Women In Leadership: ‘We’ve Got To Step Up Our Game’

By Alison Gowans The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Women from the country's top business schools are defining what critical steps need to be taken to improve the numbers of women in leadership. The University of Iowa is promoting a plan that includes a "three-legged stool" solution to help women advance in their careers -- with one leg being giving women tools for their own advancement, the others being societal support for things such as parental leave and dedicated action plans by corporations.

The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Last year, Sarah Fisher Gardial, dean of the University of Iowa's Tippie School of Business, met with 10 other business school deans, all women.

They talked about a problem they saw -- the deficit of women in business leadership positions -- and discussed what they could do to address it.

Gardial and representatives from 49 other business schools were invited to a meeting hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Council of Economic Advisers to discuss the issue at the White House.

"We had the White House swooping in and saying, 'This is important to us,'" Gardial said. "We said, 'Wow, we've got to step up our game. We're either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution.'"

According to the Pew Research Center, women make up only 5 percent of chief executive officers of U.S. Fortune 500 companies and only 17 percent of board seats.

As a new generation of women enters the workforce and looks for ways to build and advance their careers, Gardial said business schools, along with corporations and policy makers, have a chance to make that same decision -- to either be part of the problem or the solution.

She referred to a "three-legged stool" solution -- with one leg being giving women tools for their own advancement, which the business school can focus on. The other legs, she said, are societal support for things such as parental leave and dedicated action by corporations.

Building a tool kit "Women enter the workforce in equal numbers as men, but then things start stalling out, and they aren't making progress to leadership positions," Gardial said. "Part of our conversation became wondering if business schools have not been doing enough. We've been doing leadership training forever, but it's not moving the needle."

That led to the UI forming the Kathleen Dore-Henry B. Tippie Women's MBA Leadership Program, which includes workshops, mentoring, scholarships and an annual women's leadership conference, the TippieWomen Summit.

Gardial said the goal is to focus on building up women specifically, to help close the gender gap.

"We need to pay particular attention to conversations our women need to be having in addition to our normal leadership training," she said.

"There's a lot of research behind it. We know women are a lot less likely than men to advocate for themselves. Holding up your hand, asking for a raise, for a promotion ... men do that all the time.

"Women stay silent -- we expect our good work will be rewarded."

That's one thing Gardial knew the business school could address.

"These are teachable, coachable, trainable skills," she said. "You've got to give women the tool kit to do that."

She recalled a group of women in the MBA program making a pact that they wouldn't take the first salary offer they got, that they would negotiate for higher pay.

"Men on average graduate from MBA programs and take a $7,000 higher salary than women. The year the women made that pact, collectively the women's salaries were higher," she said.

But she acknowledges coaching young women is just one piece of the puzzle.

"Leg two is, what do companies need to do to change? They're not recognizing there's a difference between saying and doing," she said. "We've talked about diversity for 20 years and never moved the needle. Something else is going on to stop women's progression up through the ranks."

Retaining millennials Anne Parmley, managing director of national assessment services and Iowa general manager at education company Pearson based in Iowa City, helped lead a workshop on multigenerational workplaces at the TippieWomen Summit in Iowa City April 2.

She said companies need to figure out how to engage and retain all millennials, male and female.

"Millennials are going to be 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025," she said. "And millennials will have, on average, 11 jobs by age 38. If businesses are not creating a work environment that meets their needs, they'll leave."

She cited a report by the Bentley University Center for Women and Business, "Millennials in the Workplace." The research pointed out experiencing economic crises early in their careers forced many younger employees to recognize hard work and education do not necessarily lead to job security, and a majority said family responsibilities and personal aspirations will take precedence over professional goals.

But sixty-five percent also said being successful in a high-paying career or profession is either one of the most important things in their lives or is very important.

Offering flexibility and parental leave -- for both women and men -- are key to making the balance between family responsibilities and professional goals a reality.

"Nearly one in five men who are fathers says that his ideal career would allow him to take time off to be with his children before re-entering the workforce," the study found. "Paternity leave appeals to many men but also helps women's careers by reducing the career setbacks often associated with maternity leave."

Making A KEY DIFFERENCE Millennials also are looking for companies where they feel they are making an impact. Eighty-four percent of the Bentley respondents agreed with the statement, "Knowing I am making a difference in the world is more important to me than professional recognition."

Jessica Herrin, founder and chief executive officer of Stella and Dot Family Brands and a keynote speaker at the IWLC conference, said stressing that idea has helped her company succeed.

"Making a difference" might seem a surprising term to apply to a company that sells jewelry, but Herrin said any company can engage employees by showing the everyday impact they make.

"With our business, we're a mission-driven workplace. We were founded with the mission of redefining the workplace for women," she said by phone from her office in San Francisco.

Stella and Dot operates a network of more than 50,000 independent salespeople they call "stylists" who sell the company's jewelry, bags and skin care products through trunk shows and websites. Herrin said she wanted to create a company that allows women flexibility, especially as they also raise families.

"We cannot sideline a gender during these critical years," she said.

In the central office, a stream of photos and screenshots about the effect the job has made on their lives while being stylists helps keep motivation high, Herrin said. It reminds them of the people -- not just the dollars -- that they're working for.

"We're not always messaging, 'Here's our bottom line,'" she said. "When you create success, you create security. The new workforce is going to demand there isn't commercial gain without a sense of purpose."

Hannah Ubl, a consultant and speaker on generational issues for Minnesota-based company Bridgeworks, agreed. She will be a breakout session speaker at the conference.

"If millennials feel like they're not making a difference in their work, they're going to go look for that somewhere else," she said. "It helps if someone connects the dots, showing that the work you're doing is impacting the team, the community."

More senior employees also can help young women connect the dots to leadership positions.

"It is incredibly important, especially in fields where women are not dominating, that female leaders show these younger generations of women that 'I've got your back,'" she said. "Women who worked hard to get into positions of leadership don't share their stories all the time. They can make younger women very motivated to excel and keep reaching forward for leadership.

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