"Leaning In" Isn't Enough

I've been delighted as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook has taken public stances on the issue of women's advancement. I look forward to the release of her book Lean In. Her advice to women to "lean in" is important - especially for women who aren't already acting on their ambitions. But research tells us that this isn't advice for all women! It's generally advice for women who are on their way to middle management positions or who are already in middle management, but timid about their ambitions.

What about women who are already in the middle, who aspire to senior positions and believe they are doing all it takes to get there? The advice to "lean in" has limited value to them, but these 4 interventions will enable them to create a career that soars
1. Ensure that Women Develop Business, Strategic and Financial Acumen: We call this set of competencies "The Missing 33%™" because they represent the most important third of leadership excellence. As a matter of fact, our research into what directors look for in C-suite candidates and executives look for in high potential candidates indicate that business, strategic and financial acumen account for 50% of the criteria! Women need these messages!
2. Eliminate Gender Bias in HR Systems: Most companies' talent development and performance management systems over-emphasize interpersonal skills or personal greatness and under-emphasize the importance of business, strategic and financial acumen. Absent formal messaging about these executive-critical competencies AND the lack of mentoring that women get about them, women are left scratching our heads about why our excellent interpersonal and team skills aren't enough to get us to the top.
3. Address Gender Dynamics: Managers who make talent decisions about succession and promotions into senior management hold assumptions about women and men, careers and leadership and many of these assumptions disadvantage women. As a matter of fact, research by McKinsey finds:
“Of all the forces that hold women back, none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs.

While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women still face the pernicious force of mindsets that limit opportunity…”
4. Focus on Competencies for Executives: In an earlier blog I wrote,
"Traditional advice lays a strong foundation for career success, but it will only take women so far. Take a look and you'll notice that most traditional advice is focused on helping women move from career-start to middle management.


Career-Start to Middle
Middle to Senior/Exec
Learn to self-promote

Learn to speak up, be more assertive

Become more confident

Set ambitious goals, don’t leave before you leave

Get a mentor

Learn to network

Enhance your personal brand

Develop executive presence

Ask!, and negotiate more effectively

Have an elevator pitch


You need a sponsor

Women who are already "leaning in" need more advice about how to move from the middle into senior positions and what they have received has been woefully inadequate. (For more on what this advice looks like, email us.)

So, Sheryl we wish you all the best with your "Lean-In Circles" - they will play an important role in keeping the pipeline of talent full of women. At the same time, we hope that organizations that truly care about women's advancement make them only one part of a more comprehensive strategy to ensure that top talent is developed! 

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono, CEO and Founder Leading Women
Author of No Ceiling, No Walls and Make the Most of Mentoring. Underway is her new book, Network! What corporate women need to know about strategic relationships and success
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An Abundance of News

Why is it that just ahead of Black History Month so much news comes out about women in general?

Gender Dynamics

At Davos, Sheryl Sandberg spoke out about the impact of gender dynamics on women's advancement.
"She blasted managers who unconsciously reflect stereotypes when they judge women's performance, saying: 'She's great at her job but she's just not as well liked by her peers,' or: 'She's a bit aggressive.'
"They say this with no understanding that this is the penalty women face because of gender stereotypes,' she said."
This is an issue we've been tracking for decades - and working with a few progressive organizations that are addressing it head on. You can view info about our related service line here:

On a side note, the language used to describe Sheryl is disturbing. She's said to have "launched a fierce attack" and, as you read, "blasted managers." I'd suggest there was a bit of stereotyping going on by the authors/editor!

2012 Gender Gap Report

Every year I wait for the WEF Gender Gap Report - especially since the research points out a strong correlation between gender equity and economic prosperity.  Take a look at the video and download the entire report.

More from Davos, this EXCELLENT article capitalizing on the correlation between gender equity and economic prosperity.
"The rewards are becoming demonstrable. Significant research from the World Bank to the public and private sectors has shown how investments in women yield a “double dividend”: women are more likely than men to invest their incomes in their families and communities, driving GDP up and illiteracy and mortality rates down. This double benefit, combined with pure market forces, now presents Wall Street and women with a unique and mutually beneficial opportunity."

33% Still Missing

Good news from an Apollo Group study that finds that women are well poised to lead into the 21st century. Why? Because...
  • "Women top the charts in key skills.
    • Women outperform men on key leadership competencies, such as communicating, coaching, organizing people, thinking creatively and solving problems.
    • Women also score higher than men on traits that are essential in today’s collaborative work environments, such as empathy, transparency and inclusiveness."
Undoubtedly, if you're a Leading Women follower, you'll notice that all the mentioned strengths have to do with personal greatness (problem solving, empathy, transparency) or engaging others (communicating, coaching, inclusiveness). And while they're important...yawn! Similar findings have been true for decades.

Referencing our definition of leadership (Leadership is using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others.), what's still missing is the 33% of leadership that has to do with "achieving and sustaining extraordinary outcomes." There's nary a finding that bosses think women outperform men in business, strategic or financial acumen.

A Bit of the 33%

It's not much, but it's a start (and it can be taken as meaning that women focus on the job, not the outcomes). Nevertheless, we celebrate these findings (emphasis added). Recent research reported by HBR found:
"...at all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree, were taking initiative and driving for results – two traits which have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.
When global management consulting firm McKinsey asked business executives around the world what they believe were the most important leadership attributes today, the top four results were intellectual stimulation, inspiration, participatory decision-making and setting expectations/rewards — all attributes more commonly found in women leaders."
Reported here.

A Dose of Irony

Why in the 21st century does an organization retain the name "manpower?" And isn't this the height of irony:
“The world simply cannot afford such a poor representation of half the talent pool when filling key leadership positions is posing such a global challenge. Growing the pipeline of women in management roles is critical to having the talent businesses need to win,” said Mara Swan, ManpowerGroup Executive Vice President, Global Strategy and Talent. “Companies should revisit old-fashioned work models and people practices so that high-performing women are not prevented from rising to leadership positions.”
Who's old fashioned? Reported here.

Black Women in History

And during this month we join in celebration of all the African American and black women who have moved America forward. Meet some here.

Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono, CEO and Founder Leading Women
Author of No Ceiling, No Walls and Make the Most of Mentoring. Underway is her new book, Network! What corporate women need to know about strategic relationships and success
Follow on Twitter | LittlePinkBook | Facebook | LinkedInGroup | LinkedIn