Nation of Women - Source of Innovation

Summary by Jennifer Gilhool, a catalyzing panelist in the Women in Innovation Session 2014:

It wasn’t a surprise that our multi-generational panel expressed similar experiences in school, work and even the public sector.  I guess it is true that women consider the next seven generations when assessing leaders, making decisions and planning for the future.  Even Hannah, Hailey and Annika expressed a concern about their “future daughters” and the world in which they will live.  Will it continue to view women as secondary?  And, what precisely can they do to impact the world in a positive way?

Women are not an issue or a problem.  Women are a solution in and of themselves.  We don’t need the data to tell us this but, still, the data is clear on this point.  Women are not better than men; women are different from men.  And, it is this difference that brings the opportunity for new solutions to old problems as well as problems yet to come.  Each of us – male and female – approaches the challenges of life with a unique perspective.  As a gender, men have a shared life experience that is different from women.

Perhaps our greatest innovation will be the innovation to realize the power of and – women and men.

Read Jennifer's complete blog post here:

My final comments at Converge@Seattle called attention to the Nation of Women, of which I am a proud member.  Women are a more powerful force than Brazil, Russia, India and China – the so-called BRIC countries that many experts expect to drive the 21st century agenda.  The so-called experts are wrong.  You simply can’t ignore a $21 trillion economy.  Women are and will continue to set the 21st century agenda. 

Why am I so certain of this?  The internet. 

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google News, Yahoo News, Bing, Time, Forbes, Huffington Post, and even the BBC are rampant with tweets, posts, blogs, articles and commentaries on the status of women in the world.  Whether we are talking about the UN finally taking the step of decrying violence against women, including rape, in war zones as a war crime or the dwindling numbers of women in the technology industry, women are all over the internet all the time.  And, let’s face it some of that exposure overtly objectifies women, which ignites a new cycle of tweets, posts, blogs, articles and commentaries.

Not long before the conference, Facebook (followed by others) announced the latest attempt - in the long line of misguided attempts – to mollify women in the workplace.  Egg-freezing, in my opinion, is not a benefit but a curse for women. It is also an ingenious work avoidance tactic.  Facebook, like its peers in the technology industry, has no idea what to do to attract, retain and develop women.  Rather, than admit this fact and seek a meaningful way forward, Facebook and its brethren have foisted the job of solving the gender gap problem on women.

As though the pressure on women wasn’t already significant, now women in technology are forced to consider the question of delaying child birth and motherhood – indeed, delaying their lives – until it is more convenient.  More convenient for whom is an unanswered question.   As a woman who endured a decade of fertility treatment, including egg harvesting, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing, easy, painless or sure about harvesting and fertilizing one’s eggs to produce a bouncing baby.  Quite the opposite.  Moreover, the assumption implicit in this “benefit” is that a woman’s career will plateau enabling her to take a “time-out” to populate the earth with beings capable of one day consuming the very products and services Facebook (and others) produce.

No such soul-searching or heart-wrenching decision making is required of men. 

Women in science, engineering, technology and math fields are not alone in their daily battle with sexism – overt and subtle.  In May, The Drum released the results of its inaugural Women in Marketing study in which forty-nine percent of over five-hundred respondents said they have experienced sexism at some point in their careers.  Many respondents states that “casual sexism is still implicitly accepted.”

Before even taking on the issue of institutional obstacles, respondents pointed to “social exclusion, overt discrimination and a ‘boys club’ mentality” as consistent and pervasive problems in marketing.  The same can be said for law, business, technology, government, academia and the media.  Compare the coverage of female and male politicians exhibiting the same behaviors and you will be astounded by the difference in media coverage.  (See, e.g., Stewart, Jon, “The Broads Must Be Crazy” (Part 1 and Part 2), The Daily Show, April 22, 2014)

So, it should not have come as a surprise to read – just two days after the conference – that women in positions of power show more signs of depression than do their male counterparts.  Time reported the results of a study involving 1,300 middle-aged men and 1,500 middle-aged women:

“What’s striking is that women with job authority in our study are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health,” said sociologist Tetyana Pudrovska. “These women have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job authority. Yet, they have worse mental health than lower-status women.”

One explanation is that women face more stressors at work when in positions of power because they are faced with overcoming more stereotypes and resistance to their leadership. Men, on the other hand, don’t appear to face such obstacles.

“Men in positions of authority are consistent with the expected status beliefs, and male leadership is accepted as normative and legitimate,” Pudrovska said. “This increases men’s power and effectiveness as leaders and diminishes interpersonal conflict.”

Source:  Feeney, Nolan, “Women in Positions of Power Show More Signs of Depression than Men”, Time, November 23, 2014 citing “Gender, Job Authority and Depression,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior (December 2014) (Researchers studied 1,300 middle-aged men and 1,500 middle-aged women.)

Any woman reading the above excerpt is likely shaking her head and saying out loud to no one in particular “Duh!”

The leadership conundrum for women is finding a way to be true to herself as a woman and as a leader simultaneously.  If a woman exhibits the female traits of leadership that are so often talked about in popular media today, she fails to reap the benefits of those traits.  She is seen as “soft”, “indecisive”, and “weak”.  Whereas a man exhibiting female leadership traits is seen as “compassionate”, “collaborative” and “confident”.  If, however, a woman exhibits male leadership traits (the conventional definitions of leadership use male terminology and behaviors), she is a bitch and “too” as in too aggressive.

How, then, do women navigate this precarious channel between expected leadership behaviors and expected gender behaviors?  For a long time, I struggled to understand the channel itself.  Later, I struggled to find an answer to the riddle.  I chronicled this journey of discovery in my book, Sheryl Sandberg, China & Me.  Ultimately, I left my Fortune 10 position as a global business leader because I knew my company lacked the ability to recognize let alone harness my leadership capabilities.

Unfortunately, I waited too long to leave.  Like the women in the “Gender, Job Authority and Depression” study, my increasing levels of responsibility, which eventually included leading an entire function across Asia Pacific & Africa, were accompanied my increasing levels of anxiety due directly to the tightrope I was forced to walk between being a woman and being a leader.  Even in the free-wheeling world of marketing, women find themselves choosing between their sanity and their career:

“In the free-thinking, supposedly inclusive creative industries, this “low-level casual sexism”, as one respondent put it, can and does have a truly damaging effect on women’s self-esteem, progression and development.”

Source:  McQuater, Katie, “Confronting Sexism in the Marketing Industries – Women React to The Drum's Women in Marketing Study”, The Drum, May 28, 2014

Because I know at least one person will ask “so, what do we do other than talk,” let me posit some potential solutions”

·       Government subsidized female campaigns to increase the percentage of women participating in elections and, in time, government

·       Government regulations mandating publicly traded companies increase female board of director participation to forty-percent by 2020

·       Government regulations mandating publicly traded companies track and report metrics on the average pay of men and women by job classification, use of company flexible work, parental and maternity leave policies and programs and the impact of use on career advancement

·       Government regulations mandating board of director term limits for publicly traded companies

·       Target setting and reporting by publicly traded companies to increase female participation at all levels of leadership (e.g., director-level, vice president-level, company officer, and board participation)

·       Invest in women, in women-own businesses

·       Support women in your workplace and network by opening your network to them, sharing your experience and story and avoiding the urge to suppress other women’s advancement out of fear that there isn’t room for more of us

·       Spend your money with companies with a proven gender-equity track record, e.g. critical mass of women – thirty-three percent – on the board of directors and as corporate officers  

Some of these ideas are controversial, particularly quotas.  Norway set quotas for publicly traded companies in 2005.  To avoid compliance, three hundred eighty-four companies out of five hundred sixty-three went private.  Surprised?  Don’t be.  In 2008, when virtually every government on the planet took up the issue of women on boards (a result, perhaps, of the global economic crisis), three countries stood on the sidelines:  the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America.  Today, the USA stands on the sidelines alone, unwilling to take on the challenge of gender equity and; therefore, unable to reap the rewards of gender-diversity.   

Unwilling to believe that there isn’t a way to bridge the chasm between the way men and women experience the work place, school, and even public life, I embarked on a new journey upon leaving my Fortune 10 existence.  Today, the Gender Economics Lab is preparing to field test our approach to the challenge and opportunity of gender-diversity.  You don’t have to start a company, find experts to collaborate with or write a book to make a difference.  You do have to be alert, vocal and supportive. 

There is no problem a woman can’t [help] solve.  I’m proof and so are you.

- Jennifer Gilhool, (c) 2014