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Op/Ed

The real reason women are overlooked? Leadership is seen as masculine

(EDITORIAL) We can tell women to “lean in,” or we can address what researchers point to as the real challenge – leadership is still seen as a masculine trait.

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leadership

Researcher Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic recently rejected the popular advice of “leaning in” for women* looking to scale the professional ladder. It’s not that women are unconsciously holding themselves back from leadership opportunities, as Sheryl Sandburg so famously theorized in her TED talk and subsequent book.

But, this advice only works for women aren’t actively pursuing higher roles and greater responsibilities.

The reality is more that even when women are advocating for themselves, they are less likely to be seen as having the qualities of a leader. This widespread gender bias isn’t news: Pantene and some partners even released a feel-good commercial that capitalized on calling out how assertive women are “bossy” and borderline competent men are seen as “the boss.”

As Chamorro-Premuzic explains, the fact that our culture has so closely adhered to the belief that these characteristics are “masculine” is more likely what holds high-performing women back. Even if they are better than their competition, even other women will often not evaluate them fairly because of how they have internalized our culture’s apparent blindness to women’s ability to be “the boss.”

But then, even some masculine-identifying or preforming people who are inferior in their technical skills could be afforded afforded many professional benefits because of the implicit bias we carry into business spaces that favors “masculine” traits. For example, “male-performing” assertive people may get credit for a quieter colleague’s work.

Where Chamorro-Premuzic’s editorial gets really interesting is when they reject the idea that women and other minorities need to over-compensate for their marginalization and try to join the good ol’ boys club.

He explains, “If our solution is to train women to emulate the behavior of men… we may end up increasing the representation of women in leadership without increasing the quality of our leaders. In this scenario, women will have to out-male males in order to advance in an inherently flawed system where bad guys (and gals) win. Unless our goal is to make it easier for incompetent women to succeed – much as it is for men – there is little to gain from this approach.”

As I’ve said before: Being a leader is a gender-neutral act, (spoiler: so are all actions!); the sooner that we can accept that coding behavior as “masculine” or “feminine” only serves to obscure people’s actual contributions, the better.

Removing these archaic labels allows the real competencies of professionals to be evaluated — for their benefit, and their organization’s benefit.

For now, organizations that make conscious efforts to level the playing field (like the National Association of Realtors’ restructure leading to half of their leadership team being women) are the primary answer as our culture shifts to a more aware environment.

*Though the referenced article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole

AprilJo Murphy is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. She is a writer, editor, and sometimes teacher based in Austin, TX who enjoys getting outdoors with her handsome dog, Roan.

Op/Ed

How to avoid going down in flames like WeWork

(EDITORIAL) Some companies like WeWork can lose billions on mistakes, but how can you keep yourself from falling into the same bad decision making?

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WeWork loses billions

Michelle Obama, toned-arm goddess that she is, gave me perspective on more than a desperate need to lift when she said about the mega-wealthy: “They are not that smart.”

American meritocracy is BS, and we all know it (I hope), but on some sad level, us 99% tend to think ‘Well, this person’s bank statement looks like a phone number with a personal extension on it, so they MUST know something I don’t.’

Well, no, not necessarily.

What the disastrous decisions WeWork made should tell you is that when you’re extra rich, you get to make extra mistakes.

For all the hand-wringing billionaires pay (or don’t) their subordinates to do for them about losing hundreds of billions to taxes, the fact remains they’ll still be left with more money than could be spent in any one person’s lifetime, plus the interest that just leaving that money in the bank nets them.

Now, wherever you fall politically doesn’t much matter here, this article isn’t meant to change anyone’s mind. What we should all be aware of though is that the cushion the rich getting richer have means something crucial to your business.

It means you cannot afford to look at the likes of WeWork guy and say ‘Well, hey, he was fine, so I’ll be fine!’

If you’re still in the rags portion of a rags to riches story, honey, you 100% will NOT be okay making the mistakes this guy does. And honestly, until you’ve got at least Oprah money, you won’t be.

So here are some pointers for starting entrepreneurs with moneyed faces on their vision boards.

1: Be aware of your starting point.

Are you working out of a garage? Is that garage the one in the guest house of your parents’ fifth home? Then you’re fine. Go forth and do dumb things, just do your best not to hurt anyone working under you who can’t see you’re going full King Lear on your business. Send them an Edible Arrangement garnished with a few hundred thousand dollars when your disaster chickens come home to roost.

Is that garage out of a house your friends rent, and also you rent it, and also you’re sleeping there? Then ‘Neumanning’ and letting the chips fall where they may is not the strategy for you. Every move you make requires cost analysis, time analysis, ‘Check yourself, sis’ (applicable to all genders), and the humanity that comes with knowing anyone you burn is 100% on your level, and can 100% put those flames back on your ass later on.

2: Keep in mind how much bigger a billion is than a million.

Billion, million, they sound the same, they have zeros, so… they’re basically the same thing, right? No, obviously.

A billion is a thousand million. Another way to put this is 1 million seconds is 11 days, 1 billion seconds is 31 years

Does Beyonce Knowles-Carter have more money than you? She’s worth 400 million, so probably. Oprah Winfrey is worth 6.75 Beyonces at 2.7 billion. At 1 billion, Adam Neumann is worth a little over two Beyonces.

If you don’t even have the assets of a half Beyonce, then you’re not playing on the same platinum court as WeWork, my friend. You’re not backed by a wealthy Japanese financier who is backed by a Saudi Arabian prince.

You cannot afford to make the same mistakes. Put a glaring picture of your mom / my mom / Mr. Terry Crews on your business credit card to help you remember that the mural in your rented office is less important than trademark fees, and calm down.

3: Sip up on that Perspective-Ade.

Or, put another way, just read the first two points here again. This isn’t kid’s stuff, and survivorship bias is beyond real. ‘They don’t write stories about the ones who played it safe,’ is a technical truism I hear from people who think they’re Evel Knievel for putting a mini-mini-golf course in a real estate parking lot.

No arguments from this corner on that, but I have an addendum to it… when was the last time you heard about someone taking a giant risk, losing it all, having to go back to retail, and crying every night?

It’s not just an MLM thing, people.

Analyze yourself, you assets, your ass coverage (insurance, colleagues’ goodwill, your pants) – you are not WeWork, so make like Simba, and remember who you are and what you actually have to work with.

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Op/Ed

Security of client information is important, so change the process

(EDITORIAL) Too many companies have had security breaches, which is bad enough, but is the process for insuring client information safety too old to secure?

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security too old to function

While, it’s clear companies seem to get hacked regularly, the steps taken to keep users safe are a joke. Companies still rely on asking personal questions in an effort to make users feel safe, but those attempts are laughable.

I wasn’t laughing earlier this week as I was setting up a few new accounts.

As anyone knows, creating accounts can be a real pain in the buttocks. But, since I’m kind of a geek, I would sometimes find the humor in choosing and answering my three security questions. (Wondering if I’d remember the answers.)

What band was your first concert?
What was your favorite dog’s name?
Where were your parents married?
What model was your first car?
Who was your childhood bff?

Cool.

I never thought much about the security questions until the last few times when I encountered a few like this:

In which city were you married?

What is the name of your eldest child?

At what time of day was your oldest child born?

How old was your father when you were born?

What?

I felt I had taken a step back in time.

Sure, these questions might be ok, if there were a lot of options, but these were four of the seven provided.

I’m not a super touchy person who gets triggered easily or angered at the drop of a hat. But, these questions made me question this process and its security.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, in this day and age, it’s quite possible you’ve never been married or had a kid. It’s also possible for some folks, they didn’t know their dad. Or, if they do, maybe they don’t want their security question asking how old he was when they were born.

But, the bigger question: Why so very personal? And, from a woman’s perspective, why so presumptive. It made me wonder: are the questions the same for a man or a woman of any age?

I can’t imagine a 22-year-old being asked about the birth of their eldest child. Or, where they were married.

These questions had to be options based on my age and gender.

I chose the questions I could answer like, where was my elementary school located.

But, I didn’t feel safer for answering. Somehow I felt like the company asking them was 1) Prying to gather personal data 2) Not concerned about safety 3) Was sexist.

As many others have argued, it’s time to shut this process down, if only for the fact that it doesn’t make us safer online. This is a practice that should be relegated to the past, just like the presumptive questions being asked.

Seems no matter where you look online, banks, retailers and even medical providers are hacked. Our information is floating in space on the interwebs.

Obviously, security is a top concern. Who wants to sign up for a service only to find out later, “OOPS, our bad, your information was hacked. Here, we will give you free credit monitoring for a month.”

Doesn’t cut it.

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Op/Ed

Your career depends on you, and the mentors you select

(EDITORIAL) Moving up in your career can be dependent on your drive to be better, but improving does depend on who you choose to teach you

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career mentor

Remember when you were younger and were encouraged to join extra-curricular activities because they would “look good to colleges”? What if the same were true for your career?

While applying to a university may be a thing of the past for you, there are still benefits to having extra-curricular activities that have to do with your career. Networking is a major piece of this, as is finding mentors who will help point you in the right direction.

These out-of-office organizations or clubs differ for every industry, so for the sake of this article, I will use one example that you can then interpret and tailor towards your own career.

The Past President of the national Federal Bar Association, Maria Z. Vathis, is someone who has taken the extra-curricular route throughout her entire career, and it has paid off immensely. Working as an attorney in Chicago, Vathis joined the FBA shortly after beginning her legal career and now is the Past President of the almost 100-year old organization.

She started working her way up the ladder of the Chicago Chapter of the association, and eventually became the president of that chapter. At the same time, she was also becoming involved in the Hellenic Bar Association, and would eventually become national president of that organization, as well.

“Through these organizations, I was fortunate to find mentors and lifelong friends. I was also lucky enough to mentor others and to have opportunities to give back to the community through various outreach projects,” said Vathis. “As a young attorney, it was priceless to gain exposure to successful attorneys and judges and to observe how they conducted themselves. Those judges and attorneys were my role models – whether they knew it or not. I learned how to be a professional and how to work with different personality types through my bar association work.”

Finding people in your industry – not just in your office – can be of great help as you go through the journey of your career. They can help you in the event of a job switch, help collaborate on volunteer-based projects, and help collaborate on career-advancing projects (like writing a book, for example).

And all strong networks often start with the help of a mentor – someone who has once been in your shows and can help you handle the ropes of your new career. Most importantly, they’re someone who you can seek advice from when you’re faced with someone challenging – either good or bad.

“I have been unbelievably fortunate with my mentors, and I cherish those relationships. They are good people, and they have changed my life in positive ways. I still draw on what they taught me to help make important decisions,” said Vathis. “My career success is due in large part to the fact that my mentors took an interest in my career, had faith in my abilities, and supported me while I held various positions in the organizations. Not only is it important to continue having mentors throughout your career, but it is important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. You never know who you will learn something from, so it’s important to remain open. Also, after you become seasoned, it is important to give back by mentoring others.”

When asked why it’s important to be part of organizations outside of the office, Vathis explained, “To build a book of business, you need to be visible to others.” She also stresses the importance of putting yourself out there for new affiliations and challenges, because you never know where it may lead.

If you’re unsure of how to start this process, try asking co-workers and other people in your professional life if they have any advice or recommendations of organizations that can help advance your career. Another simple way is to Google “networking events in my area” and see what speaks to you. In addition, never be afraid to reach out to someone with a bit more experience for some advice. Take them out to coffee and pick their brain – you never know what you may learn.

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