How great is it to be a CEO? Not only do I get to nurture the culture of a great company, but I’m also invited to speak to organizations for women in business. These groups usually expect to hear stories about women’s struggles, suggestions for breaking the glass ceiling, and words of motivation for women fighting the good fight.
Here’s the catch: I don’t think focusing on the struggle is such a good thing. I’m deeply grateful to all those who have struggled through the years to help women be where we are today. Without the efforts of the suffragettes or people such as Betty Friedan, I might not be a CEO today. After all, it’s been only 96 years since women won the right to vote in the United States. Do you know anyone over 96? I do. The 19th Amendment is not ancient history—it’s only a human lifetime ago.
Shaking the Etch a Sketch
But women today should take a new approach. Every time we say, “We’re not equal,” we’re helping to create that reality in the world and in our own minds. In a great example, I have a friend who is a senior executive in a global pharma company, and she once told me that every time the (male) CEO asks her into his office, she rushes to take off her red nail polish. I asked if the CEO had ever even mentioned nail polish to her. “No.” She has chosen to believe this, despite the fact that the company has employed her for longer than 20 years.
Besides, there are many factors behind the low numbers of women in management roles and the gender pay gap—and discrimination is just one of them. For example, women continue to pursue degrees and careers in areas in which management paths are fewer and pay is lower, such as education, healthcare, and social work. Behind that fact, however, is the observation that societal dynamics compel women to choose such paths; Jessica Schieder and Elise Gould provide much more detail in a July 20, 2016, report from the Economic Policy Institute.
I think we’re seeing that traditional view change now, and the reason, plain and simple, is that younger generations of women either aren’t being taught that education and healthcare are “women’s work” or they’re rejecting it. In fact, many women are starting to recognize how much economic clout they actually have.
Focus on the positive
It’s one of the most important things women leaders can do: help other women focus on the power they already have, and not on the obstacles. Women may not be aware of it, but marketing professionals have known for years that women make the spending decisions, and almost all marketing is targeted toward women.
Women have the characteristics that companies want in today’s business world. More companies are seeing a correlation between success and the qualities that we often associate with women, such as emotional intelligence. In staffing today, hard skills get you vetted but soft skills get you hired.
In a nutshell, women leaders are still important because they can help other women stop focusing on the struggle and start building on their strengths. If you are a woman leader, you can start by modeling that philosophy. Be strong, be brave, be yourself. It may be the most radically effective strategy a woman leader can execute.
Want to become a powerful female executive? AMA's Women's Leadership Center has all the tools you need to take the next step.