an ever-increasing workload to keep her company?

That’s not to say it has to be that way.  During a roundtable at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Gretchen McClain, the CEO and President of Xylum, Inc., discussed the need for women pursuing careers and pursuing leadership positions to find a way to balance their lives.  Part of the problem is that women do more work in the home and are expected to devote more time to things like parenting than men are, which can put a strain on career ambitions because there appear to be diverging obligations.  When men’s rights activists (my favorite…) point out that men “work more” because they take more overtime, they fail to acknowledge the fact that women are under pressure to take care of household duties that perhaps prevent them from taking on these additional work opportunities.

Unfortunately, as Sandburg points out, many women anticipate these future obligations and make choices early in their career because they anticipate leaving and having children.  This is particularly problematic because employers already anticipate this-~-it’s why companies invest less in women and are less likely to hire women.  As Sanburg states, women “lean out” of their careers when they SHOULD lean in: they choose easier specialties, they don’t fight for promotions, they anticipate the choices they will have to make to balance their personal lives before they have to make them.  As a result, when the time comes, the choice isn’t really there: they have already let the opportunities they might have taken pass them by.

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Tagged: graduationleadershipwomen leadersfemale leaderssheryl sandburgglass ceilingfeminism

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