Monday, March 23, 2009


There is an excellent article in the archives of the Harvard Business Review on the challenges facing women leaders. Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership by Alice H. Eagly & Linda L. Carli.

First, let's start with some sobering statistics:
  • Only 1% of CEO's in the Fortune Global 500 are women
  • Only 2% of CEO's in the US Fortune 500 are women
  • Only 4% of the CEO's and Heads of Boards in the EU Fortune 500 are women
  • Only 15% of board seats of public companies are held by women
The article elaborates on the point that when you put all the pieces together a new picture emerges for why women do not make it to the C-suite. It is not only the glass ceiling but the sum of many obstacles along the way.

In fact women do not rise through the ranks the same as men and then all of a sudden hit their heads on the glass ceiling. They disappear in varying numbers at many points in their careers leading up to the glass celing stage. I have seen the same studies done throughout the professional services industry that proves that women in essence leak out of the system slowly and methodically at every stage of the ladder of "success".

The conclusion is that it is due to conscious and unconscious mental associations about women and men as leaders. The double bind that women find themselves in is if they demonstrate too many characteristics that people associate with women, they are not tough enough and do not have the "right stuff". But if they show too much of the tough, aggessive style thought to be a good leader, they are demonized as pushy , bitchy or worse. Again, they do not have the "right stuff".

I was at a leadership development workshop last week with 100 participants. The women in the group (about 10%) asked me at the end of the session, if I would work with them to create a network in which we could all help one another to succeed and if I would assist as a mentor.

If you have read my earlier posts under the "Women Leaders" category, you will know that I am now very passionate on this subject so of course I agreed.

As we began to talk, we discussed this issue of the double bind before a professor from Yale, Victor Vroom, suggested I read this article.

I was telling him that a boss of mine once said that the secret to my success was that I had an iron fist inside a silk glove. At the time, I thought it was just one of those odd things men sometimes say to women in business settings. However, I have since realized that he was spot on! I now realize he was saying I had found a way to navigate the labyrinth.

It is funny that Mike would post today quoting Ann Mulcahy on leadership. I have had the opportunity to meet her a few times at the Fortune Most Powerful Women in Business Summit and hear her address large groups. She is a perfect example of someone who has navigated the labyrinth. She combines the traits many of us think of feminine and masculine all into one great leader.

Note: You can read the entire article by going to and putting the title of the article into search.

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