Female Empowerment and Leadership - Food for Thought and Change
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
Linda Scott’s „DoubleX Economy“ and Sheryl Sandberg’s „Lean in“ have created literary monuments for women around the globe. The seminar Taking the Lead with Confidence has transformed many of these monumental truths into pragmatic, simple work hacks for everyday life.
I don't consider myself a feminist. Like Sheryl Sandberg (LeanIn, 2013) and many other women, I think the term conveys a negative connotation. Only 24% of women in the US describe themselves as feminists. However, when these women are offered a precise definition of feminism, the percentage augments to 65% (Alfano, 2009).
By the way, I most certainly am a feminist. My fundamental convictions and values consider women and men as equals – may it be socially, economically or politically. I am part of a generation which has been coming of age with numerous women's rights, and we have taken them for granted. Perhaps that is why we have not found it necessary to display the F-label proudly and visibly on our chests.
The fact that men and women are not equal (despite all social, political, institutional...efforts) is something we realized at school, while watching TV, through parental example or (latest) over the course of our careers.
Thanks to role models like Sheryl Sandberg and Linda Scott, our individual and subjective experiences of "inequality" have become a collective truth. Through the power of scientific argument, well-researched facts and personal experience, both authors give voice to inequity, injustices and inconsistencies which cohorts of women share, yet never considered "shared" or "unifying" across generations and nations. Until recently, it felt as if each of us females made exceptional experiences (as in no one else but us had them) instead of being part of a larger system of inequality. Sandberg and Scott have merged the individual to a collective case.
Through Sandberg's countless examples, it becomes tangible why and to what extent women bring different prerequisites to the table – shaped and imprinted by upbringing, societal roles and systemic ideals, shared beliefs or behavioural patterns. Hence, different standards and frames of orientation apply for men and women in life and especially at work.
LeanIn quotes the following research:
When women are vocal about their success, they are less liked (by other men and women) precisely because of that (Heilmann, 2004)
A woman who mentions her qualifications for a job or previous successes in an interview reduces her chances of being hired (Rudman, 1998, Rudman & Glick 1999 & 2000)
Success and popularity correlate positively for men but negatively for women (Heilmann & Okimoto, 2007)
Despite identical qualifications and work experience, women are assessed as less competent in job interviews and receive lower starting salaries. Gender bias influences the evaluation of performance (Korn, 2012).
In a nutshell: the recognition and awareness of gender fosters unequal expectations, different standards ... and consequently results in unequal evaluations and opportunities.
The shameful number of women in middle and top management positions as well as the discussion about women's quotas substantiate these facts.
In my corporate job, I frequently faced situations in which I doubted myself, which made me feel insecure, frustrated me and slowed me down. A recent experience during a seminar (called “Taking the Lead with Confidence” (https://women-in-leadership.berlin)) helped resolve and overcome some of my inner conflicts, perceived inequalities and built up frustrations. If I had attended this seminar at an earlier stage of my career, I would have been able to assess those struggles and challenges differently and ultimately deal with them more constructively.
The seminar provided an effective, simple framework to explain and re-assess my experiences, beliefs and attitudes. Current research brought our level of discussion to a factual level, whilst offering answers to emotional challenges.
Evidently, generalisations such as "all men" and "all women" cannot be substantiated. There are women who display stereotypically masculine characteristics, skills, competences; and men whose strengths are stereotypically assigned to women. However, it is also clear that some behavioural preferences and discrepancies between men and women can be justified and explained by evolution and society.
Our professional environments are still very male-dominated. Only those who know and understand the rules can play the game. Successful women play by these rules and decode, understand and speak the male language.
One learning of the seminar was that it is possible to decode the basic male behaviors, attitudes and self-conception and learn from it: Does the majority of male colleagues give justification for postponing a deadline? Or when setting one? Does a man feel personally attacked when challenged on the content of his presentation? Would he feel threatened by an argumentative debate? Would he feel uncomfortable admitting that he speaks five languages? Would he rather not admit his superb Excel skills? Certainly not.
How many women remember situations in which they offered new ideas to a discussion without the group reacting? Wasn't this very idea later repeated by a male colleague and received constructively, perhaps enthusiastically, by the group? How often did we sit with colleagues and overhear supposedly casual jokes about skirts, buttocks or legs of another female peer? In comparison, how often were male colleagues teasedabout exactly these topics?
Women and men behave differently on a variety of dimensions; uneven expectations and standards are established for each group; and (often unconsciously) unequal assessments are made. Today, women are not yet treated as full equals to men but we expect to be.
It becomes apparent that a cognitive contradiction frames the whole debate: equity despite inequality. Women want to be treated the same, despite all inherent divergences. A respectful, diverse and informed discourse on this presumed contradiction enables us to acknowledge differences between men and women whilst striving for equity.
Birte McCloy, Wiebke Witt and Michael Noss are one smart and multi-faceted team who guided us participants with compassion and care to rethink, question and re-calibrate patterns of behaviour and communication. They are a seasoned trio that provoked us to better understand and experiment with body language, gestures and voice. Methods such as peer counseling, role plays and individual feedback offered helpful, everyday suggestions for individual development. The fact that Michael Noss offered his male perspective in a sensitive and realistic way is a thought through USP of the seminar. In sum: the seminar offers valuable suggestions for reflection on "equity and divergence”.
I left the seminar hoping it could become a standard in every corporate training catalogue. Just like reading Lean In or The Double X Economy, this would be of enlightening value to companies, managers, men and women, and would create quantifiable benefits in the long run.