On Stereotypes and Their Impact on Leadership

October 18, 2017

 

 

When I was in high school, I became very interested in broadcasting, especially radio broadcasting. My Mom, wanting to be supportive, but at the same time concerned, warned me that broadcasting was a very male dominated business and that I would have a hard time breaking in. I barely scratched the surface on this issue with my Dad, in a large part because of her response. In some ways I think, I go around with blinders on with regard to gender and race, along with other diversity issues. I was shocked when I started dating, that my parents were upset about the race of my first boyfriend. It honestly never occurred to me. My mother had protested in women’s equality marches, fully embraced rights for LGBTQ before it was called that, and I considered her very progressive and liberal before I knew what those words meant. Yet, here she was, offended and concerned that my boyfriend was black and Asian. As I was researching Full Sail Alumni and Hall of Fame member Kim Alpert, I stumbled on a TED Talk, Why we have too few women leaders​, given at TED Women, December 2010, by Sheryl Sandberg. What particularly captured my attention was a story she told about a realization she had at a board meeting. She stated that she would answer two questions and then close, but once those questions were answered, the ladies put their hands down, but she continued answering the men’s questions who hadn’t put their hands down. She also brought up the fact that many women typically sit on the sidelines instead of at the table and it really got me thinking. I think gender and race do play a role in leadership, but I also think it is a bit more two sided than is generally thought. I think that this issue also has a great deal to do with accepted, but unwritten rules that many in leadership follow without question. I think Sheryl Sandberg stumbled onto a truth that is staring all of us in the face but we don’t recognize or acknowledge. 

 

In the Women in the Workplace 2017​ study, there were some interesting viewpoints on the starting points and declining participation along the path of leadership of women and (briefly) men of color. The study states that, “One of the most powerful reasons for this is a simple one: we have blind spots when it comes to diversity, and we can’t solve problems that we don’t see or understand clearly.” From this statement, it seems clear that I am not the only one with blinders on. Even Sheryl Sandberg recognized that she had been silent on being a woman and about the struggles women have in leadership positions. She returned to the TED stage to talk about what she had discovered after giving her initial talk in, So we leaned in . . . now what?​​Women seem unable or unwilling to talk about the unique issues of leadership that women face. They perceive that men will think they are “complaining” or worse “whining.” So many women in leadership tend to “suck it up, buttercup,” for fear of losing ground that they fought so hard to achieve. They are not preparing other women for the challenges and they are not equipping women for the future. They are silent, scared, and paralyzed by an unthinkable issue that keeps women from climbing the corporate ladder and further, not helping other women up the ladder once they have reached the top.

 

Before starting at my current position I worked for a non-profit that was founded, lead, and managed by a woman, with nearly all women employees. This position was followed by a position in county government, with women as Director and Assistant Director, women as managers, and employees were predominantly women with few exceptions. If I go even further back I have rarely worked in a company that was founded, directed, and managed primarily by men. So to me, in my little world I see more women in leadership than men and assume that the world is much the same. In my current position most of the leadership in our office are women. If I look further up the chain though, I have discovered that 10 of the Pasha Executive Management Team​ are men and three are women. To be honest, the shipping industry is one of those industries that seem to be predominantly lead by men and in my current company that appears to be the case. The truth is, I never really thought to explore the ratio. There are stigmas that seem to be attached to women in leadership, and for those businesses that are predominantly run by men, that stigma is harder to overcome by both genders. The unspoken and unwritten rules are far more challenging to explore than those listed in standard policies and procedures.

 

My current position is one that I enjoy and that meets my needs as a full time student, mother, and wife. There is a marketing department in my company and perhaps I could explore that further as I approach graduation. The thing is, that before returning to college I made a life changing decision to pursue a career in media and communications. I hope to find my way to a high level career in public relations. I don’t see my current position as one that will allow me, let alone encourage me, to move up the ladder to leadership roles in my chosen field. Perhaps that is not the best way to look at it and perhaps I need to reevaluate that role. When I think of role models or leaders that have made tremendous strides in entertainment, media, and marketing, I do not focus on whether they are male or female, nor do I consider race or other spectra of diversity. I look at their accomplishments. I think I need to back up and look at what lead to some of those accomplishments. Because without seeing where they have been, how can I aspire to go where they are going?

 

In chapter 10 of The Truth About Leadership, by James Kouzes and Barry Pozner, the following statement is made, “It's not enough to be in love. As you know from personal experience, you have to show your love. That means you have to pay attention to your constituents, recognize them, and tell stories about them.” Sheryl Sandberg said that “Stereotypes are holding women back from leadership roles all over the world.” She was referring to women obviously as stated in the quote. But I think that stereotypes keep all kinds of people back from leadership roles all over the world, not just women. As I reviewed the data in the Women in the Workplace 2017​ study, I was struck that “men of color” had even fewer roles in leadership than women throughout the spectrum. I think we need to do a better job in letting our leaders and future leaders impress us. The truth is that leadership is not a level playing field. People don’t simply work hard and work their way up. We all make decisions and our leaders make decisions that have an impact on the risks we take, the rewards we earn, and the tough decisions that not only impact our ability to take on leadership opportunities, but what drive us to accept and pursue them as well.

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