When I decided to write my latest book, Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results (McGraw-Hill, December 2012), my goal was to start a dialogue about the lack of women at the top levels of leadership. According to a recent New York Times article, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and former top State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter have the same goal. The need for this dialogue is clear: after decades of talking about gender diversity, women are still grossly under-represented in the senior leadership ranks. Even though women make 80 percent of purchasing decisions, comprise 51 percent of the workforce and hold close to 50 percent of all managerial positions in the Fortune 500, they represent as little as 15% of the executive suite and corporate boards.
In her forthcoming book Lean In (Knopf, March 2013), Sheryl Sandberg argues that the primary reason women are not advancing to the senior ranks is because they often inadvertently sabotage themselves. On the other side of the debate is Anne-Marie Slaughter, who places the blame for the lack of women in senior leadership with the organizations who employ them and with policymakers who fail to enact legislation to support them.
So, who is responsible for the gender gap at the top? The reality is that it's not "either-or," it's "and." It's not either women or the organizations they work for. It's both... and it's men as well! As I share in Make Room for Her, Integrated Leadership -- building gender-balanced leadership teams that produce better business results -- requires a holistic approach. It's not about "fixing" women, women's leadership development programs or diversity quotas. And it's not just the responsibility of Human Resources, although they will certainly play a key role. Integrated Leadership is a three-legged stool -- women, men and the organizations for which they work must all play a role in the solution.
I concur with Sheryl Sandberg that women often hold themselves back. In fact, my first book, It's Not A Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor (McGraw-Hill, 2007) focuses on what I call the "sticky floors" of self-limiting assumptions, beliefs and behaviors that prevent women from realizing their potential and moving into mid-level leadership. In Make Room for Her, I explore a different set of challenges that hold women back from more senior positions, such as leveraging their natural strengths, showing up strategic and utilizing sponsorship.
I also agree with Anne-Marie Slaughter: The importance of the organization and its top leadership cannot be underestimated when it comes to building gender-balanced leadership teams. Organizations must communicate the business case for Integrated Leadership, create an inclusive culture that values gender intelligence and proactively seek ways to advance more women into senior leadership. I recommend a systematic approach that uses a company's HR strategies (succession planning, talent management programs, measurement and recognition programs, leadership development process, etc.) as a foundation.
Both Sandberg and Slaughter have good points and positive intentions regarding women's advancement. Yet we can't forget that one of the main reasons we have not increased women's representation in leadership is that we have missed or neglected a key piece of the puzzle -- men! Because men have been pushed to the sidelines and have not participated as co-creators of balanced leadership teams, they have perhaps become apathetic about supporting women. Yet men, who represent over 80 percent of senior leadership and corporate boards, are in the very best position to help women advance to the top leadership ranks. We need to tap into men's knowledge, experience and insights, as well as their goodwill. It's time for men to actively participate in the process by coaching, mentoring and sponsoring women and by acting as change agents within their organizations and teams.
I am both encouraged and energized by the attention this subject is garnering in the national consciousness. People are finally beginning to embrace the principle that numerous studies have already proven: gender-balanced leadership teams produce better business results. But we won't get there by focusing solely on the role of women or organizations, or even both. It requires women, men and organizations working together to create Integrated Leadership teams.
Make Room for Her is available wherever books are sold.