Some athletes are simply not destined to get the gold. Women have a record-breaking presence in the Olympics this year – every nation sporting women on their teams for the first time in history and more women than men on the U.S. team. But when I look at the participation stats across the other sectors of society, I’m tempted to wonder what it will take for us to represent our population accurately – as something other than 15% or lower (Fortune 500 CEOs include about 3% women). We have been stuck at about 15% (+/- a few percentage points) everywhere – on boards, in Congress, on TV talk shows, contributing to Wikipedia, running Hollywood, even voices in the op-ed pages (source: The OpEd Project). We are closer to our representative percentage than blacks, hispanics and other minority populations (though not-for-long), but this fact is not good news.
However, hiding in statistics like these are true rays of hope. InPower Women is committed to finding those rays and shining them brightly, intentionally surfacing strategies individual women can use to advance their careers and grow the 15% to 50% and rise as high as they wish to go.
A (Too) Brief Survey Of The Data
Women’s underrepresentation is not simply a matter of fairness or even merit, it’s a matter of performance.
Across many metrics of organizational health – profitability, motivation, turnover and more – the presence of women and minorities at senior levels spells greater probability of success. So the fact that we’re stuck at 15% or lower means that we are not self-actualizing through leadership at the same rate as white males, and it means that society is losing out on the increased performance the data says correlates with our presence in leadership. This argument is not one against white males, it’s an argument for looking more deeply at the success of the 15% in order to expand it.
There have been a large number of studies published in the last several years that examine women in leadership. Some of it is downright depressing. Northwestern reports that the dominant cultural stereotype of a “leader” (as perceived by both females and males) is still solidly masculine. What’s worse is that women who take on these masculine characteristics are viewed unfavorably. Catalyst reports that all the advice women and men get about how to get ahead in their careers helps men, but does little to help women advance. All this data can leave many women feeling stuck in a no-win situation.
FREE WEBINAR: Learn what the research really says, and what you can do about it. Learn more.
Facts Are Facts – How We Talk About Them Matters
We here at InPower Women have been working very hard to index as much of this research as we can. We have over 70 studies in our Research Index on the site and another 90 ready to be added over the coming months. We’re collecting these studies to try to piece together what the data really says about women, power and success as it’s traditionally defined, i.e., the ability to manipulate money and authority. We’re also discovering that the data tells a myriad of different stories, and how we talk about the data matters a whole lot more than the facts themselves.
For example, the Northwestern study above is only about half the puzzle. It turns out that another study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business (link to overcoming the backlash effect) identifies variations in management and communications styles that lead individuals (as opposed to stereotypes) to succeed more often, and women have a greater opportunity to succeed than men when they apply this knowledge appropriately. The same Catalyst study also identifies a strategy that does work for women, more than men, when it comes to advancing their careers. The point is that if we stop at the negative headlines (which definitely draw the eyeballs), we miss out on the really powerful information that can help us manage our careers to success.
InPower Women already publishes a new study on our blog each Friday and this week we are beginning a series of free webinars to look at exactly these kinds of statistics, ferret out the most inpowering insights from them and make them available to women in ways they can use immediately to manage their careers.
We hope you’ll join us on our first webinar, When Women Speak Up, We Move Up! and/or register to receive announcements of upcoming events and professional development opportunities based on these efforts to understand the research in ways that that are inpowering.
Please share this information with all the women in your life who are working to be recognized for their contributions. I believe that the culture can change only so much, without us, but as we begin to understand our own power more clearly, it will have no choice.
Note: I want to give my deepest thanks to April Sweazy and Danielle Noel for helping to compile the InPower Women Research Index. We absolutely owe the development of this rich resource to them.
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