Some may think my life is weird.
I’m a serious academic who loves teaching business to students from around the world. On the other hand, I teach karate to young elementary school kids. Yesterday, I was knee deep in business failure statistics and the latest marketing automation innovation. And last night I had to keep a five-year-old from kissing his crush in the middle of class.
It’s an interesting, challenging and fulfilling mix. Yet, one thing remains the same regardless of where or what I’m teaching. I’m a woman teaching topics dominated by men. While the martial arts is a traditionally male sport and will take time for women black belts to gain acceptance, one may assume that gender wouldn’t be a major issue in business.
That assumption would be completely wrong.
We have a very long way to travel to even approach equality. In Gender imbalance: In business as at business school, shares the results of a Peterson Institute for International Economics study including:
- 60% of firms had no women on their board
- 50% had no female executives in the c-suite
- One-third had nether women on the board nor female executives
We can sit back and wait for men to change our leadership roles, or we can do something about it ourselves. While I believe men should be our partners in this quest, it must start with the understanding that women leaders don’t have to be “as good as men”, but are simply good leaders.
Changing Our Definition of a Woman Leader
We know there are pay gaps between genders and that there are fewer elected officials that are women. We know there was a huge gender issue in the United States 2016 Presidential campaign and the woman in the race ultimately lost. Politics, issues and parties aside, Hillary Clinton ran her Presidential campaign with the thought that she could be as good as any male leader. That was intentional, but one of her campaign staffers believes it was the wrong approach.
In Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World, Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for Hillary Clinton's campaign explains:
“There was one moment in particular — I remember being on the tarmac somewhere — and it just hit me all at once: that we’d made Hillary a female facsimile of all the qualities that we look for in a male president. And I just had this gut punch of ‘What have we robbed her of in doing that?’
As someone who has worked in male-dominated industries for almost three decades, Palmieri’s words showed me how much I was part of the problem. I didn’t have any female role models so I tried to copy the men around me. It never occurred to me that I could do it any other way.
And realizing that I’m part of the problem is a very hard pill to swallow.
Women Need to Communicate Differently
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. While I can’t speak for all women, I can say that the statistics prove that our current plan isn’t working. We’re not even part of the conversation when we can’t get a seat on the board.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) focuses on the 93% of communication that isn’t words. One pillar of NLP is behavioral flexibility which means doing something different when your current plan isn’t working. Yet, the way we communicate is so much more than conversations. We convey our attitudes, feelings and mindsets without ever intentionally doing these things. And many of us “speak” as if we are trying to be as good as male leaders. It’s time we learned a different way to communicate.
We don’t have to be as good as men or try to cultivate male leadership qualities. We just need to be good leaders, regardless of gender. We need to change the way we talk about leadership and never try to beat men or win some gender battle. Instead, we need to show that women leaders simply lead in different ways.
And embrace our differences instead of trying to eliminate them.
Women Need to Lead the Way
Women play the biggest role in changing the perceptions of what makes a good leader. It will be the difference between waiting for someone else to change our fate or taking charge of our own destiny. In Will America Ever Have a Woman President?, Susan Bordo shares the chilling truth:
“History suggests that the biggest obstacle to a woman aspiring to the highest office anywhere is simply that she is not a man. In every era, in every culture, as French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir pointed out, a man is the norm, and women are defined in terms of their difference from that norm. This is particularly true when it comes to our visual images and expectations for the head of state.”
If our biggest obstacle is that we are not men, we need to show that women leaders can be different while still being effective. Although some may find this controversial, I don’t believe it’s a man’s job to create a different narrative for women. It’s incredibly helpful when men embrace gender inequalities and make strives towards a level playing field. But it’s not their responsibility to lead this battle. That’s our responsibility as women to define ourselves in the new equality that we’re trying to build.
And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Liesha's a business educator by day and Kyokushin Black Belt by night. She's the author of Killing Rapunzel: Learning How to Save Yourself Through Determination, Grit, and Self-Employment (her mother hates the title - but it's a metaphor mom!). She talks freelancing adventures at Microbusiness Essentials.