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Leveraging the Energy of Genders: Betty Ann Heggie Newsletter
May 18, 2011
It is Time for Women to "Get Real"

Can you be a true, authentic, real woman and still be considered leadership material?

Can you let go the bottom performers on the sales team in the morning and then a few hours later kiss a boo-boo better with your preschooler while ‘signing the I’m stuck on band-aid and aid is stuck on me’?

From what I see, it is not only time for women to ‘get real’, it is actually to our advantage to start being ourselves. 

Once, there wasn’t a ‘snowball’s chance in Hawaii’ that being your beautiful, natural, female self would win you a top job in any organization. That’s because, since the year dot, top jobs in every organization went to big, strong, tall, authoritative males.

So, many ambitious, talented women have been going through their work-life denying their true selves, believing they must act like a pseudo man in order to move forward. They copy the male prototype - because they believe it’s the road to success. And what you get, of course, is a copy, a fake, a facsimile. Nothing genuine, no real thing here.

Machismo Gets the Pink Slip

However, the post-industrialized economy, which thankfully is indifferent to brute strength, is redefining what is needed to be a leader. The globalized economy requires skills that favor women, such as social intelligence, consensus-building and open communication. 

In fact, the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries, found that, in nearly all cases, the greater the power of women, the greater the countries’ economic success.

Additionally, machismo is being recast. Job stereotyping is disappearing as more men are being laid-off from their traditional occupations in construction and manufacturing. In order to find work during this “mancession,” men are opting to be teachers and secretaries, blurring the gender vocational roles.

This is further reinforced as women enter the workforce in droves. Women are the biggest emerging market on the planet, with females now outnumbering men on North American corporate payrolls. Not only that, women are increasingly doing jobs once considered the dominion of men, such as policemen and pilots. 

All these factors are changing expectations and tearing away at the traditional concept of masculinity. So, no doubt, it should be easier for women to comfortably and authentically assume leadership roles - they no longer have to masquerade as men to be accepted. 

In fact, David Gergen, in his book, “Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership,” says that women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially well-matched with the requirements of the day. 

Heggie Hears a Hebl

But whoops -- I came across some new research by Michelle Hebl, a professor of psychology at Rice University. It shows that, when an employer reads a letter of recommendation that praises a candidate for a faculty job as being “caring,” “sensitive” or “compassionate,” that person likely won’t get the job. Why not? Because the employer links those descriptive words with being a woman and that’s a negative.

Oh Jeepers. Wouldn’t ya know it!

Women obviously still need to overcome some prejudice. Those who do the hiring think to “get the job done” you must be assertive, independent and daring, while feminine characteristics are synonymous with being a “push over.”

Not only that, the bias extends to male candidates who are credited with having the skills normally attributed with women (and, coincidently, those that are proving to be the most valuable in today’s world).

Companies that eliminate women (and men who exhibit the softer characteristics) need to “get real” as they are losing an important competitive advantage. 

In his book, “The Whole Mind”, Daniel Pink says the future belongs to people with androgynous minds - people who have analytical capability but also artistic, empathic ability. Although the military may be a macho profession, Pink says, in today’s world, it requires a more sophisticated set of skills. Soldiers need to understand the local culture to keep the peace before heading into combat. 

So we are making progress, even though we may not be quite there yet. 

To access both these hard and soft skills, each of us has to understand who we are inside - that’s our identity. And then we have to feel free to reveal ourselves as we are, confident that it will be accepted and respected. The more overlap there is between our identity and our image, the more comfortable and authentic we’ll be in the world and the more our companies and countries will benefit. 

Women who “get real” now will be the true leaders in this new global movement.

Betty Ann Heggie
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