Women – Conspicuously Absent From this “Guide”

From time to time, as those of you who follow these blogs know, I find it necessary to take issue with articles related to women’s career advancement. Women at Work: A Guide for Men by Joanne Lipman recently caught my eye and I felt the need to respond to a number of points.

In terms of the bottom-line benefits of women in C-suites, Ms. Lipman and I are in total agreement. She accurately points out that “companies with more women in leadership posts simply perform better.” Absolutely and proven out in research by Catalyst, Fortune and many others. She also indicates that “there is too much man-shaming” and that “life at work, like life everywhere is messy. There are no one-size-fits all solutions.” Couldn’t be truer.

Here’s where Ms. Lipman and I part ways
Ms. Lipman’s strategy for getting women to the top varies dramatically from my point of view and from WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.’s proven approach with world-class organizations for over 20 years. Her premise is to tell men how to deal with women. Ours is to show women how to grab hold of their careers, prove their worth and work WITH their corporate leadership to make their mark.

Let me give you a few specifics on major points of difference:

Ms. Lipman provides men with guidelines to encourage women to speak up more definitively. Yes, it’s true that women can be more tentative than men in making their opinions known, for a variety of reasons, corporate, cultural and individual. However, the woman herself must take charge of the change. That will happen when she understands and acknowledges her talents and her worth to the organization. It’s a process and a learning curve SHE must undertake. Additionally, women must learn tools, techniques and strategies to deal with the reality that what they say is more likely to trigger a backlash than if male counterparts said the same thing.

Ms. Lipman encourages men to “not believe” women when they say they are not ready for a promotion. That’s way too general and doesn’t take into account the needs, wants and requirements of the individual. Yes, there are times when a woman doesn’t see her value to the organization or feels insecure about moving ahead. It’s why women need to have both mentors and networks to help them objectively assess their talents and their potential. However, when a woman says “no” to a promotion, she may also be realistically looking at her whole life and realizing now is not the best time, either personally or professionally. At the end of the day, the individual woman is responsible for her growth and development, orchestrating it when and how she sees fit.

As Ms. Lipman points out, sometimes women have a harder time being immediately respected by male peers and superiors. At WOMEN Unlimited, we help women overcome that issue by “showing up” with a voice of authority and with confidence in their ability to contribute to the organization. We help them develop an “Internal Presence” which makes them both more comfortable and more confident. While I certainly see Ms. Lipman’s point that
bosses can help by “providing more feedback,” it’s only a small part of the solution.

Ms. Lipman and I agree that women are impacted by unconscious bias. However, perception of bias is very individual. What one woman views as bias, may not bother another. I have more confidence than Ms. Lipman in a woman’s ability to confront the bias that troubles her and move forward. Women can learn to say something in a way their male colleague will understand. They needn’t be strident to be convincing. Often, men don’t get what they are doing wrong, or its impact. Gentle, but frank reminders can turn the tide of unconscious bias.

Let’s be clear. There is much truth in Ms. Lipman’s suggestions to males in power; they are just not enough. Without putting women front and center, she is engaging in a one-sided conversation, which is unlikely to produce the change we both wish to accomplish.

Judge for yourself. Take a look at Women at Work: A Guide for Men and let me know what you think.

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.