Why we have too few women leaders...
If you have 17 minutes to spare sometime, do watch this inspiring video of Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, talking about the position of women in the workplace, and think how we are preparing our daughters to face the personal and professional challenges they will meet in the future.
Sheryl bemoans the fact that there are insufficient numbers of women at the top in so many key professions and positions of responsibility. She suggests we need to change this pattern, and educate our daughters to change this pattern, by focussing on three things:
- Women need to sit at the table
- They need to make their partner a real partner
- They need not to leave before they leave.
Watching this reminded me of a debate I took part in before a large audience of girls and teachers two years ago. The motion was: This House believes that there is still a glass ceiling for women aiming for top positions, and I was asked to speak in favour of the motion.
I began my research with some degree of scepticism, wishing I’d been invited to challenge the motion. However, disturbingly, when I started to put together stories of women in certain professional areas (science, ICT and finance were three significant areas) I found considerable evidence of inequality of treatment. The statistics of how few women were in positions of power were striking, and I didn’t feel they could simply be explained by the fact that there are many women who want a different balance in their lives, choose different priorities and therefore don’t put themselves forward for such roles. I couldn’t accept that the figures resulted from the fact that women weren’t capable of carrying out such roles as well as men. So that left the conviction that, despite the law about equality of opportunity, women were meeting barriers their male counterparts didn’t meet. This was borne out by the stories of the young women who had shared their experience with me. Sheryl Sandberg suggests that some expectations and assumptions which can act as barriers may be self-imposed.
In the debate, the motion was defeated, and I realised that the girls in the audience didn’t recognise the concept of the ‘glass ceiling’ (it isn’t a phrase we tend to use these days) and they certainly didn’t want to accept that such a ceiling existed. Denial can be a powerful thing!
We want girls to believe in themselves, to negotiate for themselves, to be confident and bold. However, we need to accept that there can still be inequality in the professional arena, and certainly in our perceptions and expectations of men and women. Accept it exists, and then we can fight it.
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