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Increasing the Ranks of Women in Corporate Leadership
Gloria Feldt is the co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a best-selling author, and a leading expert on women’s relationship with power and leadership. She is committed to reaching gender parity in leadership by 2025. We sat down with Gloria recently to hear her strategy for making that happen, and also discussed how women should view power and build their leadership skills.
Why did you choose to create Take The Lead?
It’s crazy, since I had theoretically semi-retired to write, teach, and speak instead of having a high-powered job. But I was shocked when I discovered that women had been stuck at under 20% of top leadership positions across all sectors. I had to do something about it. And I knew from my research and the teaching I had done, along with my career history of successfully taking on big, bold goals, that I had a good chance of creating a movement to make it happen. So far, so good.
Your best-selling book is titled No Excuses, 9 Ways Women Can Change how We Think About Power.
What are some of the “wrong ways” that many women tend to think about power?
Twenty years ago, women might have thought they had to become men (metaphorically and in their behaviors and even dress) to succeed. Today, it is clear that the world needs what women have to offer, and women are more comfortable being who they are. We learn and get stronger in the doing. So this is not about laying blame; it’s about helping women change the paradigm of power from the outdated and no longer functional “power over” to the expansive, creative, and innovative “power TO.” That seemingly subtle shift changes everything.
What do you think many women are doing wrong in their quest to move up the corporate ladder and/or become strong business leaders?
Again, this is not about what women are doing wrong. They are working in organizations created by men for men who had women at home doing the housework and raising the children. That scenario is no longer functional in our two-earner family society, where women earn 57% of the college degrees and should be able to contribute their talents at work as well as at home. The business case is now unassailable that companies with more women in upper leadership make more money. So for the first time, the business case and the justice case for women’s leadership have converged. Businesses that fail to advance women in leadership are leaving half the talent on the table. So leadership parity is now a strategic business imperative. Women need to expect and demand their fair share of leadership and power.
If a woman were to say to you, “Women can’t make it into leadership positions because men won’t let them,” what would be your response?
I’ve been thrilled to see women break open so many doors during my life and throughout my decades of activism. But at the rate women are going, it’ll take 60 more years to get to parity! Women hold under 20% of top leadership roles across all sectors of the economy–and that’s not fair, or good, for men, women, a balanced family life, or even companies’ return on investment (according to McKinsey and Company’s analysis, among others).
Yet in spite of cultural barriers that arguably do remain, from the boardroom to the bedroom, no law or structural barrier is holding us women back now – except ourselves. There are many reasons – external barriers of discrimination and internal barriers of fear and insecurity – but there are no excuses anymore. The doors are open; we have to walk through them. We can’t expect others to step aside for us. So we have to take the leap. You can’t get the job if you don’t apply, or the salary raise if you don’t ask. You might not always get what you ask for, but that is one of the things we need to learn. Being told “no” isn’t the end of the world. Try again.
Your website says that in trying to increase the ranks of women in leadership positions, you try to focus on solutions, not problems.
What are some of those solutions?
The reason Take The Lead’s program works to break women through the internal and external barriers to leadership parity is that it:
- is comprehensive: we prepare (train), develop (mentor), inspire (role model), and propel (thought leadership to change the narrative from problems to solutions).
- cracks the code keeping women from parity by focusing our training on changing women’s relationship with power so they can embrace it with intention, confidence, and joy.
- collaborates with other leadership programs in order to scale faster.
- counts up publicly to leadership parity by 2025!
It’s an incredibly exciting moment!
What advice might you give to a woman who places importance on a work/life balance but doesn’t want to sacrifice her career advancement options?
Every day for everyone is a series of choices. Decide what you want and go for it. And don’t be afraid to change the system so that both men and women have these options and the flexibility to exercise them in a way that works for them at various stages of their lives.
How prepared do you think today’s millennial women are to enter the workforce and ascend into leadership positions?
The great thing is that they believe they can do anything. The not so great thing is that they also think there are no gender issues anymore. As a result, they are unprepared for the implicit bias that remains in the workplace, and they are often stunned after a few years to see their male colleagues advancing faster than they are. But these are learnable skills, and that’s why Take The Lead teaches women in early career stages as well as midcareer and in or near the C-Suite how to counteract the culturally-learned biases, know their value, embrace their power, set their intentions, and thrive.
Are there any particular leadership qualities that you feel are more important for women to possess than men?
I believe honesty and courage are the most values important for every leader. I believe that it is incredibly important for leaders to know themselves deeply and show themselves authentically. Those qualities know no gender. Women are typically acculturated to possess greater skills in collaborative leadership and to read the emotional state of others as well as the rational statements. Women are far less inclined to seek leadership roles solely for the power and status and far more likely to focus on getting the job done (using their power TO). I hope that as we ascend to parity, we don’t lose those characteristics. This will take self-awareness and discipline.