An Honest Discussion About Gender Gap – in Leadership and Politics

The gender gap continues as the hottest topic as both business leaders and women’s movement continue their focus on underrepresentation of women in high government positions, C-suites and corridors of power.  You don’t have to like politics or follow partisan conventions to know that the gender gap is at the forefront of political campaigns as well. The empowerment initiatives are overtly celebrated, but little to no honest discussions are taking place in regards to the real social, cultural and business barriers women face.

This is the Republican National Convention week.  Judging by the line-up of speakers, it is easy to see how the GOP is going out of their way to show that this is not just the party for the older white men.  Last night, Condoleezza Rice and Susana Martinez gave brilliant speeches.  Paul Ryan referred to his mom as his role model.  Ann Romney saluted moms, specially working moms who have to work a little harder.  All clearly designed to bridge the gender gap for the Romney campaign.  Again, empowering but no mentions of the real issues and barriers, nor any solutions on how to overcome them.

Ann-Marie Slaughter wrote an amazing, honest article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  I personally wouldn’t use that title, because asking whether women can have it all is a rhetorical question.  We never seem to ask if men can have it all, and the question itself is airbrushing reality for both men and women.  It’s the same ironic label as “working women” when women represent over 50% of the work force.  We don’t seem to ever say “working men.”

Slaughter stepped down from her high power government position so she can spend more time with her sons.  She notes reasons such as, inflexible schedules, unrelenting travel and constant pressure to be in the office, conflicts between school schedules and work schedules, and the insistence that work be done in the office.  This is not unique to Slaughter.  These are the barrier most women face with our current social and business policies, particularly in positions of power.  What is more unique is her financial independence and the ability to choose family over career.  A choice most working mothers, with the same maternal instincts, do not have….they struggle to simply keep what they already have.  This may explain why we have over 50% women representation in low-to-mid-management positions but a very small token in top positions.

Do we want social/business policies and political platforms that keep women at home or a better gender balance in leadership that has proven over and over again to grow the businesses and economy?  This brings us up to the honest dialogue about the gender gap.

When given a choice, women seem to make compromises that men are less likely to make.  Of course, fathers do not love their children any less than mothers do, but men seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their career.   Whether this “choice” is culturally driven or maternal instincts (I think it is both), the reality remains that positions of power provide that choice, while lower positions are occupied by those without one.

Work-life balance is not a women’s issue—it is a social and business issue for all of us. Slaughter offers good solutions for flexible working hours, investment intervals and family-comes-first management culture….shifting the false notion of when, where and how work will be done.  I agree and implemented all these suggestions in my previous C-suite position, while generating great financial results.  I’d add longer maternity leave, better affordable child-care, and women’s health issues to this list—particularly pertinent for those working mothers, without a choice, who are our future leaders.

Many men, just like women, would like this cultural change too, but we need to redefine what success looks like.  Her article sites research proving that organizations with extensive work-family policies have better performance.  So, what do you think is stopping politicians, specially female politicians who fight so hard for women’s votes, from addressing these issues?  We keep hearing that children are our future, but are they paying any respect to our future when it comes to working mothers?

I don’t have any kids, so this is not personal for me.  But I care and believe in policies that support women not to choose between family and career.  I can afford my own insurance, so taking away women’s right to have health insurance pay for birth control is not personal for me.  But I care and believe in women’s reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, and the freedom to “choose.”  Professional success with real commitment to family life–with or without kids–is important to everyone.  Don’t you think it’s more about country’s social and business policies than women’s lack of ambition, as often repeated by the status quo?

Political campaigns are rightfully centered on job creation and keeping women and men employed.  But they are missing a greater point on how to support families when they are employed.  A big opportunity in closing the gender gap in leadership, as well as political votes.  You see, it’s time to have an honest dialogue about the gender gap.

2 Responses

  1. Linda Wind

    Great thoughts and intuitive perceptions, as always, Farnaz. You truly hit the nail on the head…..I liked particularly the part about the term “working women” and how you never hear the term “working men”……so true, so relevant. Another great article! Kudos. Linda Wind

  2. Pingback : Developing The Next Generation Of Leaders – 3 missing components | Farnaz Global

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