Sign up

Financial Education Blog

Blog Author
Blog Month
Why Do So Few Women Lead? image

Why Do So Few Women Lead?

Do females pull back when they should “lead in”?

I came across an intriguing article in Time Magazine about Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. Sandberg has a unique take on women in business and I would love your comments and opinions on the subject.

The Facebook CEO says that women are still such a minority when it comes to being leaders in the business world.

The statistics in the article state:

  • Of the 195 heads of states, only 17 are women.
  • Women hold about 20% of all seats in parliament globally.
  • Just over 4% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women.
  • 17% of board seats are held by women. (Interestingly, that percentage is up only 3% in the last ten years.)

Why is this?

Do Women Pull Back?

Sheryl’s premise is that we women are partially to blame. In other words, we do it to ourselves. Social norms, for lack of a better word, are also to blame. She writes, “From the moment they are born, boys and girls are treated differently. Women internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men – and pull back when we should lean in.” (Sandberg has just released a book titled Lean In.)

In her view, women need to set their sights higher, have more confidence in their skills and talents and spend less time on housework and child care. (And the men in their lives need to spend more time on housework and child care.)

A Revealing Experiment

One of the most revealing pieces in this article is an experiment conducted in 2003 with two groups of college students. Both groups were given the same case study to read about a successful real-life entrepreneur. The entrepreneur’s name was Heidi Roizen. One group read Heidi’s story. The other group read the same story with just one difference – the name was changed from Heidi to Howard.

Here were the findings. When asked about what they read the students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent. But Howard was seen as more appealing and likeable. Heidi came across as selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.”

The bottom line of this experiment shows that success and likability go hand-in-hand for men. For women, her likability goes down as her success goes up. As Sandberg says, “Female accomplishments come at a cost. And that cost is people declining to click on the Like button.”

Think about the successful women you know or know of.

Is there is different set of criteria you evaluate them by versus a man with the same level of success?

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, made the headlines recently for returning to her job just two weeks after giving birth to her daughter. She received quite a bit of flack for that. That doesn’t happen for a new father. Why? Because society tells us that women are supposed to be nurturing and not so work-driven.

Next time you are in a discussion about a highly successful woman, listen to the words people use to describe her. Do they say she’s “too aggressive”, “not liked by those she works with” or “she’s in it for herself”? Or do they simply see a highly-accomplished person?

The Dreaded “E” Word

One other story - Wendi Goldsmith, the CEO and entrepreneur of Bioengineering Group, in Salem, Massachusetts, came face-to-face with the successful female gender bias when, after building a successful company, decided to post her profile on an online dating service.

She put down as her profession “geologist and entrepreneur.”

How many responses did she receive? Zero.

So what did she do? She removed one word from her profile – entrepreneur – and her response rate soared. Wendi said, "Men want the warm, fuzzy woman and not the one they think wields a hatchet. Many men are uncomfortable with, intimidated by, and ill equipped to handle a powerful woman. People assume that those with power aren't necessarily nice, and women are supposed to be nice."

Fast forward, Wendi did not end up with anyone from the online service. Instead she is married today to a man she had met years earlier. The twist? Her husband, Brian, had no idea when they first started dating how successful Wendi’s company was. He said, "If I had known she was a successful entrepreneur, I would have been a little intimidated and unsure about pursuing her romantically."

Your Thoughts Please

Is this crazy equation of a successful woman not being equal to a likable, popular woman, at the root of why there is such a lack of female business leaders today?

Have we fallen prey to the myth that women are less assertive and less driven than men? That women are supposed to be “nice”, “nurturing” and “supportive” and anything less than that labels us “selfish”, “cold” and “not to be trusted”?

And are we passing this bias onto our children, both consciously and subconsciously? Are we teaching our daughters, nieces and granddaughters to be future leaders or to be polite?

Or is all of this just an excuse women can use to not lead? Or does this success/likability awareness inspire you to take on a bigger role in life?

I don’t have the answer. I’m simply asking the questions.

I welcome your comments.

Please provide your thoughts below.

For more of Kim’s insights on financial freedom for women, check out her resources here.

Leave A Comment jump to leave a comment
3/21/2013 6:35:02 PM
The problem I have is that you don't look at multiple sides of the issue. How many commercials and movies make fun of men who do housework and childcare? It's supposed to be funny and men are not seen as men when they do such things. As a matter of fact, a man who wants to stay at home and do what traditionally has been a woman's role will probably remain a single man. What are the perspectives from women who are working class or poor? Is this topic even an issue to them? Is being the leader of the family somehow less important? I think it's safe to say that women with advanced degrees or from upper middle class backgrounds can do whatevery they set their mind to; that is the result of a long struggle for equality. If these statistics remained the same for the next 30 years or so, is it a problem or can you say women are choosing to do what makes them happy?
3/23/2013 6:07:18 AM
I believe that it is important for women to become financially independent. Unfortunately being nurturing and nice doesn't benefit women. I, encountered poverty for being nurturing and nice. I also came across other women who encountered similar situations. Women were brought up to be nurturing and nice and to be supportive of their families. Many unfortunately, were subjected to abuse for being supportive.Women may hold back because they lack the time, it is difficult for women to get ahead especially if they are working and taking care of their children at the same time. I think many men are intimidated by women who are financially independent because they can "walk away" when problems surface, such as abuse and or infidelity. The traditional roles no longer benefit women. Too many women are being taken advantage of for being nurturing, nice and supportive, it's time for women to focus on achieving their own security because there is no guarantee that their husbands will be supportive of them even when they nurture the family.
3/24/2013 2:47:37 PM
I was discussing this exact issue with a single female friend of mine both last night and this morning, and just FW this article to her. My thought(s) - women are labeled brutally as "b's" (ya know what I'm sayin'?) and that does not help you in the business world if your clients and colleagues are calling you an aggressive "B" simply b/c you established a clear standard. I've run into this many times in my life. I've refused to step away from the line. I am very kind, polite and rational. And that is part of the...problem! It is irrational in my mind that I have a lower standard of excellence for my business b/c I am a women simply so that others feel...more "comfortable". I also find it difficult to find men to date. Not sure what I'm going to do about this. I no longer tell anyone but my two closest friends what I'm doing business-wise b/c ppl cannot handle it (let alone men - I believe we have a men crisis going on right now and it saddens me). I've been labeled as someone who "has their priorities all wrong" b/c "you work all the time" and I don't work al the time, I spend spend a few extra hours a week looking at real estate and I've pruchased one investment property per year - hardly "working all the time". So I dumped both those guys. And I think the majority of other women are encouragi ng this poor behavior - when I broke up with the last couple guys I dated, I received a ton of criticism from family and friends. Many female friends said things like, "those guys are prefect!". No! They are not. They are mediocre at best. Raise the bar. Turn up the dial on your standards.
3/28/2013 5:52:39 AM
I believe it's very important for women to step up and become successful Many men cannot be relied on to be there to give support neither financially or emotionally I do believe that some men are uncomfortable or intimidated by successful women but usually these me lack the confidence to lead themselves and not all men fit into this category everyone both male and female will choose someone they are comfortable to be with Men often feel that they should be the strongest, the one to lead , but if the do not have the skill or confidence yes I'm sure they would withdraw , but this is no reason for women to not push forward when the rewards are so great we just need to know we will attract a bigger fish In the corporate world I do believe that such a female would be rejected from opportunity but success brings with it it's own new set of circumstances and times are changing lets keep moving forward and not wait for men to take the lead some will some will not
3/28/2013 7:33:28 AM
Dear Kim, thanks for this post. I also can see this attitude towards female's role (being nice, polite and nurturing) in the vast majority of my friends, acquaintances and colleagues of both genders. But personally I do not think that it's a problem - it just means that in order to have both career and personal life the successful women should look for their personal happiness far aware of their working places and keep their success in a secret. It’s not so difficult as women less then men like showing off =) Can you please write an article about how you would handle the offensive requests from your boss to make some coffee or copy a huge pile of docs for him? I had quite a big argument with my boss a couple of years ago (and did not get the amount of money which I normally received) when I refused to make coffee for him and his guests. I tried to explain that I am a highly qualified employee with a higher education and a big working experience and that it's a duty of secretary to make coffee. Bu still he was in fury. It was not completely in vein – in some months he started value me more, which was noticeable in the amount of bonuses, but still it was very hard for me and I wish I would be able to prevent such things that no one even dared to think of asking me to bring some coffee. Probably this topic is covered in the book by Sheryl, but I had no chance to read it yet.
4/1/2013 7:52:25 AM
well Kim, this situation gets worse in smaller countries like mine:Kenya. I bought that same issue of Time Magazine and the teller who was a man read the title " Don't hate her coz she's successful" and smacked saying " so what does she want us to do? who cares? " and I said "Me. I care" then he laughed as i walked out. I should have been pissed off, but wasn't, don't know why. We just finished our general elections and one of the candidates was a woman, she had a proven track record of success in the ministries she had worked in and because of her aggressive, in your face way of doing things, she lost the elections.Why? because people both men and women, saw her as dictatorial, and as the men would put it, " she will sit her butt on our faces". Ladies in my country who are successful in business, science and all sorts of industries have a hard time getting dates let alone a husband and those that do get married end up divorced with bruised self confidence or publicly humiliated by their husbands in a bid to tame them. Yet they stay in those horrible marriages. I just don't get it. On the other hand, our successful female athletes all are married to foreigners ALL of them. Its not a lack of patriotism, but rather a coping strategy as they'd rather a man who has no clue who they are and how immensely successful they are than deal with the mess of jealousy and evil by fellow countrymen. It all starts behind the doors of many homes, the girl is not denied schooling actually she is taken to very good schools but her courses are always chosen for her. What a waste!Many including myself are in some silly Graduate course that we care nothing about just because we have the "privilege" (its actually blackmail) of full tuition being payed for debt free by our parents. We have a hard time "Leaning in" as the joy of a challenge, competition, winning in a "man's" field was extinguished long time ago when going through the system of education.
1/28/2014 6:16:28 PM
Gucci Shoes UK, Ralph Lauren Outlet Online, Lauren UK, by Dre, Longchamp Pairs, Goose Outlet, UK Shops, Kors Outlet Online, Jacobs Outlet, Kors Outlet, Jackets Clearance, Outlet Online, Clearance Outlet Online, Factory, Outlet Online, Jacobs Outlet, Ralph Lauren UK,
Play CASHFLOW Classic

Latest Rich Dad Blog Posts