Women living in the developed world today are better off than ever. We’re no longer in a world in which career choices are limited. Men and women can aim for the same top level positions in companies and parliaments. Why is it, though, that women take up only 15%-20% of the world’s senior positions?
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the book ‘Lean In’, believes that part of the problem is that women (who want to work) are either dropping out of employment at some point in their lives due to things like family, kids, or, are not taking promotions because of the prospect of having children. But what can we do as individuals to solve this problem?
Sit at the table
Facebook once hosted a senior government official, and he came in to meet with senior executives from around Silicon Valley. Everyone sat at the table except for four women who were traveling with him (two of whom were seniors in their department) – these women chose to sit at the side of the room, even after they were specifically invited to join.
Multiple studies over various industries show that women judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, whereas men judge their own performance as better than it is. Women are less likely to negotiate for themselves in the workforce. A study in the last two years of people entering the workforce out of college showed that 57% of men negotiate their first salary, and yet only 7% of women do the same. Not only that, men tend to attribute their success to themselves, and women attribute it to other external factors such as luck or help from others. It seems that women consistently underestimate their own abilities. Leaders and co-workers must take notice of the employees who are sitting on the side-lines, not approaching the discussion, and encourage them to speak up – to sit at the table.
Make your partner a real partner
Data shows that women have made more progress in the workforce than in the home. If a woman and a man work full-time and have a child, the woman does twice the amount of housework the man does, and the woman does three times the amount of childcare the man does. So, she’s got three jobs or two jobs, and he’s got one.
As a society, we put more pressure on our boys to succeed than we do on girls. Men who stay at home, support their wives and attend school events (dedicated mostly to mothers), often get strange looks. Even though it doesn’t pay too well, work inside the home is one of the hardest roles out there – for both genders. Until society accepts that role as being just as important, progress will be slow. Studies show that households with equal earning and equal responsibility also have half the divorce rate. And if that wasn’t good enough motivation for everyone, they also have more sex!
Don’t leave before you leave
We’re busy. Everyone’s busy! A woman’s busy. Then she starts thinking about having a child, and then making room for that child. It is at that point when she no longer raises her hand, asks for a promotion, or takes up new projects. Nine months of pregnancy, three months of maternity leave, six months to catch her breath – that’s a long time!
Regardless, once you start considering having a child, it seems close enough to start slowing down. But leaving a child at home is hard, so the job you’re doing has to be rewarding and challenging, (if you want to continue with your career). If two years ago you didn’t take a promotion and some guy next to you did, or if three years ago you stopped looking for new opportunities, you’re going to be bored, because you could have kept going forward! Keep progressing until the very day you need to leave to take a break for a child — and then make your decisions. Don’t make decisions too far in advance, particularly ones you’re not even certain of making.
It is important to reduce the gap and get the number of women in the top positions closer to 50%. A world with diversity in leadership, one in which both sexes are driving its progress, is bound to be better. A world where men are not frowned upon for taking on housework and women are not afraid to make a push for their careers… Sounds like a wonderful place!
If you enjoyed this Leadership Guidebook entry, check out the others!
Leadership Guidebook: How to Inspire Action
Leadership Guidebook: The Importance of Safety
Leadership Guidebook: Managing for Collective Innovation