Current neuroscience confirms what we have known since the beginning of time: Men and women are different. This difference is reflected in how we think and act at work and at home. With women rapidly outpacing men in the number of undergraduate and graduate degrees earned, business can no longer afford to keep women out of the C-suite and other leadership positions. Yet, a recent survey by a nonprofit research group Catalyst show's the number of women occupying corporate board seats is just 16.6%. At Fortune 500 companies, the percentage of female executives has remained constant at 14.3% for three consecutive years.
Businesses must improve these grim statistics if they want to not only win, but compete in a global, diverse economy in which women play a vital role.
Although I hear distant grumbling in the pride lands as I write this, I believe increasing the ranks of women in business in influential, decision-making roles must begin with women themselves. I am not underestimating the many ingrained cultural hurtles which prevent women from management positions, however, to use these hurtles as a reason for women to not try to rise in corporations, because "that's just the way it is" is an excuse. You want change? As women, we, ourselves, must change. And all change starts from within.
Women must stop seeing themselves as a minority in the workplace and view themselves as the realistic majority. In other words, women must create a major shift in mindset. What do I mean by a mindset shift? Women must stop thinking of ourselves as a minority group -- with all the emotional baggage that comes along with minority status, i.e., powerlessness, under-representation, victimization, etc. The statistical truth is women are no longer a minority in the workforce. We are more than half the population and we often occupy more than fifty percent of many graduate programs, including medicine and law. Yet we continue to believe -- and therefore act -- as a minority player in business. This mindset begins at the entry level and helps explain the dwindling numbers of women as you move up the food chain. If this mindset shift starts with each individual female worker, the rippling effect will be daunting.
Secondly, women must not allow themselves to be pigeon-holed into "female" departments and roles. I don't have to expand on what these are -- everyone knows. (Hint: These departments usually have a smaller budget and pay scale than others and often leave little chance for visibility and recognition with the decision-makers who influence upward mobility and opportunity.) In other words, if the big boys do not know you are in the game, it will be impossible for them to know you want to play on their team, at their level. To put it succinctly: out of sight, out of mind.
Thirdly, women must accept the fact that they are women and stop trying to act like men, erroneously thinking it will improve their chances for acceptance and promotion. Authenticity, perhaps more than anything else, is key to anyone's success in business.