Maybe it’s time to reconsider leadership. Women represent just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and are only 6%of all Venture capital board representatives. It seems obvious that when it comes to leadership, maybe women just don’t have what it takes.
I have the privilege of being a speaker and trainer to leaders and CEOs across the globe, men and women alike. Well…if i’m honest…it’s mostly men. And the more I research it and collect feedback and data, the more I think I’ve landed on the top three reasons that women can’t lead. So without further ado, here they are!
Women lack “leadership” qualities. It’s true! When you look up the definition of “leadership” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you get a person who has commanding authority or influence. Synonyms include boss, boss man, head man, helmsman, kingpin, master, higher-up, lead man, dominator, overlord, king, prince…hmm. Where are my queens in there? It doesn’t actually feel like a particularly welcoming space for a woman. While I’m making a sweeping generalization here, women biologically are more driven to collaborate, to organize, and to resolve conflict and problem-solve together, rather than as a commanding authority. While it might be easy to say well the dictionary is just a little behind and stuck in a patriarchal-bordering-on-misogynistic scope of traditional leadership, we can’t place all the faults on Webster. It’s how we as a culture have accepted the definition. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see that 91% of the top 10 leadership books from the last 10 years are written by – you guessed it – men. (White men, in case you were wondering.) Let me be clear: a lot of those books actually dive into very feminine ideas around leading collaboratively with empathy and vulnerability, and there are certain times when a leader does have to stand up, stand out, and be an authority that drives the team forward in a commanding kind of way. My point here is that men don’t make bad leaders, but women have been inherently labeled as unfit for leadership by the traditional definition. We just don’t fit the mold. It’s like asking a dolphin and a monkey to have a race up a tree – whoever wins is the best leader. Um…what if the next problem that needs solving is in the water? The more we can be conscious of the ways we define leadership, it’s my hope that we will begin to see those paradigms shift to better incorporate and honor the entire spectrum of traditional masculine and feminine qualities as equally valuable in leadership.
Women spend too much time and focus on the home and their families. Uh…no. Look at the amount of time we spend doing other work. For men and women who both worked outside the home, there was a 37% difference in how much time women spent doing unpaid work – that’s the equivalent of 95% more 8 hour work days per year – unpaid. Add to this the wage gap of earning only 79 cents to a man’s dollar in paid work, and the difference becomes glaring. You know what? I agree! Women DO spend too much time and focus on the home and family, but that’s not resolved by keeping them out of leadership positions. That’s resolved by having partners step up more at home and having businesses honor and respect paid family leave for all genders.
Women are too hormonal and too emotional. True, we do have hormones and emotions. What’s false is that men don’t. Men have a daily cycle of testosterone that’s incredibly sensitive to stress, and scientific studies have found that testosterone has been linked to financial risk-taking behaviors, something I’d suggest is pretty important to control if you’re in a position of leadership. Look men, I’m not saying you can’t control your testosterone surges, but if that’s the argument we’re going to use for why women can’t lead, we just want to level the planes a little bit.
So there it is – the top three reasons why women can’t lead. In case I wasn’t clear, I don’t think the issue is actually with women. Women can make exceptional leaders. Maybe it’s time we stop blaming women and instead turn our attention to redefining the systems and structures and even the very word leadership to be more inclusive for all genders. From there, I’m pretty sure we’ll see the very best of all genders emerge in leadership spaces.
Until next time, stay fearless!
how about the fact that stress effects are kept under control by testosterone and if women have to take life or death decissions for a long time they collapse due to stress much faster than a man would?
Good question. Testosterone does INTERACT with the stress response but not necessarily to DECREASE it. In many cases, T exacerbates the response. Plus, women have testosterone as well so in this case, that logic just doesn’t pan out.
In fact, women have been shown to be MORE resilient to the effects of stress. 🙂 https://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2013/07/010.html#:~:text=%E2%80%9CPrevious%20studies%20have%20found%20that,the%20protective%20effect%20of%20estrogen.
Men and women will never be equal, thank God. We are fundamentally different and come pre wired by nature to do fundamentally different things. Trying to turn Women into men, and men into women has been a societal catastrophe. As the largest human subset women have been sold a bill of goods that they have been oppressed and discriminated against. Women are told they must leave the home and compete with men. If a women stays home and has a family she is looked down upon by this insanity. This lie has led to fifty years of less than replacement birth rates in the United States and in almost all other western countries plus China, Russia etc. Women are the most unhappy and unsatisfied now than ever. Women are turning 40, rich, childless, and lonely at a rate never seen before.
My one child is a beautiful, educated, intelligent women. I raised her to go out into the world and make her own way. I did what society dictated and it’s the biggest mistake of my life. She’s in her mid thirties, rich, and childless, with a man she does better than, who she doesn’t really respect. She’s not happy and will become less happy if she doesn’t realize soon that having children, and being a mother, is the most fulfilling and important thing in the world.
Covid showed where women want to be. They want to be home, and they don’t ever want to go back to work. Maybe it’s time to stop lying and pretending that the two sexes are somehow the same. They are not. Women are five percent of CEOs because they are not interested. If they were, as the majority human subset, they would be founding companies at a rate commensurate with their demographic. They are not, and as shown in the most egalitarian countries, they never will.
I want to respond to this line by line. I agree that no one should try to turn men to women or women to men. Every person should have a choice as to how they show up, and what roles they want to align themselves with – gender notwithstanding. Are you saying that because I see myself as a business leader, that’s culture trying to shape me as a man? The better question might be, why would LEADERSHIP only invite masculine qualities or value such? Especiallly when we see women lead companies performing 3x better than the S&P?
I don’t think women have been sold any bill of goods. I think we have LIVED that experience. That said, I don’t believe in playing victim, only in taking actions that help to level to playing field and prevent barriers from existing for any gender to play any role. For example, I think it’s a shame there aren’t more baby-changing stations in male bathrooms. That hinders men from parenthood.
With regard to birthrate…why is that such a bad thing? We are in the middle of a global climate crisis! Fewer people are a blessing and the opportunities for women to be able to control their own desire to reproduce is paramount to a healthy and happy population. As a 40-year-old successful businesswoman with no children myself, I promise you, I’m quite happy. N=1 I know, but while I agree with your statement that we (as a nation) are lonelier than ever before and less happy, I do NOT agree with your causality. Children are, for some, a means to a fulfilling life, but the data on people who have children actually tend to skew the other way making them LESS happy.
I would cheer your daughter on, not to have children, but to seek out what is truly meaningful and fulfilling for her, outside of anyone elses’ narrative.
Finally, covid didn’t show where women want to be. Instead, it revealed the deeply unfair division of labor that is forced upon women. When a parent needed to leave the workforce, that fell upon women at much higher rates. Let’s not get correlation and causality confused.