I was having dinner with a friend and former colleague recently and the topic of women executives came up. I was expressing my obliviousness to what others are quick to distinguish as the ratio of women to men in the boardroom. Since that conversation I find myself counting the men to women ratio in every meeting that I am in and indeed it is an uneven balance. I still choose to not “see it” and am not a fan of acknowledging it. My resistance as I think through it is in my own denial, as I refuse to believe that I could be a victim of discrimination of any kind. As I researched this topic I was faced with the reality that gender inequality exists and is statistically worth the attention it continues to get however it cannot be the “the reason”.
Let’s start with how I see it…
I can only speak from my own experience. In my career there have certainly been ups and downs however I cannot recall that any of the ups or downs were relative to my gender. I have never lost a promotion to a man (that I know of), I have never been denied credit-due and am sure that my voice is heard as equally as any man or woman around the table; being heard has never been an issue…ha!
What I know…
There are indeed sacrifices required to have anything you want in life and in a male-dominated corporate environment those sacrifices are often more acceptable, in our culture, when it is a man making them versus a woman. I have had to make many sacrifices to have this career however they were sacrifices that my family and I were willing to accept to have the life we want and me to have the career I have always dreamed. Those sacrifices are no different than men make however our culture continues to struggle with the idea of a woman as the household breadwinner. Even worse is the topic of a “stay-at-home-dad” as in our culture to accept the idea of a man staying home is one that still elicits a response or judgment that is absent when a woman is defined as the same.
I do believe that the ratio of women to men in the boardroom has more to do with those sacrifices than opportunities offered. Many of the statistics are simply numbers citing how many men vs. women exist in Executive-level positions, without consideration of choice. What is harder to analyze are the number of opportunities that were offered to women that were denied due to personal choice. It is unfair to simply state that there are less women in these positions and equate it to gender inequality. I know many women that have passed up a promotion or have decided to “step down” after deciding that sacrifice did not serve her well. Statistically there is still work to be done in determining choice versus inequality.
Equality in the workplace is important but as I see it when you remove the “E” what you are left with is “QUALITY”. If you produce quality work you will be noticed and will have those opportunities put in front of you that require YOU to make the choice. If you have not put in the “work” then gender has no place in the discussion.
Indecisiveness is also prevalent in the discussion. In my career I have had the benefit of leading and mentoring many women and I have often heard them say “I want more” but when pressed they struggle to define what the “more” is in their career. In these instances opportunities have been presented and denied due to choice. These opportunities may have required working more hours, nights and weekends or even relocation. The choice is always ultimately theirs however again gender inequality does not have a place at this table, it is personal preference.
Risk is also worth mentioning in this equation. I heard a quote that I have shared before that when offered an opportunity men are more willing to throw their hat in the ring even if they have not mastered the opportunity; while women will only “apply” if they are confident that they have the mastery. As I seemingly have more of a masculine mentality I realize the risk but also realize my potential. I have thrown my hat in many rings that I have not seemingly mastered but knowing that I have the ability and tools to master while succeeding along the way offers the confidence in making the decision.
The final word…
I know ultimately that inequality in the workplace still exists, I am not sticking my head in the sand however I am also noting that if we are simply going to hang our hats on that being the reason that there are more men than women in the boardroom then we are missing a lot of perspective. While writing this blog post I read numerous articles offering statistics on promotions, mentoring and sponsorship inequality in the workplace that prove that there is a shred of truth. We certainly have more work to do on all fronts.
My point in offering my perspective is that we, women, play a part in the narrative. Believe the statistics if you have equally measured up to a male counterpart and been passed up, but not a minute before, as that is where we as a gender sell ourselves short. We are quick to relent to the societal norms that are ultimately our choice and not a cultural requirement and then suggest that women don’t have the same opportunities. Before calling out gender inequality ask yourself…
- Have you done the work in your career?
- Have you put in the time required?
- Have you invested in the education required?
…and ultimately if all things are equal have you stood before the decision-maker and asked “why NOT me”?
I will continue exploring this topic as it matters. As a woman in a c-suite position I know what it took to get here, the sacrifices, the work and that is why I offer my voice in perspective. I also have the benefit of having surrounded myself with a group of women that are strong, educated and relevant and where those women are in their careers, and in their lives, was based on choices made by them for them. Let the statistics speak for themselves and use your voice to determine what YOU want without “reason”. Ultimately YOU DECIDE, have the CONFIDENCE to “own it” and live the life that serves you best regardless of gender or cultural norms.
Life as I see it – L.