Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Stop stereotyping women's leadership style

The WSJ article Advice for Women on Developing a Leadership Style irritated me – yet again promoting the stereotype that women are inherently less assertive and so have to work to develop a leadership style.

I just don’t buy this any more. Yes, maybe 20 years ago women were coming up through the workforce who were less assertive (although I never had that problem) but today’s young women come into the workforce with a much stronger, in-built belief that women are equal and have equal opportunity to the men around them. And I see this as much with our young women coming into the workforce from India and China as I do with US educated women - sometimes more so!

I have, and continue to, mentor many young women and give talks at women’s organizations. 20 years ago I would hear about women not being listened to, having to go above and beyond to be heard, but it is just not as prevalent today. And I think this is as much a result of the men changing as the women. Today’s generation of college educated young men have been raised in a more equal world and so are much less likely to fall into the aggressive “I’m superior because I’m male” type of behavior. I gave a class for TechLeaders at Google last year and was delighted to get a ton of input from the women in the class that the men they are working with are not at all like the stereotype of past years.

Because I have chosen to work in and around very much male-dominated worlds (semiconductor, venture capital and now wall st) I do see prejudice and assumptions about women being less capable - but it's with the over 40 generation typically, not the under 40s.

So I get aggravated when writers perpetuate the myth of the woes of being a young woman in the workforce.

The coaching I give is consistent – stay focused on results. In the end, for any business, that is what counts. If you are in sales, stay focused on producing business; if you are in R&D stay focused on the creativity and excellence of your code; if you are managing money stay focused on your returns. And stand up for your ideas and your contribution. Be direct and to the point. Don’t play office politics. If you do that, and you are good at your job, you’ll be successful. And, if you are in a company that does not play by those rules then the solution is simple: find a better company.

I have a favorite story on this one: A friend of mine - now close to 50 - has managed money on wall st for over 20 years. She's a tough chick and a good looking one - but one who does not wear nylons and so in the NY summer goes bare legged. One summer her older male boss came to her and told her she should wear nylons - her reply "Do you think my fund will post higher returns if I wear nylons?". The subject never came up again.

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