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Women on the front lines

Updated: Mar 9, 2019

Why is it that men for the most part are assumed to be qualified for a job, a promotion, or a board seat, when women are expected to prove they have what it takes? I am frequently asked by women executives how to get on a corporate board. It has been my experience that many of these women who are trying to attain that coveted board seat are attending courses or paying for coaches to improve their bios, resumes, and offer “training” on how to serve on a board. Over the past 50 years, did men have to jump through the same hoops?

This starts a conversation about how individuals, men or women, get that seat. But as we often say, it is not about what you know but who you know. In the corporate world, that group of people tends to be a “Boys Club.” Their networks usually go beyond fraternities, golf games, and poker nights. They bleed into the systemic and often unconscious biases in business schools, companies, and simple after-work social times. A lack of presence often translates to a lack of ability or being passed over for a promotion. Whether we like it or not, creating our own space within these circles can be vital for our growth in the marketplace.

I’ve seen this happen personally. Whether it’s discussing bourbons at my favorite upscale restaurant and bar, Clarity, or using the “ladies’ tees” to hit my drive past the men in corporate golf tournaments, I often think of the phrase “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Take fantasy football, for example. As a kid I was an avid football fan. But the past 2 years I have been playing fantasy on a local league. It is interesting that as I talk about my team and players, the men around me take notice and talk about their team, league, and players too. The door of casual conversation many times leads to business discussions and later deals.

This is not to say that woman must engage in this way, but change starts from the inside. We need to get on the team before we can change the game. In a recent article in Forbes, Kim Elsesser says, “Basically, the findings reveal that when equally qualified men and women are compared, and their potential evaluated, men get the advantage.” Her book, Sex and The Office, notes “Women are not to blame for their lack of advancement at work. … Many male executives stick with other men, especially when it comes to dinners, drinks, late-night meetings, or business trips. When it’s time for promotions or pay raises, these same executives are more likely to show preference to the employees with whom they feel most comfortable—other men.” This ends up being as much a detriment to the company as it does to the women being passed over. It is estimated that having 3 or more women in senior management equates to businesses scoring higher in all dimensions of organizational performance, including revenue. According to a recent study by PWC, if the gender gap were completely eliminated in the US, it would result in a 9% increase of roughly $1,825 billion in annual GDP by 2026. They note five foundations for a gender-equal workplace: align diversity with your business strategy, use data, drive accountability from the top, be honest: tell it like it is, and set realistic objectives with a plan to achieve them.

What People Are Talking About On International Women's Day 2019... Here

When it comes to superheroes, astronauts, the Oscars, and our twenty dollar bill, we have made noticeable progress, but when it comes to gender stereotypes, gender equality at work, and venture capital, we still have a long way to go. “To give an idea of the considerable challenges that the United States faces, there are just 66 women for every 100 men in business-leadership and managerial positions, women do almost double the unpaid care work that men do, and there is one incident of sexual violence for every two women in the United States. More work is required to collect robust and consistent data on gender inequality to inform discussion about which interventions are likely to be most effective.” McKinsey Global Institute, MGI.

In 2016, here, $94 billion was invested in companies that had only male founders, while $10 billion went to businesses with at least one female founder. Not only that, but 17 percent of VC-funded startups are led by women, which is a number that has remained stagnant for the last five years.

When it comes to women, our differences are our strengths. Growth comes through diversity, not in gender or race only, but most importantly, in thought. Everyone brings different experiences to the table and it’s important to make sure all those voices are heard. This International Women’s Day, remember to share your voice and recognize the people who helped shape it.

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