The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
When Suffragettes demanded our right to vote, to own property, to earn a living, to get an education, to live independently, and to control our financial security women were told that the power to control these rights should reside with those who had the physical power to fight for those rights — men. When Feminists demanded our right to equal opportunity, equal pay and sexual freedom, we were told women didn’t have the mental competency and stability to deal with these freedoms like men.
So we set out to prove to those manly keepers of institutional power that they were wrong. And we became the best mental and physical competitors of men we could be. We were determined that when we finally broke that glass ceiling… when we finally made it to the top… when we finally got enough women to make it count… we’d show them what it is to be a woman.
Over the decades our world slowly changed. We now live in a country where:
51% of personal wealth in the US is held by women (1)
83% of consumer purchases in the US are made by women (1)
30% of non-farm small businesses in the US are owned by women (2)
53% of college educated population in the US is women (3)
59% of all bachelor degrees in the US are earned by women (3)
61% of all master’s degrees in the US are earned by women (3)
50% of all law and medical degrees are earned by women (3)
47% of the US workforce is women (3)
40% of US managers are women (3)
By 2018, female owned small businesses are projected to create 33% of new jobs. (2)
And even now, when given the chance, we make a huge positive impact to the bottom line. Companies with the highest representation of women in their top management team achieved significantly higher return on equity (35.1 %) and return to shareholder (34%).
Yet we sit in 2012 atop our towering achievements as some of the most well educated and financially independent women in the world and we are still barred from entry into the hallowed halls at the top.
16% of Federal Congressional office holders in the US are women (4)
24% of State Legislators in the US are women (4)
12% of State Governors in the US are women (4)
8% of Mayors of the 100 largest cities in the US are women (4)
16% of Fortune 500 corporate board officers are women (3)
3% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are women (3)
22 % of all new business startups in 2011 in the US were by women (3)
And most telling of all — Ninety (90) countries have more women office holders at the national level than the US.
How can this be?
We fought our way up every step on that ladder to success. We were convinced that if we’d just contort ourselves enough we could make it to the top. If we could just jump higher, fit in better, tough it out longer, made our voices lower, stepped forward more, wear our emotions less… We did it all and more. And still that glass ceiling held us down.
So we point our fingers at “those men.” The ones at the top. They were the ones who built the glass ceiling to begin with. The lack of women leaders at the top must be their fault. Shame on them. We’ve done our part. What else can we do? Or we point at the women still climbing the ladder. If only they would somehow suck it up and bridge “the gap” between us and those manly heights. How can we reach the top when they are just not ambitious enough, persistent enough, forceful enough…
But here is the thing, leading isn’t about competing. Leading is about people. It’s about building coalitions. It’s about bringing people together over shared ideals. It is about being able to influence others to achieve goals. It’s about being willing to listen and inspiring others to follow. It’s about forging new paths.
Influencing others and getting things done is what women have always excelled at. Our competitive “weaknesses” are really our leadership strengths.
Women need to stop following in man’s footsteps and stop jumping through man’s hoops. We have proven everything we never needed to prove in the first place. We are capable of great thought and great learning. We are stable and dependable and competent. We can manage people, money, conflict and stress. But none of these issues were the reason for our exclusion, they were the excuse. So why are we still trying to prove it?
Our leadership problem isn’t a lack of skills or opportunities. Women have always been leaders. We’ve always had the ability to influence others. And our lives have always revolved around the ability to get things done when it was for the well being of others. Our problem is that we’ve fallen into the man traps of getting distracted by goals over issues and by things over people and of thinking that power is force and comes down from on high. At the same time, we’ve held on to our woman trap of being unwilling to use our leadership capital to benefit ourselves.
Throughout history, women’s rights have only made significant movement forward when we were uniquely positioned to provide something needed or valued for the greater good. We are now poised for just such a time. Change is coming. And women will be the key. We are innovators. We are adapters. We are enablers. Look at all we have gained in the last 40 years. We now have the resources, the power, and the influence to shape those changes to reflect the needs and priorities of women as well as men.
It’s time to forget about the fabled glass ceiling above us. There is an iron gate standing in front of us. It may be barred from the inside and rusted from disuse, but we are neither invisible or silent behind it. There are men who want out and want change as much as there are women who want in and want to help. We have the power to unite both sides.
It’s time for a new game with new rules. And it’s time for women to play our leadership card for the good of our nation and future generations.
(1) Fast Company, The Case for Girls, Anya Kamenetz
(2) Women on Business, Women Small Business Owners Are America’s New Job Creators, Susan Gulenius
(3) 8 Keys for Transforming Business Culture, Jane Perdue & Dr. Anne Perschel
(4) Women in Politics Institute, Men Rule, Jennifer Lawless & Richard Fox