Gender Tightrope 2015

Written by Julie Kampf on . Posted in Blog

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A recent Pew Reserach survey finds that about four in 10 Americans believe there's a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves. These findings come on the heels of a New York Times column by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on the career perils of "speaking while female."

Ambitious executive women walk a gender tightrope, knowing that they face consequences in the workplace if they speak either too much or not enough. It's time to stop blaming motherhood for women's lack of advancement. In the new Pew research, only about one-in-five adults say women's family responsibilities are a major reason there aren't more females in top leadership positions in business and politics. This aligns with aHarvard Business School study that shows that high-achieving, highly educated women who leave their jobs tend to do so not because they have chosen to focus on family but as a last resort when they find themselves in unfulfilling roles with dim prospects for advancement. The idea that childcare stops women from reaching top management positions is basically just another gender myth, according to Lynn Roseberry and Johan Roos, authors of the bookBridging the Gender Gap.

Fortunately, some companies have added curriculum on cultural issues behind double standards. For example, Novartishas targeted invisible as well as visible barriers through its Executive Female Leadership Program, or EFLP, launched in 2010. And Fourtune reports that some companies are stripping resumes of names and other identifying information and assigning numbers as a way to combat unconscious bias when hiring.

Consider Nontraditional Candidates. In the old days, companies hired only "up-and-comers" and could always count on a pool of readily available experienced new talent. Today, the strongest employers hire more for potential than for experience and give serious consideration to candidates from different industries, candidates who may have a break in their work history, or candidates who may need significant training or flexible work arrangements. As Time magazine reports, some far-sighted companies also now manage their aging workforces by giving boomer employees the flexibility of phasing into retirement.

The changing workforce will intensify competition for talent and increase the need for businesses across sectors to develop leaders from demographic groups currently underrepresented at the highest levels. By their sheer numbers in the workforce, women can provide a rich addition to the leadership pipeline for organizations willing to win the next talent wars by making diversity the norm.


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