Bridging the Gender Gap: Ted Talks to the Rescue

In class, we discussed the ways that gender biases and prejudices have infiltrated the work force; we also discussed the ways that our society has begun to look past these biases as we see more women taking on managerial positions. Yet, there is a disconnect between the upper and middle tiers of leadership, and this left me wondering why. Why are women not represented? Is it simple sexism, or is there something deeper happening?

As I thought more about this issue, I stumbled across Susan Colantuono’s speech. She begins by acknowledging the skills needed for a successful leader. As would be expected, she explains that “you have to use your skills and talents and abilities to help the organization achieve its strategic financial goals and do that by working well with others inside the organization and outside” (Colantuono, 2013). Clearly, any organization would desire a leader who possesses the necessary skills and vision to meet the organizations goals. She pointed out, though, that when given advice, there is a difference between the advice given to men and the advice given to women.

The advice that is given to potential leaders is outlined in this image:

According to Colantuono, “In seeking and identifying employees…with the potential to go to the top of organizations, the skills and competencies in [the achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes box] are rated twice as heavily as those in the other two elements of leadership [use the greatness in you and engage the greatness in others]” (Colantuono, 2013). This means that when giving advice, people should focus more on skills and achievement and less on personality and ability to engage others. Ultimately, this means a leader should understand where the organization is going, what its strategy is, what financial targets it has in place, and his or her role in accomplishing that goal. According to the Ted Talk, this is what’s missing in women because it’s missing in the advice that they’re given.

Colantuono claims that women are given personal advice but not strategic advice; this advice will take them to middle management, but it will not push them upwards into the CEO positions. She cites an example where a mentor was working with a male and a female employee; he explains that he mentored the man to learn the business and the woman to build confidence. He goes on to explain that he did not notice that this was different treatment based on gender (Colantuono, 2013). This issue spoke directly to the unintentional blindness we discussed in class; the gender stereotypes that say women are meek and uncomfortable in their skin can affect mentoring programs, leaving women without the proper advice to reach higher levels of leadership.

If we are interested in seeing more women in higher leadership positions, Colantuono suggests a few changes as shown in this image:

ideas in action

Colantuono, S. (Writer). (2013, November). The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get [Video file]. In Ted Talks. Retrieved October 31, 2014, from http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_colantuono_the_career_advice_you_probably_didn_t_get#t-649459

Women need to begin focusing on developing skills within their business and on understanding their role in the business’ success. The responsibility is not entirely on women, though. Everyone needs to be “pulling in the same direction” or show “strategic alignment” (Colantuono, 2013). Therefore, the image above shows that directors need to expect their executives to have proportional pools of men and women when they’re discussing advancement. When the pools are not proportional, CEO’s should be asking appropriate questions to figure out why women and men are not advancing proportionally. Human resources departments and managers need to be cognizant of the fact that women are traditionally missing 33% of the advice that men are given when it comes to leadership. These simple actions could positively impact the gap between women managers and women CEO’s.

Reference

Colantuono, S. (Writer). (2013, November). The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get [Video file]. In Ted Talks. Retrieved October 31, 2014, from http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_colantuono_the_career_advice_you_probably_didn_t_get#t-649459

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