06/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When CEOs Talk, Their Sexist Excuses Are Exposed

"Would you take a board or management position to fill a quota?"

I posed this question to an international group of women focused on developing leaders on LinkedIn a month ago. The conversation is still active with the majority of the women saying "yes." They overwhelmingly felt this was the only way to correct the imbalance. Once women are in their positions, they can work to move gender parity forward.

However, most of the women in the group have left the corporate world themselves. Like me, after years of disappointment and frustration, they took their experience, knowledge and wisdom with them as they left to do their good work from the outside as consultants, coaches, trainers and yes, business owners.

Will enough top-talent women stay in male-dominated corporations to change the face of leadership? Or will we keep leaving until governments force the issue?

One of the women in the group sent me a link to a site explaining Finland's use of public pressure to make CEOs change their ways. In Finland, if a corporation does not have a woman on their board, they will need to publicly explain the reason why. The media can then print and discuss their explanations.

Therefore, lame excuses will be exposed and hopefully debunked. For example, Peter Brabeck, former CEO of Nestle, explained the absence of women on his board due to their lack of mobility: "women get married then can't have international careers."

We've heard lots of other excuses as well--women's lack of business acumen, the shortage of women with technological knowledge, the unwillingness of their customers to accept a woman in power and a woman's inability to hold their own in tough negotiations with men. Isn't it amazing how many of these lies and excuses are still prevalent today?

If CEOs are forced to explain the lack of women on boards and in executive positions, we might be able to start the conversations that lead to the real truth about the mobility, business acumen, technical knowledge, powerful presence and negotiating ability women have today.

However, if we advocate for CEO disclosure, we also have to ensure that there are women in the pool to choose from. In my research, I found that top-talent women often don't stick around long enough to be promoted because they don't feel appreciated and positively challenged. They tend to leave jobs after they grow bored with the work, they were overlooked for a title or assignment they thought they deserved, or their ideas and desires were ignored.

These strong, smart, ambitious women do not fit into the fold of traditional corporate cultures. They aren't passive; they will stand up for themselves when demands are unreasonable. They will say no to standards and practices that do not serve their goals or the needs of their teams.

Yet, within three to five years, they tire of swimming upstream against the current. They either start looking within their organization for another position or outside of their organization for another job or career. Many are looking at companies as mere training grounds to gather what they need before starting their own businesses.

Therefore, many of the best women in corporations often take themselves out of the running for leadership positions.

I have been hired many times to coach women who are mentally done with their current boss or organization. Most want to leave right away and want help figuring out their next move. They are disappointed, angry and determined to find more fulfilling work.

The women wish the leaders would see the light. But they don't feel responsible for fighting for the changes themselves.

We have two options: (1) we can pray that the CEOs will either change their minds on their own or be forced to change their ways through legislation or public humiliation or (2) we can fuel the changes ourselves.

My hope is that more strong, passionate, high-achieving woman choose to stay a little longer in their positions as we all actively work together to bring gender balance to leadership, which includes government positions as well as corporate management. It is time we push for CEOs to publicly explain their positions on developing and promoting women.

Even if they can't engage senior leaders face-to-face, women can chime in with the collective voice by writing articles and blog posts, sending letters to corporate leaders and making their needs known at work. If enough women ask for what they need at work on a continual basis, we can create a collective surge.

There is a quiet revolution brewing. It needs your energy. When all strong, valuable women make their voices heard, we can tip the scales of power forever. We need to push from the inside as well as the outside.

Support your local legislatures and media to question CEOs to disclose the reasons they don't have more women in leadership positions. Hopefully, they will be smart enough to see the outdated beliefs in their answers.

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