Gender Balancing the Business World – Part 2

The other day I was talking about Avivah Wittenberg-Cox’s presentation at the Chautauqua Institute entitled Gender Balancing the Business World: What is Taking so Long?

Avivah, president of 20-first, has found three main reasons for the discrepancy and in Monday’s article we talked about the Career Cycle.

The second reason is about communication styles.

We’ll all heard and/or read John Gray’s Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus or Deborah Tannen’s work version Talking 9-5. Avivah talked about the fact that the more aggressive, loud, confident communication style adopted by men is widely expected and accepted, however, when women adopt the same posture, it can be negatively received. Most women are quiet, unassuming and their more “back seat” approach to communication can be seen as weak. Women who do succeed into leadership roles often end up conforming to the more masculine form of communication. Avivah said that when she looked at women in leadership roles she found most were unmarried, divorced and/or had no children.

“What kind of example is this setting for young women starting out in business today?”

Younger women are entering the corporate world, seeing that the women who’ve made it to the top work long hours, have opted not to have children and are more aggressive in nature. The younger women are staying a few years and deciding they don’t want to live like that and so they leave to either seek out employment with a more gender balanced company or they start their own.

Avivah sited the industry of lawyers as a perfect example of this challenge and one of the women in the audience was a lawyer who shared her story.

The audience member was in her early 50s and said that when she first started to practice law the norm was to work 100+ hours a week. Remember the movie/book The Firm? If a young lawyer had a goal of becoming partner, they were expected to take on the grunt work, work long hours, weekends, holidays and give up their personal life in order to be considered for advancement and eventually partner.

However, today, the woman said, the young women are coming into the firm, working two or three years and then leaving. If that is what they have to do to make partner, they don’t want it. They want more balance in their lives. They want more respect and recognition for the value they bring to the company.

However,  Avivah had a caution for the younger women in the audience.  “Don’t leave before you decide to leave.” By that she meant that often if someone is unhappy in their role, they mentally check out. They just “go through the motions.” Instead, Avivah says “become more vocal.”

And not in your company’s “women’s group.” You are just speaking to the choir. There isn’t anyone in the women’s group who can make a difference. You have to find a way to communicate and engage the decision-making men in the organization that there is an issue they need to address.  The best way is by helping them understand that women in positions of leadership help the company become more profitable.

Avivah told us that the most gender balanced companies in the world are in the Philipines.  Interestingly enough, it is also the country with the best healthcare programs for their workers.  Coincidence?

In the next article, I’ll wrap up this series with Avivah’s third reason that companies haven’t been succesful with gender balancing their positions of leadership.

In the meantime, Avivah suggested we check out the book How Can I Get Through to You? by Terrence Real.