Women and leadership

Last week, my dead tree copy of McKinsey Quarterly arrived bearing the above title. This section caught my eye (p.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Last week, my dead tree copy of McKinsey Quarterly arrived bearing the above title. This section caught my eye (p.45 and written by Joanne Barsch, Susie Cranston and Rebecca A. Craske):

One surprising thing we learned as a result of talking with female leaders was that they often fail to reciprocate and find expectations that they should do so distasteful. A senior partner at McKinsey noted that men naturally understand that you must "give before you get", but women don't.

Wow! That made me think. As someone whose partner has made a life long study of inequalities, I am regularly corrected on my own incorrectedness. But does McKinsey resonate with others? I asked some of the women I know what they think. I sent them the link from a Forbes extract and a link to the PDF of the full report. What follows are their responses, lightly edited and in no particular order.

Some may be known to readers, others less so. They're all women whose thinking , judgment and values I admire, respect and enjoy. In their own way, they're all 'irregular.' I thank them all for taking time to contribute.

Suw Charman-Anderson: independent social media consultant and author of Chocolate and Vodka:

Recession is hard for everyone, but it's particularly worrying for freelancers who rely on businesses both valuing and being willing to pay for our expertise. In conversations I've had recently with other women in the tech arena, one common feeling is that our profiles aren't as high as we would like and that we're losing work as a result.

Women are often less confident in their own abilities and thus less likely to promote themselves as much as their male counterparts. Now more than ever, it is essential for us to nurture our public profile. Whether via LinkedIn or Facebook or a blog, we need to not just display our skill and expertise but also talk publicly about our aims and ambitions - you never know who is looking for someone just like you.

The only way I've been able to build my confidence is to go right to the edge of my comfort zone and take some risks. One of the best things I have ever done is stand up on a box at Speakers Corner and orate about issues such as DRM and copyright. No conference, no meeting, no pitch can ever be as terrifying as confronting a huge, perplexed and occasionally drunk crowd over the issue of copyright term extension.

It may feel icky to us, but we do need to get better at marketing and promoting ourselves. And although it may make us feel vulnerable, standing up in front of our peers and sharing our expertise is a great way to build our reputation and, therefore, our careers. Our future is in our hands - we just need to grasp the nettle.

Rachel Happe -->

Rachel Happe: Senior Director, Social Media Products, Mzinga:

OK - this is a big topic to tackle...but here is a top 10 list of recommendations...

10. You don't have to excel at everything

9. You can be friends with your competitors

8. Yes, working, keeping up with friends, and taking care of your family is hard.

7. Solve complex problems by taking one small step at a time

6. Be social with your colleagues

5. Do less deliverable work and have more interesting conversations

4. Don't compromise - you can find a job that is fun, fulfilling, and flexible (corollary: know your worth)

3. Give up trying to do everything - valuable people will always have demand that exceeds your supply of time

2. Don't spend too much time apologizing/agonizing - move on

1. Don't take yourself too seriously

I find that in comparison to my male colleagues I seem to always doubt myself more than they do, agonize more, and feel overly apologetic more often. I'm also a people pleaser and that means I need more confirmation to feel good about something. On the plus side, I've also found that my self worth is actually less wrapped up in my work than some of my male colleagues and I don't get as bent out of shape when things don't happen the way I think they should...and that is a real asset when negotiating and afterward because it allows me to more quickly move on to the next issue at hand.

Three things have helped me immensely in my career - one, I am generally not afraid to speak up or sound stupid in front of other people. Two, I played a lot of team sports as a kid and it tought me to be competitive without taking things personally, to recognize that teams are made up of strengths and weaknesses, to take coaching, and to move on after defeat. I am a huge proponent of team sports for girls because of this. Three, I try to get along with everyone and be friendly.

Anne Kathrine Petteroe -->

Anne Petteroe
Anne Kathrine Petteroe: Consultant with Pearl Consulting Norway and SAP Mentor

In my experience we are moving away from the traditional leader roles. A good leader/manger is not someone who just tells you to do something, but also explains why. Good leaders need to inspire, engage and not only issue orders.

There is a new generation of employees emerging, who are not satisfied with just taking orders. They need challenges, and if presented with a choice, work for companies with a social responsibility.

Personal development is, to many, more important than the salary. In my opinion, this is where female leaders, especially in the tech industry, have an advantage over their male counterparts. Female leaders can talk tech and talk human. At a time of recession, this is in my opinion, womens' greatest asset.

The employees feel seen at a personal level and know that what they do make a difference. Women tend to think less analytical and more emotional and react to situations with spontaniety rather than with plans. This allows us to make the necessary changes when called for and to communicate this in a positive manner to those afflicted.

Furthermore, important for women and also their biggest challenge today, is to stop being good girls only and start promoting their own interests. Women need to dare taking the steering wheel and show what they can, instead of focusing on what they cannot do and being good at silence. We need to ask more questions and engage in the discussion.

In times like these, I pull the following quote out of the hat as a reminder:

“I have never tried that before, so I think I should be able to do that.” - Pippi Longstocking

Having said that, two things has been important for me:

1. to have female mentors and

2. my passion for everything tech

My female mentors are not only women at manager/leader level in the tech industry, but what they all have in common is that they have been guides and a source of inspiration to me.

Secondly, I have always seen it as a fun adventure to be a woman in a male dominated tech industry.

By now I think I have seen it all, everything from sex offers in return for jobs to managers not greeting me, but all the guys around me assuming I am just the secretary anyway. But this has never stopped me from having fun and it has never killed my passion. Passion is a word which is never used much in combination with leaders and tech industry, but it has been crucial for me. My passion has enabled me to go that extra mile and a half.

Maggie Fox -->

Maggie Fox
Maggie Fox: CEO SocialMediaGroup

Perhaps I'm incredibly naiive, but I don't think about how I am different from my male colleagues or staff, nor how I make decisions work or find reward differently. I think about how I am different from other people (because being a CEO and entrepreneur is definitely not for everyone) but not about how I am different from men specifically. Reading over the McKinsey report, frankly, I think most of the things that give meaning to the lives of women leaders also apply to men - it's not like that list is just for us.

Day to day? I just do my thing, trying to take into account the different personalities on our team - some have egos that need massaging, some need guidance that's delivered carefully, some I can say whatever the hell I want to in whatever way works for me and they take it in stride. I'm not saying I'm always good at delivering these things in the most effective way possible, but I think about it and try to do my best.

I was travelling recently and was eavesdropping on a couple of men at a nearby table, discussing the difficulties in managing women. Unfortunately, their spidey-senses clearly were tingling, because the conversation quickly dropped below audible levels. It would have been fascinating to hear their insights, which would have told me as much about them as it would about their experiences in managing female staff.

I think I blame my mother for my perspective, she always taught me that I could do whatever I wanted, and consequently the whole "you're a girl and you can't do that" thing was a total shock in both the playground and the boardroom. I also have to say that it's not something I encounter a whole lot of these days, and when I do, it's more amusing than anything; how retro, really!

When it comes to today and what's happening in the market now, while our business has not yet felt the effect of the looming recession, we're clamping down on expenditures, freezing hiring and focusing on strengthening existing client relationships. In other words, we're shoring things up. Interestingly, we are also not, at this time, going to throw a ton of time and money at prospecting in a cold market. We're going to retrench and work with what we've got, knowing that if there is a need, we will be there to meet it. This means saying yes to activities like speaking engagements in front of qualified audiences and continuing to pursue press coverage, but no to "cold calling". We're growing existing client accounts rather than aggressively pursuing new ones that may no longer exist.

In addition, it's very important for us to maintain our bandwidth and ability to scale and be able to meet client needs, so we're not going to pull a Jason Calcanis and cut before we need to. But, if we need to - we will. We'll do whatever we have to in order to weather the storm intact.

How will we thrive? By continuing to focus on good work and by keeping busy. Good work speaks for itself, and morale remains high when hands are busy.

Jennifer Leggio -->

Jennifer Leggio
Jennifer Leggio: Director of Strategic Communications for Fortinet and ZDNet blogger

A down economy can represent opportunity even if it produces fear. Economists will advise that a downturn is a time in which companies can gain market share as weaker companies are weeded out. The opportunity for women is similar. Women could be better primed than men to benefit, as this might be one of the cases where a general tendency to be driven out of emotion -- again fear -- could produce the tenacity needed to succeed.

Companies are going to become leaner in an attempt to stay agile. Women are said to be better multitaskers than men, so ladies should leverage this to take on more. Going outside of one’s immediate area of responsibility may create more work, but it provides additional skills and might make you slightly more valuable to your company.

On the flipside, women need to be wary of too much emotional attachment. Remember the band on the Titanic? It’s only remembered for going down with a sinking ship. If your company is faltering, do not turn your nose up at other opportunities due to attachment. But if you have the safety net to stick with it, it’s a good idea to still look elsewhere for additional opportunities for networking and education.

I feel fortunate that I work for a strong company that is growing and hiring, even now, but I am heeding my own advice. I will continue to work to make myself more valuable at the office and continue to get involved in external projects that will improve my expertise and broaden my professional network.

Francine McKenna -->

Francine McKenna
Francine McKenna:: President McKenna Partners LLC and author of re: The Auditors

Sometimes a woman’s worst enemies are other women. The last thing I ever looked for or needed in my career was women to guide me on how to work with and compete with men. More self-confident? Please guide those of us who are too self-confident, so confident that others stare in disbelief. For that guidance, I have mostly looked to men.

The McKinsey authors state, “A number of studies have shown that women who promote their own interests vigorously are seen as aggressive, uncooperative, and selfish. An equal number of studies show that the failure of women to promote their own interests results in a lack of female leaders.” This is the classic double standard that stymies many women aspiring to leadership in their companies and firms. How can you be aggressive enough to succeed without seeming too bitchy and threatening to the men, who for the most part, are your bosses, peers, and subordinates. My question is: Why don’t men have to worry being a bitch? There are plenty of men who are considered top leaders, Jack Welch considered “America’s CEO" comes to mind, who kick ass but are still respected. The answer is, of course, that men are still primarily responsible for judging aspiring women leaders. Either men, or on occasion other women who have made the compromises to get ahead in the particular culture they choose to work in, are deciding how much “bitchiness” is too much.

I also take exception to the constant focus on women who “have it all” – they’re married and want or have children and are also top executives and business leaders. I’ve found that it’s not often the ideal world the media portrays. Men who are at the top of their professions have made difficult sacrifices. They may have children but they don’t see them grow up. They may have wives, but like Jack Welch, they’re no poster boys for happy marriages. There are exceptions, but I doubt even those, since we don’t see the day-to-day choices the media darling working mothers make. Many of the women I have met or read about who are managing partners of their firms, CEOs, and top leaders in media and politics are single/divorced or married with no children. Of those with children, their children are grown or their husbands are stay at home dads, a reversal of roles made necessary since someone has to manage their life.

Even some of the women cited in the article as examples of those who have navigated the rough waters of “having it all”, women like Kay Graham, are not really typical. Kay Graham assumed the responsibilities of Chairman of the Washington Post, her family’s business, only after her husband committed suicide. She never remarried.

“Katharine Graham was the accidental publisher, the unintentional feminist, the unexpected journalist, “ said Harry Jaffe in Salon shortly after her death. Given her money and privilege, I hardly think she had to worry about how to care for her children while she met her professional and personal obligations.

And then there’s Shana Brown of Google, a former McKinsey partner. There’s lots of gossip alluding to the fact that Sheryl Sandberg, who left Google to become COO of Facebook, left because she couldn’t stand Shona. So, so much for being the ideal female boss.

Shelly Lazarus, also featured in the McKinsey article and Ogilvy’s retiring CEO said it best: "In advertising, success is measured by ideas, creativity is rewarded," she says, noting that 40 percent of Ogilvy's senior partners are women. "Those who perform well are rewarded with more responsibility—it is a meritocracy." Lazarus is a wife and mother, whose husband is a pediatrician. Plenty of financial and emotional support with child rearing there, I expect. Ms. Lazurus emphasizes something I agree with wholeheartedly: The most likely place for women or anyone in the minority to succeed is a meritocracy.

Throughout my career, I have never wanted to be seen as a woman or anyone who needed to be groomed differently, or mentored extra, or somehow treated with kid gloves. I only wanted to be given the same opportunities as anyone else with the same intelligence, experience, desire, and ambition at any point in time. It’s why I gravitated to the professional services firms - KPMG Consulting, later BearingPoint, were meritocracies. I was willing to do what many men weren’t willing to do – go to Latin America, travel 100% of the time, take on the most difficult and challenging situations. And I was rewarded with early success as a result. But when that paradigm shifted, I found that the best boss for me was me.

Cathy Brooks -->

Cathy Brooks
Cathy Brooks: Director Business Development, Seesmic

To be honest the whole gender thing in business has always been a bit off putting to me. While I cannot discount the fact that the glass ceiling – while deeply cracked – is still far from shattered, at the same time, I’ve always held that the most critical part of being a strong woman in business is just to be strong in business. Be aware of the issues, but keep your eye on the ball and kick ass.

Granted I speak from the perspective of a woman who has benefited from a cavalcade of strong females who marched ahead of me. These women, starting with the suffragettes and continuing through the ensuing ripples of the feminist movement, are the reason women like me have a relatively easy time of it these days.

But this isn’t about feminism nor is it about gender equality. This is about how, in today’s changing business landscape, perhaps it’s time to look more closely at where the genders shouldn’t be looking at their differences but instead start looking at how to emulate the best of both worlds. And considering where old practices have gotten us, perhaps it’s time when being a woman – or at least acting like one – could be the most powerful asset you have for success.

The parts of the equation detailed in the McKinsey survey – feelings and such – are traditionally the purview of women. In today’s world, however, compassion, heart and having some sort of emotional connection are of paramount importance … regardless of gender.

The part I find amusing, actually, is the title of the survey. They call it “centered” management perhaps because the moniker “self” centered connotes the traditionally megalomaniacal, self-absorbed tendencies of the ruthless CEO – Larry Ellison comes to mind as one example. And it is true that if you look across the large number of successful business leaders, it is probably pretty likely that you’d be hard pressed to call any of them “nice”, “kind”, or “compassionate” individuals. Oftentimes it’s their utterly self-absorbed, don’t-give-a-shit about anyone perspective that has likely been central to their success.

But I would argue that the times allowing this sort of behavior are drawing to a close and that today’s world demands different behavior. It’s time to turn egotistical preoccupation into awareness and action.

To me the McKinsey survey results aren’t a surprise, except maybe insofar as no one had said it already.

It has perhaps never been more critical in business – or in politics or anything else for that matter – that leadership exhibit a sense of compassion, understanding and self-awareness. Perhaps it’s simplistic to put in these terms but it takes me back to childhood and the lessons taught by my parents. Specifically that the first step in being a strong leader is to first be strong within yourself.

Following the five points outlined in the McKinsey survey, it seems to me that the best leaders are ones who are most in tune with themselves and who can then take their awareness and put it into practice.

I would posit that while women do not have the corner on the market for this sort of behavior (I have worked with many a male CEO whose compassion was one of the core parts of their super leadership, in fact I’m working with one now) we do, perhaps, have a home court advantage.

(Bonus points - Cathy uploaded a video to help take this conversation further.)

Marilyn Pratt -->

Marilyn Pratt
Marilyn Pratt: Community Evangelist, SDN

My “womanliness” in my personal and work context means listening to silence and understanding what silence can articulate. That translates into being in an almost perpetual state of motion. A story illustrates. Once, when pushing a stroller with my infant child on my communal kibbutz, I heard groans of a neighboring Tamarisk tree dry and brittle in a drought. Suddenly twittering birds ceased their chatter. My instincts had me run up the path with the stroller moments before the tree thudded down behind us. Standing still would have killed us.

I’ve often taken a path of motion based on listening to silences. When others stand idle I feel moved to action. I woke up one morning into this first decade of my corporate existence realizing that I needed to blend my personal beliefs and ethics with my work life. Being an Online Community Evangelist meant not only giving a platform and voice to the thousands of technical and business participants of our community website in a corporate environment, but also voicing opinions concerning social justice, corporate responsibility and the wider world environment.

What I discovered was that there were many for whom those opinions resonated. Being a catalyst for others’ actions and voices has been one of my greatest joys and proudest achievements: be it those of my family, my community or my business associates. Listening to silence, taking action, moving others.

Laura Fitton -->

Laura Fitton
Laura Fitton micro-sharing consultant

I love the 5-part model they've put forward. I can see really clear examples of my own success increasing during times when I was making strides in one of those domains.

Living parts of my life in out in public on Twitter has taught me loads about Positive Framing, and success at framing things more positively has brought me through hurdles I would previously have feared. I've seen and done plenty in Engaging and Connecting there too, with surreal results.

One thing that troubled me a little about the report are all the references to women's special cases as mothers, as bearing a double burden, as being able to "opt-out" of the workforce. While these are realities for many women, I don't think they are  useful perceptions of women to emphasize. These perceptions frequently underly decisions, unequal treatment and other factors that do hold women back in the workforce.

I was also kind of shocked by the statement that women don't naturally understand that you must give before you get. What? I've seen over and over and over, cases where women simply give and give and give too much without circling back to then exact commensurate increased recognition and opportunity for their contributions. This happens to men, too, of course, but that statement struck me out of left field.

While I totally celebrate - and live - a reliance on internal factors to thrive, if the point of this research is to understand how to get more women to succeed in the workplace, we should not rely too much on methods used by the few who have managed to. Pointing to exceptions and then telling everyone else "be exceptional," I'm not sure how productive that is in the long run.

Yes, any person of any gender should learn to look within themselves for development and success, but companies can't fall back on that for an excuse if certain groups are not rising. Sometimes it takes something external to get the ball rolling and tap into talents the leader always had. Companies and industries still have a part to play if we're all going to learn to cultivate all our available talent.

My best advice for individuals is what has worked for me relentlessly focus on what you bring that is useful and valuable to others, and tap into your passions so that you're doing work that sustains itself. Their research on energy cycles is great.

The more realistic I get about the highest and best use of my time versus what I should align external support and resources to achieve, the more my team is capable of, and the more we all enjoy the work. Find the things you're best at, improve your skills in important areas of weakness, and rigorously get out of your own way at the things that hold you back.

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