Executive Women

Jody Greenstone Miller summarizes it perfectly in a recent NYT article:


Q. Any headwinds you’ve encountered in your career because you’re a woman?

A. If you just ask me about things that affected my career, being a woman would not be on the list. I really don’t think of it that way. I also don’t think the discussion is healthy about, “Here’s how women lead. Here’s how men lead.”

I believe that for two reasons. One is that I think there are lots of different kinds of women leaders and lots of different kinds of men leaders. There isn’t one type of leader who is different because of sex.

I also think, “So what?” Let’s say it’s true. Let’s stipulate that women are apples and men are pears. You still have to find a way to succeed in the world. Complaining about differences or identifying differences is not particularly constructive. I feel that what we’ve lived through the last couple of years is what I call the “women criticizing women under the guise of help” industrial complex.

There have been hundreds of articles and books telling women why they’re not succeeding, to the point where I think women — particularly young women, who may not even feel they have a problem — are looking at each other and saying, “Maybe we do have a problem.” Professional women have been put under a microscope. If you did the same thing to men, there would be a long list of things that men have to work on that’s stopping them from being successful, too.

I do feel that we are in a pretty unhealthy place. Even if we were to say it’s true that people don’t like women who are successful, what in the world are you going to do about it? You’ve got to find a way to navigate through it. You’re not going to say, “Oh well, I can’t be successful,” because that’s not true, and it’s not constructive.

I also think that many issues people point to as factors that hold women back, like the “unauthoritative” sound of our voices, may just be symptoms of the fact that there are not more women in leadership roles, rather than causes. If we had more female leaders, perhaps people would start to associate the sound of a woman’s voice with leadership.

The other overarching comment I’d make is that the air is thin at the top. Anytime you are progressing, it’s competitive. People will use whatever tools they have to try to prevail over you. The set of tools that is used against women is based on perceptions of their vulnerabilities. I think a lot of this, particularly when we are talking about top jobs, is really about power and not about gender. Some of the ways people fight tactically may feel gender-based, but they’re really about power.