Eyes Opening - a New Look at Women's Advancement

As one of the "shrill, women's lib" generation I often bemoan the glacially slow progress that women are making. To explain it, I speak of the Missing 33%. This has two meanings. When it comes to leadership (as I write in my new book No Ceiling, No Walls) the Missing 33% is 1/3 of the leadership success equation that women don't often hear about and as a result too often max out below the glass ceiling.

But there's another Missing 33% when it comes to women's advancement. Advancement rests on a foundation of:
  1. Women having what it takes.
  2. Organizations removing institutional barriers - policies, practices, etc. (e.g. one oil company I know had to stop having meetings at country clubs that excluded women and minorities)
  3. Examination of stereotypes held by decision-makers
For the past 30 years, companies have done a pretty good job at the first two...and a dismally worsening job at the last.

During the 70s, men's stereotypes about women (and ours about ourselves) were openly examined, but in subsequent decades we've pretended that all the work was done. Meanwhile conservative talk radio (and others) grabbed the ears of our young men and women and filled them with the worst of mysoginistic stereotypes (I used to eavesdrop on my son's radio choices driving him to school). So no only has it been not okay to talk about stereotypes, they've been raising their ugly heads unchallenged.

Today, I read an op-ed piece from the New York Times. In it, Joanne Lipman owns up to her generation's contribution to this problem:

"And then it struck me: Part of the reason we’ve lost our way, part of the reason my generation became complacent, is that many of us have been defining progress for women too narrowly. We’ve focused primarily on numbers at the expense of attitudes.

I’ve spent my adult life in business journalism, where we calculate success using hard facts and figures. Researchers have evaluated women’s progress the same way. But in today’s noisy world, that approach isn’t enough. We’ve got to include popular perceptions in the equation as well. Progress in one area without the other is no progress at all."

As important as are the numbers, the attitudes need tending. Let's all open our eyes and confront the negative stereotypes we hold about ourselves and that men hold about us... and let's leverage the positive.

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls (Dec 2009). She blogs on networking for PINK Magazine. Follow her on Twitter.
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