Sheryl Sandberg's upcoming book brings welcome high-powered attention to gender equality. Her work has the potential to renew passion for solving a problem whose solutions have been glacial in coming.
But the lack of equal representation cannot be mostly attributed to women not raising their hands, or "leaning in." There are countless examples of women who do all the right things in the right ways, with all the right skills and attributes, who still do not move forward.
My fear is that women will embrace Sheryl's recommendations, putting in extra time and effort to deal with family balance challenges, but without systemic changes from corporations and government, they will simply be more frustrated and demoralized. Ultimately, Sheryl is asking women to work harder, but evidence shows that most corporations are not meritocracies and that family systems have not changed as dramatically as her own experience suggests.
What we need is a both/and solution; without it, we will never see true change. Women do need to do their part in being strong leaders, but companies and governments must also do theirs. Many in business and government are working hard for equal participation, knowing that we are all better served when men and women are active participants. But too many are comfortable with the status quo. For this group, we must wield this renewed attention on gender equality in leadership to turn up the heat.
It is time for women and supportive men to employ our collective economic power to pressure organizations to make changes. Women make more than 85 percent of household purchasing decisions, and one in three married women out-earn their husbands. Women hold 51 percent of the nation's private wealth. That is power. So rather than just improving ourselves, we must draw on our economic power to persuade companies and government leaders to do the same. This is the combination that will achieve social change.
Having partnered with UC Davis to publish the study the status of women in California's top companies, Watermark has seen firsthand how slowly the numbers of women in leadership roles has climbed. That is why this year, we initiated the "Power of 3" project, in which we ask women and supportive men to influence three companies to put a woman on their board of directors. These are three companies with large female customer bases whose businesses would only benefit from a woman's presence on their board: OpenTable, Obagi Medical Products and NetApp. Our goal is to have thousands of signatures on these petitions to recommend these companies add at least one woman to their board. As the first three companies progress, we will pick the next three companies. Our hope is that others will take note and proactively do what is not just the right thing but what that has been proven to be good for their business.
The responsibility for equal gender representation must be shared by corporations, government and women. In turn, women will bring the leadership qualities of the future -- collaboration, ideation and innovation to bear -- a formidable combination for solving our most intractable problems and creating a better future. I applaud Ms. Sandberg's initiative of raising this to a larger audience, and I hope we can build on it together, with everyone leaning in to meet our goals.
Follow Marilyn Nagel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@wtrmrk