Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Women in Leadership: Getting Unstuck

“Still Stuck: Women and Leadership in the 20th Century” was the apt and provocative title of a timely panel discussion I attended at the recent annual conference of the International Leadership Association in Atlanta. Panelists – all accomplished women in leadership – highlighted both women’s recent advances and the barrage of evidence that we are still excluded from the top ranks of business, major nonprofits, and government.

Sherry Penney, former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts; Barbara Kellerman, widely published Harvard leadership scholar; Deborah Rhode, Stanford law professor; and Susan Madsen, professor at Utah Valley University focused on what stands in the way of women’s equality as well as remedies. They pointed to some familiar statistics: In the US, women constitute only 19 percent of Congress, 12 per cent of governors, and 19 percent of mayors of the largest 100 cities. They are 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. (Percentages are much lower for women of color.)

Rhode, in her valuable recent book, Women and Leadership, cites a wide array of studies indicating that the biggest barriers to women’s advancement are unconscious bias (on the part men and women), in-group favoritism and “inhospitable work-family structures.” She offers an array of remedies from individual choices to public policies. During the panel discussion she noted that the adoption of organizational and public policies aimed at gender equity are important steps but that unless they are implemented effectively, equity is unlikely to result.

The good news is that attitudes toward women in leadership are improving, and men as well as women increasingly support more equal division of work in the home. Still, the first female major-party candidate for US President has just been defeated. Getting fully unstuck remains a long-term project.

By: Barbara Crosby, Associate Professor
Barbara C. Crosby is associate professor at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and former academic co-director of the Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota. She has taught and written extensively about leadership and public policy, integrative leadership, cross-sector collaboration, women in leadership, media and public policy, and strategic planning. She is the author of Leadership for Global Citizenship (1999) and co-author with John M. Bryson of (Leadership for the Common Good: Tackling Public Problems in a Shared-Power World 2d. ed. 2005).

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