Women in the Workforce?

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Original Disclaimer: Let me start off my saying I would never consider myself an activist on behalf of women’s rights. In fact, I generally consider myself in fairly conservative camp.

Updated Disclaimer: This is obviously one of those posts where I did a TERRIBLE JOB of communicating what I wanted to get across: that the articles referenced had me thinking about women in the workforce and what I could do to help empower other women to lead. Guess I won’t try to write any more posts before work? I would erase it but I have a feeling an interesting conversation will come out of it. Everyone, please play nice….

Yesterday I stumbled upon this post by Chris Brogan about “Women in the Workplace.” And something about it ruffled my feathers.

New data from the Center for Work-Life Policy demonstrate that while 47% of college-educated entry-level corporate professionals are female, women comprise a mere 21% of senior executives, 17% of Congress and 15% of board directors.

After citing the above statistics, Brogan made the point that, “maybe they [the numbers] point to the fact that it’s not always the position some women seek to attain.” That not “all women want to lead.” Which I’d have to wholeheartedly agree with, but think it is important to point out that surely not all men want to lead either. So I’m not sure if that explains some of the discrepancy in the statistics.

It seems obvious that the real question is how can we equip the women who do want to lead to succeed.

This morning I dug a little deeper and read the two must-read Harvard Business Journal articles that Brogan cited “What the U.S. Can Learn From Europe About Gender Equality in the Workplace” and “Can She Lead?” (I wish I could have recorded the argument that these thoughts ignited inside my head. Fascinating. I’m still trying to figure out which side won.)

As I stew on on all this, I’m left wondering:

If the solution lies more in creating a safe space for women to discuss issues and struggles, hopes and dreams, and champion one another THAN in quotas, targets, and legislation?

What I can do to empower the next generation of women to be more effective leaders so that they naturally rise to the top?

Curious, what do you think about all this?

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Lindsey has a sincere love for her precious dogs Molly and Maisy, a good red wine and the Delta Sky Club. She spends her days (and some nights) laboring to end childhood hunger at Feed the Children and to gather, equip and unleash women at IF:Gathering.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • So I'm missing the logic gap. Who cares what men want in this particular post of mine? I'm saying, as the stats are trying to say that there aren't enough women leaders (or that's how they seem couched to me), my replying thought was, well maybe that's because they don't necessarily WANT those roles. Nothing to do with men.

    My point was, maybe the stats don't HAVE to be equal, because maybe women are smarter at choosing their life paths.

    Now, what could be wrong is that maybe women are still barred from chasing those paths, but in my really quick sniff around, I found that EVERYONE had a different opinion on whether they wanted to lead, felt equipped to lead, considered themselves a leader in a non-traditional sense.

    That was really the big point: that maybe the stats aren't pointing out something bad as much as they're pointing out that women do it differently (which wouldn't be a surprise).

    Not sure how this is a gender war, and definitely not sure why your (and others) response to someone bringing up the topic of women working turns into a bunch of anger and energy around how naive it is for a guy to talk about that. Somehow, that doesn't seem like a path to greater understanding, but then, that might just be me.

    • No anger here…promise. Not directed at you, or at anyone else for that matter. Just trying to figure out what I think about all this. I appreciate you broaching the topic. I apologize if it didn't read like that. I respect you tons!

      • I went back and edited it a bit to close some of my logic gap. Note to self: if I wonder if people can make sense of a post, they probably can't 🙂

  • Anne Jackson

    This is kind of not related, but maybe. Since I fly a lot, I get upgraded a lot. I'd say 80-90% of the time I am the only woman (and definitely the only person under 35) that is in first class. Most are business guys in either suits or polos, but you can tell they have some "position"…it's always just strange.

    (And they totally will cut you off to get off the plane. Chivalry is dead). 🙂

    I go back to the MBTI on this — most "F"s — which are typically women rarely end up in executive positions. Part of this is nature, part is culture. That's why I love that Mike doesn't fit the typical CEO MBTI profile.

    I have NO desire to ever direct or manage or lead anything in a "position" again. Been there, done that. I like seeing more subtle, personal and direct influence I may be able to have on someone or on a cause by the smaller, more quiet events. (The INFJ is sometimes known as the "stealth" leader). 🙂

    But….I see your POV certainly. And I'm a bit of a historic romantic so part of me says let the men do their thing while I get a pedi and cook. And I'm okay with that. 🙂

    • You lead without position, no question.

      Oh, and I'm an F….uh oh. 🙂

      • Jen

        I'm an F too. Can I claim that's why my kids don't do as they're told? 😉

    • Ok, you lost me with all the letters…
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  • Just seems that several women got angry or riled up. I love anger. It helps me look to make change happen.
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  • Chris, poor guy, opened up a can of worms with this topic.

    Chris is right – not all women want to lead (like me). Lindsey, you are right too – not all men want to lead. That truth should not incite anyone to riot…What incites many women (as I have seen) and men too is this whole topic of "women in leadership" from a broader sense… many women have felt marginalized – and they are angry about it – and any time "women in leadership" as a topic comes up – people get their boxing gloves out.

    So… to me… the next generation will benefit as they see healthy role models of women and men in leadership. As they see men and women step into leadership roles that are not defined by gender, but defined by giftings, personality, and personal style. Allowing people to flourish in their own leadership style – rather than imposing a set "leadership process" on them is the best legacy we can leave the next generation of leaders… just my opinion…

    My recent post He will carry me…

    • No boxing gloves here. Just a friendly conversation 🙂

      Thanks for adding "just your opinion." I agree…

  • If there was one big question I tried to raise, it was this:

    Do women even WANT the "leadership" role the way it's defined?

    The answer I got back was so garbled by so many women that I found it fascinating. The unanswer was louder than a clear answer.
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    • I'd have to imagine some do and some don't.

      Think the word "leadership" has gotten so misused over time and that a lot of the confusion simply lies in how it is defined.

      I don't have any desire to be president or even to be a CEO but I'd love to excel, to exert influence and be recognized in the area in which I serve. Possibly even at the Senior Executive level someday…

      • What feminist did in the 1960s was open the door to the question Chris posed: Do women even WANT the leadership?

        I still believe there are not equal opportunities for women to fully achieve leadership potential and status. The glass ceiling has been cracked, but it's not removed and it's dangerous climbing through.

        And no, I'm a feminazi [I wear a bra and shave my underarms]. I'm simply a student of culture, church, and community.

    • Chris – my response to your question: Do women want the leadership role? Yes! In the way it's defined? Not necessarily.

      Years ago, I heard someone say that while women have been told that we could do anything, we twisted that to think that we had to do everything. As someone else mentioned here, it doesn't take much to get behind. So if a woman is trying to lead in addition to many other things, she often sets herself up for failure.
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    • Ok Chris – you have had me thinking for 2 days 🙂 love that!

      "do we want the leadership role" – not me 🙂

      "in the way that it is defined" – missed this part of the question… Ok, so to imply that it is "defined" at all is to beg the question "who defined it" and if women are new to this leadership thing… (last few deades) does not "defined leadership" imply that men defined it?

      is it possible that the best legacy we women could create for upcoming generations is a NEW definition of leadership? AND the freedom to not have to lead or the freedom to not have to lead "as it has always been done" to younger, upcoming women?

      just thinking aloud here… would love your thoughts…love the discussion Lindsey!
      My recent post He will carry me…

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  • i’ve got a few thoughts that could be way off — but hear me out. first, a quick story. when i entered high school, i wanted to be valedictorian. my school, though, had weighted gpa’s — so an ‘a’ in an honors class was worth 4.5 and in an a.p. class 5.0. so all one had to do to not be valedictorian is take one less a.p. or honors class than others. so i decided not to be in band — that ‘a’ was only worth 4.0. now, my thoughts:

    1) it seems to me there are a lot of people gunning for those (relatively) few senior executive positions and the like. if that’s the case, then it wouldn’t take much at all for some people to fall slightly behind in their “qualifications” and “experience.” i’d argue that a few months off for a baby or two is more than enough. for that matter, maybe even a few extra sick days off a year to take care of kids is enough.

    2) it may also be that men are selected as leaders merely because of subconscious decisions. malcolm gladwell polled half of the companies in the fortune 500 and found that 58% of their ceo’s are over six feet tall — compared to 14.5% of men in the total population. only 3.9% of the general population is over 6’2″, though about 30% of those ceo’s are.

    3) most likely, though, is that the people competing for these jobs started working in the “management and leadership tracts” 30 years ago (just a guess). so there would have been relatively few women in 1980 who had decided they’d like to be in executive offices come 2010. if polls today were to say that women comprised 50% of those wanting to be ceo’s (and willing to work toward that goal), we shouldn’t expect the percentages in executive offices to balance out for another 30 or so years.

    • all great points…

      my high school was the same way, crazy competitive….

    • James, Did you 'want' to be in the Band, but chose not to do it because of the 'grade' goal (just wondering)?

      I think a problem with our society is that we are 'trained' to reach these lofty goals that society puts there for us, as we sacrifice what are hearts truly desire. Which leads us to miss out on 'Life'. I get much more fulfillment out of life when I am following the desires of my heart, then when I am trying to attain some societal goal (i.e. the newest IT certification, etc.).

      When we stop living to meet societies expectations for our career and success, and start living for who we are in God's eyes, they we can actually have "life to the fullest". Male or female, leader or not.
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  • Wow! You started quite the conversation here! 🙂 Like I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, I liked Chris's original article, because it made me think. I definitely think that some women don't want to lead. YES, I agree that some men don't either. But I wonder if more women have made that choice for themselves – possibly because of what Chris said in his comment, that they've made smarter choices for their life path.

    I wonder, too, who finds it harder to make that choice. Men are traditionally seen as weak if they don't want to succeed and lead (NOT saying that's right, but it seems to be the commonly accepted stereotype), while women are sometimes seen as betraying the whole women's movement if they say, You know what? I don't want to lead.

    For me, I want to lead – probably more along the lines of the leadership you describe, though, Lindsey. But my career path has NOT gone the way I wanted it to. Do I think I'm stuck (or behind) because I'm a woman? No. But I do believe I would benefit from strong female role models/mentors – which I have not had.

    What a tricky topic!! Thank you for continuing the conversation, and while I only read your post after you edited it, I will say that I *think* I get what you're saying, loud and clear! 🙂
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    • i agree with you…we as women need to do ourselves a favor. we need to champion ourselves and one another.

      (whisper) after several bad experiences, i have actually said that i never wanted to work for a woman again… how's that for a bad attitude?

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  • Thank you for tackling this topic! I'm pretty sure the stats would be similar within the church as well.
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  • Man…I rushed over here with my torch and pitchfork because the tweets about this post seemed to make it look like a free for all in the comments but I see a lot of good, passionate, reasonable discussion. The way I see, folks should just be who God created them to be and not worry about what others think regarding their chasing leadership. 🙂
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  • Maybe I took this differently (and I haven't read all the way through the comments so somebody may have already said this), but interpreted it this way: Not all men want leadership positions (I agree). Not all women want leadership positions (also agree). That being said, men are "given" the leadership positions, which is where the problem lies (again, my interpretation)
    If nobody wants "leadership" it seems the default is to give it to the man. Sadly, I saw this a lot in my last job, made worse by the fact that the women wanted (and were very capable) leadership…yet still got overlooked for guys that didn't necessarily want it, but "great sales people make great managers." That's a topic I could write a book in.
    Obviously there are great examples of female leaders (regardless of title/position), but there is still a significant amount of progress that could be made along these lines.
    Finally, I would ask a different question…does anybody (male or female) want the leadership role, the way it is defined? In many organizations, sadly, the answer is (or should be) no. (again, that could be a blog post itself)

    • great perspective, kevin. thanks for sharing.

    • I Kevin has hit on a good point, does anyone want leadership the way it's defined? I think having more women in leadership roles will benefit us all by changing the way leadership operates. We have different priorities and I think business and non-profits will greatly benefit to see some of these priorities brought to the workplace. We have strengths that are needed right now.

      God made us to be partners, strong women challenge strong men to be stronger. It's showcased in the Bible. Deborah was a Judge of His nation, Esther challenged her husband and brought him to a higher moral ground, Ruth was continually challenging the status quo and bringing the godly men up with her.

      Some else already mentioned other countries, but it's true, and bares repeating. Some how other countries around the world have seen the benefits and begun to proactively place more women in leadership. Here we just think it will somehow magically happen, and when it doesn't it because of the women.
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  • Call me young or naive but I would argue that how this country defines "leadership" will look drastically different in 10-20 years. I think we are moving beyond following leaders or selecting leaders based on title or position. Instead leadership will be based on influence, the kind of leadership Anne spoke of. I think sometimes we become leaders whether we want it or not. The question then becomes how do we respond to that "role" we're thrown into?

    How do you prepare the next generation? Mentor them. Teach them not to run in fear.

    Personally? I can't say that I've ever felt banned from leading. But being in "leadership" also hasn't been on top of my priority list, so maybe I haven't noticed it.
    My recent post Leading From The Inside Out

  • my two or three cents on this:

    i LOVE how Jesus had women walking with Him with His group of disciples.
    i LOVE how Jesus asked women to first tell others about His resurrection.
    i LOVE how Jesus' grace changed the Samaritan adulteress and her testimony was able to change a city.
    i LOVE how Jesus didn't mind women washing His feet with their hair. other people would think something else of it, He saw it as an act of worship.
    i LOVE how Jesus gave women a voice…He broke down the "culture code" back when women were next to nothing and having a daughter instead of a son meant you weren't blessed.

    i LOVE that till this very day…He still asks His daughters to speak up. in the pulpits. at home. in the office. on blogs. in the board room. it's up to us if we want to use that voice… or let culture muffle us down to keep us "quiet".

    those who have met me or know me KNOW that my voice is LOUD 😉 and im using it to SPEAK HIS TRUTH and SHARE HIS LOVE. because i found my "Treasure"… i will go and tell it to the mountains. because my leadership is defined in Him and not by what society or the even the church chooses to tell me. =]
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  • Thank your for starting this conversation, Lindsey. It's an important one!

    I'd love to see more women in positions of authority in the business world, in politics, and in the church. But I have to agree with James' observation that women often fall behind in their qualifications and experience because they choose to take time off to have children. It's just hard to compete with a man who has consistently worked his way up the ladder and who has more flexibility when it comes to putting in those extra hours.

    I'm not particularly traditional myself, but I respect women who choose to take the time they feel they need to devote to having and raising children. The question, "Can women have it all?" is a hard one to answer because each woman seems to define "having it all" a little differently. I think it's really important that as women we respect and support one another as we make these tough decisions – choosing not to judge when someone's path is a little different from our own.

    In time I think we will see the playing field level a bit more. But I think men will continue to hold more leadership positions for as long as women are seen as the primary caregivers for children. And I'm okay with that.

  • I have always been a career driven person. The first 33 years of my life I have chosen to be single without kids so I could pursue my career goals. But the higher up I get in leadership the more stress, lack of sleep and longer hours that come my way. I still have dreams of being the “CEO” but I also have come to realize that there is so much more in life. So I am wondering if Chris is right in saying that many woman make the choice that they don’t want to go down this road. I still long to be the “CEO” But honestly, after you are gone from this earth people will not remember the title you had or how many hours you worked, they will remember the relationships, connections, and influence you had in their life and the life of others.
    Can I still lead and have influence if I am not the CEO?? Yes, but more importantly will I be able to have more of an influence and in the end spend time doing what god put us on this earth to do, spread his word, if I am not the CEO?
    Great blog Lindsey and great discussion from everyone! I enjoyed reading all the posts.

    • Andy Weaver

      Well, I guess I really shake things up. I think my wife is one of the greatest leaders I know. She is the Chief Operations Officer of our little venture called life. She has five children ranging age 10 to 9 months. She is a full-time mom and part time music instructor. She also educates our children at home. While many of you may not agree with this perspective, we believe that the Bible promotes homes where wives and mothers function primarily in these crucial roles of shaping the next generation. Yes, I am the CEO in our home, but that does not change the fact that my wife is leading in a very productive way. She will never make it in any national survey and will continually be ostracized as antiquated and somehow anti-progressive. Yet, I would argue that when you talk to our children in a decade and a half that they will more than appreciate that she did not become career driven, but family-driven. I realize not everyone will or can fully embrace this, but I still think there are sound arguments and pragmatic benefits of this model.

      • Joy

        Sounds like your wife is thriving in her role and good for her! But just because she can and does, does not make it right for everyone.

        Trying to make her role a 'womens role' is not fair to the diversity of women God created. He created female business and political leaders just like her created male business and political leaders. He gives examples of both.

        I'm glad she's doing what she's doing, and I'm glad you support her in that. It is a beautiful thing when someone has the opportunity to do what they've been created to do.
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  • I was blessed enough to discover fairly early on that I'm not an up-front leader .. I'm a great second-in-command, or even a few more spots down the line (my preference!). I love my career, but my place is not up front. I'm a helpmeet, gifted with service. The stress and responsibility of being the head of any organization — or even department — simply isn't worth the title.

    I'm not alone out there. Many of us value the family and avocational time that our vocation allows — even though a generalized view is that if we're not at the top, we're not a total success.

    I'm of value to my organization right where I am. If the Peter Principle were in play here, I'd be unhappy, stressed and lose value. What's successful about that?

  • I think the whole point of Lindsey's blog is not about who should lead and why…I think it's about building women up, encouraging them, to accomplish whatever they see as a possibility.

    I think we have to look at this as the struggles of women with confidence, belief in their identity in Christ, and understanding their purpose. It's much spiritually deeper than a simple gender war. It's the attack on the woman from the beginning. the REAL beginning, like in Genesis. The woman (Eve) who, the moment she was alone, lost her sense of confidence in her who she was, doubted truth, and fell pray to being lesser than she was created for.

    Women are natural leaders, even those gifted with service, or any other behind the scenes role. We are required by our gender role to lead in some capacity. It's about buidling women up to accomplish their leadership potential, no matter what the capacity.
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  • I agree that women fall behind in their qualifications. In my workplace, every male executive has a wife who stays home. They can work long hrs & not worry about mtg the plumber, cleaning the house, doing laundry, or running the kids around. While not the reason they all became leaders, it detracts fom others who don't have this luxury.

    My hubby & I both work – so I choose to balance my life by taking time off to run kids to doctor's appointments, or just to meet the AC guy. It means I have to work extra hard at work. I am still in a mid-level position & while I likely won't move higher, my role is still vital. I think this is the reality for most women w/ kids – working b/c our husband isn't the sole supporter in this economy or we're single parents – either way, w/o 1 person solely focused on the kids & home we've got to get it all done & the only way to do that is to create a balance. Honestly – even if my husband stayed home so I could climb ye old ladder, I would end up feeling guilty anyway. Must be something in that extra X chromosome!

  • James in Portand

    A huge statistic that is missing on this whole topic is the stat that shows women start-ups. Women are starting businesses in huge numbers and you might be surprised at the data. Here in my hometown (Stumptown) I have seen women start as many companies as men the last 20 years. Keen Shoes is a great recent example.

    A lot of women in CEO leadership are there because they started the company. That is sad but more accurate than many articles on the subject.

  • Interesting discussion. While some women make a direct choice about leadership roles, I find many women don't even think about them simply because they don't see themselves as leaders or have very few models for them to see their own reflection. I'm in a leadership role in church and a non-profit organization. I find that in many cases when other leaders are being sought the first to be considered are usually men. It takes first pointing potential women leaders out and second convincing the prospect she's capable. There is still a tendency to put 'leader' and 'men' in the same sentence. Course I remember when I first accepted the leadership role in the non-profit some ten years ago, I inwardly panicked thinking I was absolutely insane to even consider that others would follow.

  • Interesting discussion.

    Could desire to lead be a factor? Not enough to be a significant factor, IMO.

    More likely, it says something about the number of women leaders who are the type of pioneering leaders, the glass-ceiling-breaking kind of leaders, that breaking into a male-dominated world requires. That's more about tenacity and determination than leadership skill/ability.

    I think it's helpful to look at women leaders in denominations (i.e., pastors). In some denominations, female leadership is scorned, while other denominations are more open. Is that because women in certain denominations do not want to lead and women in other denominations do? Of course not.

    Things are changing. In my own denomination (United Methodist Church), in the mid-1990s, women represented 15% of all clergy (5th among the denominations surveyed). The latest study I saw revealed that for the first time, one-third of ordained pastors under 35 are women. It's not uncommon for women to reach 50% in some theological seminaries — all meaning that the number of women leaders in the church is growing.

    Why? Because some contexts are more open to female leadership. In other words, where women are given the opportunity to lead, they do.
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  • Amen to Randy Willis! And thank you to Lindsey Nobles for inspiring a great discussion.

    The low % of females in top positions is disappointing but not surprising — it reflects our cultural legacy of dictating roles based on gender — and the median age in the C-suite. The Generation still largely in place in corporate America (both men and women) are operating under outdated cultural notions. Not enough people presently in charge expect women to be capable or desirable of leadership and our boardrooms reflect well that expectation.

    Those numbers certainly do not reflect gender-related, innate competencies. If they did, then I wouldn't be able to find a single man who can parent as well as a woman. And I know many.

    I don't know what the tipping point will be but with 47% of women in entry-level corporate positions, it's coming (how long does it take to grow a CEO?). And I was happy to the hear the good news from Susan Lyne, CEO of Gilt Group, at a recent Women in Media & Tech conference, that the women under 30 in her employ did not have any problem negotiating for salaries & promotions.

    When we tell our children, "You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to," we must say it AND mean it, and be prepared to encourage our boys to develop their nurturing natures as much as we encourage our girls to develop their ambitious natures.

    AND PS since when is a woman not leading when her primary role is motherhood?

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  • Statistics are always an interesting way to generate conversation. I don't know if anyone else has mentioned this but the most interesting statistic mentioned above is that 17% of Congress is women.

    So who voted the 83% of men into congress?
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