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The Stories of The Tragic Queen and the Underdog Princess
In my research and conversations with women and other women’s advocates, I’ve struggled with whether the feminist narrative is ready to accept a new heroine as its main character. I named this new heroine the Underdog Princess, and if last summer’s blockbuster movies are to be believed, she wields a bow and arrow with great skill. I would like to suggest that she be considered as a replacement for the Tragic Queen we’ve known and loved for so long. Let me tell you their stories to bring you into this conversation.
The Story of the Tragic Queen starts out quite promising…
- Before high school, she’s just as ambitious as the boys and just as smart, including at math! But by her teens she’s begun to succumb to the stories of her older brothers and sisters, teachers and parents, and she doesn’t act as smart, tells herself she’s not very good at math and she becomes less likely to seek recognition for her achievements.
- When she grows up, and enters the work world where her prospects become dimmer:
- despite being more than 50% of the workforce, she’s paid 20-30% less than men doing the same job. Experts say she *might* get pay equity around 2067. Maybe.
- If she goes out to start her own small business, she’ll average $884,000 in revenue a year, which is 37% less than her male counterpart.
- Globally it’s worse. Despite doing 66% of the world’s work, she makes 10% of the income and owns 1% of it’s property.
- She’s about 10% more likely than her brother to have a low paying job.
- She takes the time to get mentored, but even though she’s 7% more likely than her male colleagues to have mentors, she’s 37% less likely to receive a management promotion as a result of it.
- She hits a very real glass ceiling once she moves into a director level.
- She encounters measurable cultural barriers to advancement in the organizations she works for.
- She’s only 19% likely to make it to the C-Suite and 4% likely to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. These percentages have not changed much since 2004.
- Her chances aren’t much better if she’s aiming for board membership – 16% – or elected office – though we reached a new high of 20% in the Senate this year.
- Even when she makes it into the board room, self-sabatoging behaviors, like using apologetic language 4 times more frequently than men, continue to undermine her ability to lead and she encounters a glass ceiling in her own self confidence.
- She’s only 14% likely to join the military ranks to protect her country.
- This isn’t all her fault, of course. The culture is measurably stacked against the Tragic Queen. When she takes on managerial and leadership roles she encounters a real double-bind, no -win situation:
- Her colleagues – and she herself – have entrenched stereotypes to overcome. She and they envision a good leader to have masculine traits, and when women exhibit them, the prevailing opinion is that this makes her unattractive.
- The media tells her that THIS is the worst outcome of all.
- If she does get onto a corporate board, the stock takes a slight hit, apparently for no other reason than investor bias.
- If she’s the CEO of a company looking for funding, that investor bias also means her company may be 11% less likely to receiving funding than male-run businesses with the identical prospectus.
- Unfortunately, at least once a week she’s sexually assaulted (twice a week if she’s a global citizen) .
- She succumbs to another barrier of exhaustion and impossible dreams.
In the end, the Tragic Queen concludes that she can’t have it all after all, and accepts her lot in life, with a tinge of resentment and sadness.
The Story of the Underdog Princess also starts out quite promising…
- She earns over 58% of the baccalaureate degrees, since 2010, over half the masters and PhD’s in the United States.
- She manages to get past barriers that stopped the queen and makes it into very high leadership positions in our society about 15% of the time, on average.
- The Underdog Princess excels for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that our Underdog Princess is very capable and the people around her know it. Even though she’s subject to cultural stereotypes that lead both men and women to view male characteristics as leader’s characteristics,
- She’s earns respect from her colleagues as a better leader than her male colleagues on 15 out of 16 leadership characteristics.
- She’s more adept at mastering a broad range of leadership skills and when she does this, she is 1.5 times more likely to get a promotion over her male counterparts.
- She’s often more trusted by her staff.
- She demonstrates measurably higher levels of proficiency in the key emotional intelligence and social leadership skills required for success in the modern economy, including conflict management and self-awareness.
- She demonstrates sharp investment and risk management skills, producing as much as three times greater returns.
- She doesn’t just demonstrate her success in big companies either,
- If she jumps ship to start her own business, she’ll be joining fastest growing segment of small businesses, women-owned businesses. Often she’s quite content underearning her male entrepreneurial counterparts because she’s “having it all” and balancing work and family by working on her own.
- If she’s running a startup, her company is 4% more likely to be successful, to go public or be sold for a profit.
- When she makes it into the top leadership tier, with other women at a ratio of about 3-in-10 (30%) – she and the other women she’s working with have an exponentially positive effect – well beyond the percentage of their participation. In these situations she is part of what I call The Woman Effect (also knows as the 30% solution). While this finding doesn’t show causation, the correlation is so consistently found – across sector, geography and research organization – that we know there is some magic that happens when leadership cultures include 30%+ female members.
- If she’s on the board of a Fortune 500 with other women comprising at least 30% of her colleagues, her presence correlates to 84% higher return on sales, 60% return on invested capital and 46% higher return on equity with companies with no women on their boards.
- Her company is more socially responsible and focused on sustainability practices, both for the company itself and for the community in general.
- If she’s running a philanthropic organization, it’s more accountable and strategic in it’s donations.
- She doesn’t have to be American to ignite The Woman Effect either. If she’s an active member of a village in a developing economy, a lucky woman who received education and healthcare growing up, her involvement in the local economy and culture correlates to a quadrupling of productivity – resulting in healthier and wealthier communities.
- The Underdog Princess also has a different relationship with the men in her life and is often happier as a result.
In the end, The Underdog Princess is more likely to have it all by redefining “it all”.
Why we can’t really choose…
These statistics don’t really tell us whether we’re ready for the Underdog Princess to take on heroine status yet, because they aren’t really describing two different women, they’re telling conflicting stories about all women. The conflicting data is all “true” but makes it harder to tell the true story of the modern woman.
In real life,
- The Tragic Queen runs more socially responsible and successful businesses and the Underdog Princess confronts the no-win leadership stereotype in herself and her colleagues.
- They both encounter the glass ceiling in their culture and in themselves.
- They both deal with too-frequent sexual assault.
- They both struggle to have all of what they believe is important in their lives.
To the best of my ability to tell, the primary difference between the Tragic Queen and the Underdog Princess in real life is in what they choose to believe to be true for themselves, in their own lives. Their personal choices to believe they are powerful gives them power in the world or holds them tragically powerless.
So it’s appropriate I’m not ready to end this story and decide who the new heroine is, because it’s not my story, it’s yours.
It’s Up To You
Since how this story progresses is really up to you, I’d like to give you one last data point to help you live the story of the modern woman most powerfully.
In 2010 a group of MIT and Carnegie Mellon researchers randomly selected about 700 men and women from the ages of 18-60. They put them in random groups and gave them various problems to solve. They were hoping to find out what made groups of people smarter. Would a group of high IQ types out think some lower IQ types? Would cohesive teams or motivated teams out smart the rest? The answer surprised them. The primary factor that predicted a group’s intelligence was how many women were on that team. They concluded that women naturally brought more social sensitivity to the group interaction. This social sensitivity ensured that a greater diversity of ideas got out on the table, more people were heard, more brains participated more problems got solved. This is the secret sauce of The Woman Effect and this study shows it’s not just women on corporate boards who can ignite it, it shows up wherever women show up.
So the women’s ability to make their groups smarter wasn’t because they were smarter or more capable or tried harder – it was because they were there.
Here’s what I like most about this research.
- There were some Underdog Princesses, but the statistics say there were more Tragic Queens.
- All the women in this study were just like us, struggling with glass ceilings, cultural stereotypes and self-doubting voices telling them they’re not enough and not valuable. All these women are struggling to “have it all” just like you and me.
- These flawed, regular women were able to make THE difference, just by showing up and participating.
What was true for them is true for you.
One of the biggest differences you can make isn’t one that can be learned, or earned or given. It’s in your bones and blood, wild and wonderful hormones and your double XX chromosome. You can’t not be it, and even if YOU don’t value it (which you should!), this research says that when you show up and participate, the world gets better anyway.
The only thing you can do to ensure you DON’T ignite The Woman Effect is to hide this gift inside you. If you DON’T show up – or you DON’T participate – if you don’t get a seat at the table or don’t speak up – then more problems don’t get solved and the world isn’t as good as it can be.
On behalf of a world that wants to get better, I have one request.
Please let all the other stories go. Don’t worry if you’re the Tragic Queen or the Underdog Princess. Let those stories go too, and as much of the self-doubt as you can – just let them go. Those stories not nearly as important as you are.
My request to you is that you stop hiding, show up and participate.
That’s the hidden key to your power.
Because when you come out of hiding, show up and participate, no matter what you bring with you and what statistics your living your life into…. you and I – and our children and all the people we want to “have it all” with… we will all be living in a better world.
Whatever you’re waiting for isn’t as important to the future of our world than you are. Stop hiding. Come out. Participate.
What ARE you waiting for?
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