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How Women Become Leaders

Posted by: Diane Brady on September 7, 2007

I was eager to pick up a new book by Alice Eagly and Linda Carli on how women become leaders (called Through the Labyrinth). They choose the word labyrinth as a substitute for “glass ceiling”, which they feel is an antiquated phrase.

While the number of women in senior positions remains disheartening, to say the least, there’s no question that women are gaining a substantial advantage over men in education worldwide—and that companies are at least becoming embarrassed by a dearth of women at the top. But here are the real questions that linger:

Are men natural leaders? All that testosterone and time in team sports is supposed to give them an advantage in the C-suite. Not so, say the authors, who point to the growth in female aggressiveness as evidenced by crime statistics and—more important—traits like “extraversion” (ie. being the kind of person who’s a hit at dinner parties) as more statistically critical in leaders.

Does family hold a woman back? Remember all those articles about female MBAs dropping out to have babies a few years back? Here, the authors suggest that men have to do more around the house to free up women’s time (‘duh!’ says every working mother who has folded laundry at 11 p.m.—alone)

The real issue, for people I speak to, is the tendency among women to lack the appropriate skill set for top jobs. They’re not talking about personality but global experience, profit and loss experience and managerial experience. This is where many highly skilled professional women fall short. They work hard and long but they don’t expose themselves to the right mix of jobs to be the Wow! candidate when top positions come along. Instead, they have narrow-cast themselves into being highly proficient but not highly promotable.

Reader Comments


September 7, 2007 6:19 PM

The number of women in the top jobs is an embarrassment to the corporate world. At the same time, that doesn't mean you promote a woman just because she's a woman. I think that's a disservice to women in the long run and creates animosity with the men. A solution might be to develop women in operations as early as possible so they'd have the skills necessary to tackle the next job as much as any man.

Saying all that, you CANNOT discount how important children are to a woman. Let's recognize the differences between men and women and not pretend they don't exist. Come on that's why marriages survive. If my wife was like me, we'd be divorced by now! :-)

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