Whether it’s Hollywood movie studios and their paucity of female directors, the tech industry and its alarming exodus of frustrated women, or the stifling male fraternity culture that dominates Wall Street, women continue to be marginalized in the business world.
The vast majority of CEOs responding to a McKinsey survey noted that hiring females is essential to “getting the best brains.” Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Despite increasing awareness of this issue, meaningful change remains agonizingly slow — less than 20 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and, on average, women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.
Having worked in a variety of industries, I’ve been enormously fortunate to work with many incredibly talented and accomplished women. I’m pleased to name a few:
- Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Ph.D., the first — and founding — chancellor of the University of California, Merced.
- Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D., senior vice president of Eli Lilly Company, former CEO of Riley Hospital for Children, and former CEO of University of Michigan Health System.
- Cleopatra Vaughns, civic leader, chair of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the first female board member and the first female chair of San Francisco Visitors & Conference Bureau, community relations head of Blue Shield of California, and president of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs.
- Susan Hallat, the first female leader of golf marshals for Palmer Private course at Humana Challenge (and its forerunner, the Bob Hope Desert Classic).
- Barbara Kiely, CPA, captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and head of her own firm in Chicago.
- Helen Mann, head of special events and community engagement at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital (Ann Arbor).
- Barbara McElroy, R.N., physician relations head at Indiana University Hospitals.
These women have been exemplary role models for all, but especially for women. Their indefatigable drive, personality, intelligence and adaptability have inspired me and countless others. All of these women welcomed tough assignments and, more importantly, delivered results — often in the face of adversity.
Real leaders commit all available resources to creating a positive organizational climate that has zero tolerance for any discriminatory behavior, whether against women or anyone else. Real leaders require their teams to establish systems and cultures that reward women and men equally, thereby encouraging women to focus on contributing, instead of fighting against out-of-date biases. Real leaders understand that expertise and contributions — not a person’s sex — is what wins the race.
Here are five critical steps leaders need to take to increase the role — and value — of women in their organizations:
- Make the commitment: It sounds basic, but chief executives need to understand — and accept — that their organization’s bottom line will be enhanced by including women in policy-shaping forums and decisions.
- Make the commitment count: Tie executive compensation to the active inclusion and advancement of women; simply meeting a quota is not enough (and, in fact, is counterproductive).
- Encourage and mentor women: The fact is that more women take on the combined role of breadwinner and caregiver than men, and organizations need to accommodate that — or they will ultimately suffer the loss of some great talent. Women want tough assignments and, in my experience, are often better than men when it comes to collaborating.
- Check male egos at the door: Consciously or unconsciously, the “old boys” network is alive and well. Organizations must adopt a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination (and not just against women). Instead of celebrating the behavior that still exists on Wall Street, it needs to be wiped out.
- Recognize women’s unique contributions: Most of the women I know and have worked with have been better at multi-tasking than men (myself included), and reach consensus faster and with less contention than most men. It’s no coincidence that more female U. S. Senators have co-sponsored bills and reached across the aisle to get things done than their male counterparts.
Organizations need to realize that leadership requires extra innings. Not all games are decided in nine innings. Excelling in business requires a real team effort and leveraging the talents of everyone involved, regardless of their position within the organization — or their sex.
A management consultant who has worked with such business leaders as Howard Holmes (JiffyMix), Tom Monaghan (Domino’s Pizza founder) and Charles Walgreen Jr. (Walgreen Drug Stores), Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D., recently released his third book, Truth, Trust + Tenacity: How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders. His previous book are Real Leaders Don’t Boss and Leadership Requires Extra Innings.
Eich is a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve (ret.) and a former chief of public affairs at Blue Shield of California and also at Stanford University Medical Center. He has served on 10 for-profit and nonprofit boards of directors and trustees and has been an adjunct professor at three universities.