By Marian Salzman, Thursday, November 12, 2009, at 1:45 pm.
I’ve been inspired by the new book How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by McKinsey consultants Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston. The fruit of five years’ proprietary research, the book establishes links between happiness and distinctive performance, positing a new model of Centered Leadership that combines meaning, framing, connecting, engaging and energizing.
The authors relate stories from women such as Alondra de la Parra, who rose in the male-dominated realm of orchestra conducting; Andrea Jung, chairman and CEO of Avon Products; Ruth Porat of Morgan Stanley; Eileen Naughton, former president of Time who landed on her feet at Google; and Julie Coates of Woolworth’s Australia.
You can read a chapter on McKinsey’s website, but I’d like to highlight some key takeaways:
I found the book especially engaging in light of several recent Fortune lists. The annual 50 Most Powerful Women in Business list is as encouraging as ever. When the magazine published its first list in 1998, just two of the women on it ran Fortune 500 companies. Now 13 do.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that just 15 Fortune 500 CEOs in total are women. Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list includes only five women. Senior editor Leigh Gallagher, who oversaw the list, shared some insights on Fortune’s Postcards blog. Even though the women listed—financial analyst Meredith Whitney, Google VP Marissa Mayer, Ning CEO Gina Bianchini, CNBC anchor Erin Burnett and Coca-Cola marketing’s Wendy Clark—have impressive résumés, they trail those of the men, who founded companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. (Author Barsh suggested to Gallagher that women be given a 10-year handicap to compensate for child rearing and women’s tendency to “zig and zag” professionally rather than pursuing goals in a straight line.) Half the people on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 Stars to Watch list, however, are women.
Of course, a common refrain is that power has shifted from business to government, and in D.C. the news is better. Fortune’s 10 Most Powerful Women in Washington list demonstrates that women have achieved tremendous political clout. Nancy Pelosi truly does speak for the House, Hillary Clinton performs feats of statecraft, Sheila Bair fights for the rights of Main Street over Wall Street and Olympia Snowe may be the Senate’s most crucial swing vote.
Personally, I’m very optimistic about women’s progress and potential—though I might feel differently if I’d built my career at a hedge fund instead of advertising and PR agencies—but some recent media coverage paints a different picture.
Women are expected to make up more than half the labor force, for the first time ever, by the end of 2009. Coinciding with that occasion, the Rockefeller Foundation and Time magazine undertook a survey of gender issues. (Time reported the results several weeks ago.) Large majorities view women’s increasing role in the work force as a benefit for the economy and for society. Women earn more and control more wealth than ever before. That’s good, but not all the findings are: Women still earn 77 cents on the dollar compared with men, and their average wages are falling twice as fast as men’s.
More troubling: “More than two-thirds of women still think men resent powerful women, yet women are more likely than men to say female bosses are harder to work for than male ones. Men are much more likely to say there are no longer any barriers to female advancement, while a majority of women say men still have it better in life.”
And then there’s this: “Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy.”
Former Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor and Portfolio editor Joanne Lipman offers some reasons why. In a New York Times op-ed, she argues that news about women’s progress is “spectacularly misleading.” Women’s board seats and corporate officer posts have flatlined or declined. Women represent almost half of all law associates but only 18.3 percent of partners. Lipman’s career was described in a magazine article as “leggy,” and the media cracked wise about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s “cankles.”
Still, Lipman isn’t entirely gloomy. Like the McKinsey authors, she advises empowerment: teaching girls to have self-confidence, encouraging female employees to ask for deserved promotions, learning to embrace risk and, importantly, maintaining a sense of humor.
Her final suggestion: “Don’t be afraid to be a girl.… Women do have a different culture from men. And that can give us some tremendous advantages.”