Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hear No Evil - See No Evil - Speak No Evil OR You *Haven't* Come A Long Way Baby

I spoke with a young woman the other day who was offended by my research that shows successful women leaders “temper their assertiveness’ and, “feminize leadership behaviors”, by bringing into the mix some stereotypic feminine characteristics like empathy, inclusiveness, nurturing. She said it was a message that she wouldn’t want to put out there! Hmmm. “We (think: younger women) don’t want to hear that stuff. We don’t believe in talking about masculinity and femininity because it has no meaning anymore.” Really?
What troubled me so much was the vehement reaction that a woman, early in her career, had about these research findings. And then I thought more about it and wonder whether this denial is pervasive throughout those in their late-twenties, early-thirties.
I well remember early in my career trying to make myself “gender neutral” so I could just be accepted as another professional along with the guys. But that was in the 80’s. Have we not come further in accepting that women can be themselves and be successful? Is it really so shocking that women who have successfully reached the top of their organizations balance our expectations of them as women and our expectations of them as a leader by integrating feminine characteristics and effective leadership characteristics? My early-in-her-career-woman immediately translated that into the women who are successful have to get men coffee! Really?

Stereotypes create barriers to success for women; that is true. But some characteristics that are associated with female stereotypes (think: collaborative-ness, inclusiveness) are valued; they make women AND men effective leaders. Today’s organizations need those “feminine” behaviors and it saddens me to think that yet another generation of women who are new in the workplace wants to diminish them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Adapting to a Gender-Biased Culture?

A recent HBR Blog case study 
tells the story of Sarah, the only woman on the board, who was being marginalized by the group.   A fellow board member told Sarah that she talked too much “just like his teenage daughter.”  Her CEO told her to stop “arguing” with the CFO when she was merely asking the tough questions. These are typical responses to an assertive woman in a powerful role. Women leaders who demonstrate assertiveness and a confident mastery of their field are often viewed as brash, pushy, bossy, overbearing.

Men are viewed as strong and competent when they forcefully assert their point of view. Women who demonstrate these behaviors are seen as a problem.

My research, and that of other practitioners and academics, shows that people expect women to be more democratic and interpersonally-oriented than men. Further, research shows that successful female leaders blunt their sharp elbows and temper their assertiveness in order to meet those gender expectations.

Since gender bias in the boardroom probably isn’t going to disappear any time soon, women leaders have to learn to work around it. To succeed, women need to file smooth the hard edges associated with stereotypical male leadership.

In the case study, worried that he might lose his CFO, the CEO gave Sarah an ultimatum: tone it down or leave the board.

What should Sarah do?

She should remain on the board, but change her approach at board meetings. Her male colleagues see her as “grilling” the CFO and putting him in the hot seat. If she has concerns and wants more information, she should meet with the CFO, perhaps including the CEO, prior to the board meeting.

In the public setting of the boardroom, since the group dynamics amplify Sarah’s “unacceptable” behavior, I’m sorry to say, she should “tone it down.”

Reading the environment and using that awareness to tailor ones behavior is a powerful ability. Generally, women are particularly astute in grasping a culture and figuring out how to operate within it.  Sarah’s challenge is to adapt her style to fit the culture of her board. If she can do that, over time she may be able to positively influence the board’s culture.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Can Women Lead in a Take-No-Prisoners Culture?

Jill Abramson, the first woman to serve as executive editor of The New York Times, was abruptly dismissed after less than three years on the job.  The Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes under Ms. Abramson and she won praise for journalistic efforts both in print and on the web.  In spite of this, she was criticized for her management style.  She was accused of being brusque, harsh and pushy.

And Ms. Abramson isn’t the first woman to be “let go” from a top editorial job. 

On the very same day Abramson’s firing was announced, Natalie Nougayrède, the first woman editor-in-chief of Le Monde, France’s most prominent newspaper, resigned after 14 months, saying that she felt she was being undermined by those who wished to “reduce drastically the prerogatives of the head of paper,” as she pushed the paper to be more fully into digital and to be more profitable.  Yet, if you believe her critics, she was being undermined because of her top-down management style and inability to build consensus.

Susan Glasser, former editor of the national news section of the Washington Post, lasted less than two years before she was removed from her post.  At the time Ms. Glasser was hired, Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr. praised her strong vision for “…an idea of change and transformation at the paper that involves us embracing new ideas and ways of thinking about our journalism During her tenure, the Post won a record six Pulitzers in one month. Yet, she was criticized for being difficult, hard to understand, and divisive.

These women achieved great results and were driving innovation and change. However, they were all labeled smart but difficult, unapproachable, and intimidating – traits that have also been associated with successful male editors.  What does this say about the newsroom culture?  Can women lead in this kind of culture?

The firing of Ms. Abramson, the resignation of Ms. Nougayrède, and the removal of Ms. Glasser are wake-up calls that women leaders who demonstrate assertiveness and a confident mastery of their field are viewed as brash, pushy, bossy, overbearing.  Patronizing peers or bosses might call them unladylike or say that their behavior is "unbecoming."

Research and experience point to the double standard we use to evaluate leaders.  Men have a broader range of accepted behaviors than women do.  Men can be viewed highly when they forcefully assert their point of view and their authority.  They are being strong, competent leaders.  Women who demonstrate these behaviors are not seen as strong competent leaders; they are seen as problems.

There’s no denying that there are environments, like a newsroom, often dominated by men, where the culture is competitive and results-driven, where leaders crack the whip and "take no prisoners." 

Unfortunately, gender bias in the newsroom environment probably isn’t going to disappear any time soon, so women leaders will have to learn to work around it.

Ms. Glasser explained it this way: “You can’t get to greatness by enabling mediocrity; in male leaders, this is called having high standards and it is praised.  Places like the New York Times, Le Monde and the Washington Post are not given to elevating editors—of any gender—who would accept anything other than the highest of standards.  As in tough, demanding, challenging.  But there’s no doubt that many find this off-putting and threatening from a certain kind of woman. Like me.”

Research shows that if women hope to be successful taking primary leading roles in any organizational culture, they must learn to blunt their sharp elbows and temper their assertiveness. What this means in the newsroom culture, and others like it, is that women leaders have to be assertive, yes; driving, yes; challenging, yes; but to succeed they need to file smooth the hard edges associated with those stereotypical male leadership characteristics.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

There ARE CEOs Who Know that Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast!

I sometimes get discouraged by the number of executives who don’t seem to think that a healthy corporate culture is as important as efficient operations, a differentiating brand, and other business success factors.  But then I meet an executive like Lars Björk and my faith is restored.

Lars is the CEO of QlikTech, a Radnor, PA company whose QlikView software transforms data – big and small – into meaningful and easily-accessible information.  QlikTech was founded in Sweden in 1993 with the aim of solving critical problems for organizations of all sizes, including the largest global enterprises.  With more than 30,000 customers in 100 countries QlikTech’s success has placed it in the top three of Forbes’ 2012 list of America’s 25 fastest-growing tech companies, alongside Apple and LinkedIn. The company has grown 300 percent since 2007.

Lars talks about the importance of culture: “Cultures are built from people, brands arise from cultures, and customers buy brands.  That makes people – and culture – a bottom-line issue.”  He put this in catchy terms in a recent talk: “Happy people, happy customers, lead to happy financials.”

But Lars doesn’t just talk about culture; he puts his money where his mouth is.  As an example, he takes great pride in QlikTech’s annual employee gathering.  The entire staff of more than 1,300, from entry-level administrative assistants to the executive team from 23 countries and throughout the United States, is invited.

His philosophy behind this annual expenditure?  He looks at it as an investment rather than an expense.  Says Lars, “I know this is increasingly rare.  Amid fiscal cliffs, deficits, and debt ceilings, corporations are focused on a single-minded goal: cutting costs.  However, without more focus on investment, companies may be undercutting their own futures.

“Yet if cost is the only thing that comes to mind to those ever conscious of the bottom line, they’ve missed the entire point of growing a company.  Employee summits are really an investment in a company’s most valuable asset – its culture.  Companies that cut costs by short-changing culture may just be sacrificing their futures to scale the next quarter’s results.”   

Bravo, Lars!