Saturday, February 13, 2010
Why don’t women have a greater profile?
There is an interesting discussion happening right now thanks to an article Rowena Lewis wrote for Civil Society. When almost half (47%) of the senior leadership roles in the third sector are filled by women, Rowena asks why women don’t have a greater profiles?
In a follow up blog called ‘Invisible Women in Fundraising’ on the same website someone named ‘Susy Who’, not her real name - which is ironic given the content, says ‘I am filled with gloom every time I read about the appointment of yet another middle aged, middle class - normally ex-forces - male to a senior position in a charity.’
‘Susy’ missed the point. This isn’t a whinge about why there aren’t more women in senior leadership roles. Rowena is lamenting the lack of high profile women. Women who are willing to be bold, take public risks and yes, write under their real names. It is true, I can think of many fabulous women doing great work in the sector. However, there are very few who are – publicly putting themselves forward - so that we can look up to them and be inspired by them.
For some reason we generally seem to be holding back from asserting ourselves as mentors and sector leaders. So why don’t women have a greater profile in our sector?
I've been working in this business for close to ten years and it is just in the past eighteen months I have started to be more ‘out there’. It has been a very interesting experience. In my opinion there are five key ingredients required to putting yourself at the front publicly.
3. Thirst for knowledge
5. Willingness to come forward.
Women may think that an ardent desire for rank and power is a bad thing. So they shy away from being ambitious. Men might think of ambition as a desire to achieve a particular end. It’s all about framing.
A good friend of mine (John) said to me last week. ‘Kimberley I just think people don’t know what to do with your ambition.’
It is true. I am ambitious. I’m on a mission – you can read my mission right here on my blog. I also have a personal plan for how I’m going to accomplish my mission. The consequences of achieving my mission will be a bigger paycheck and a higher profile. The result, I hope will be improving peoples lives. I will have a larger impact, so that when I die, my children see me as a hero who made a difference. That is my mission.
As far as what other people need to do with my ambition. NOTHING. It’s mine and seems to be serving me rather well, thank you.
It’s okay for women to be ambitious. Just don’t hurt people along the way – bring them with you.
At a conference two years ago my session was up in the same timeslot as a very ‘famous’ male speaker. While surveying the rooms with a colleague I commented on how the other speaker had a much bigger room than I did. The response: ‘He needs a big room – to fit his giant ego.’ At the time I thought these words were really unkind. They certainly were intended that way. But over time I’ve watched presenters and have presented at more conferences myself. Ego is fundamentally important to setting yourself apart as a speaker.
If you are going to stand up in front of hundreds of people who have paid to be there, you bloody well better think that what you have to say is important and worth listening to. You need to be confident, entertaining and set yourself apart from the delegates. The best actors and entertainers know this. The best, most in demand, highest marked speakers at fundraising conferences know this too. Is it a coincidence that the ones who come to mind first are all men? I think not.
As women we are taught ego is a negative thing. For a high profile sector leader it is extremely important. It’s what gets you a plenary session.
3. INSATIABLE THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE (and time)
To be a mentor, leader, high profile influencer you need to know stuff. In fact the more I learn the less I know.
Its Saturday morning, my house is a mess and I don’t want to do anything else but write this blog. At the moment I have four half read books beside my bed. The Rules of Management, Maverick, Forces for Good, The Leadership Challenge.
I’ve been living in this house for ten years and don’t have window treatments. Just good blinds with all the hardware exposed. Last night I did not watch the Olympic opening ceremonies. I started this blog.
My dear husband feeds us, shops for us and thankfully when he isn’t here – the kids can now cook. No one cleans really - except me about once a month or so.
Of course it wasn’t always like this. When our kids were little I was at home with them. Breastfeeding and making bread from scratch. I even had a sewing machine and designed little bibs that I sold to other mothers. We bought groceries from the money I made. I loved those years, and will always be glad we made that choice. AND it was a choice. We made bread because we couldn’t afford to buy it.
As women we CAN ‘have it all’. I just think it unhealthy to expect to have it all at the same time. In my opinion more women aren’t in high profile positions because they either carry the weight of most of the household responsibilities or perhaps have hobbies and other interests. I went to a book club once (actually I started it) but they didn’t want to read Jim Collin’s books – I did. Career and family doesn’t have to be a choice – it just needs to be sequenced.
Knowledge is necessary if you are going to teach anyone anything. It takes commitment and time to read and write.
Assertive women are often labelled as aggressive. Assertive men – strong leaders. I absolutely love this clip from Mad Men. I can’t embed it in the blog but you can see it here
Peggy asks for an office that she has earned and deserves, and then she apologizes – saying she didn’t mean to be impolite.
I also love this article about Hillary Clinton – a strong woman I admire very much. The article ends by saying ‘And that’s the best thing about Hillary Clinton—she has a way of making sure everyone knows she’s there.’ This is something we can aspire to and learn from.
5. Willingness to come forward
I know of two partners of two famous consultants who prefer to quietly change the world without a public spotlight. I feel a little sad about this because I suspect they are rather brilliant women and I’m not going to receive the benefit of that brilliance. But I understand it because as soon as anyone steps in the spotlight people will talk about you. Some of the things they say won’t be nice. Most of the people who say not nice things about you – will in fact be women. I guess its part of our make up. That is the risk of having a high profile.
So it is hard sometimes. Lately I’ve been thinking of putting my head back down. Questioning why I’m compelled to write, blog, tweet, speak. Thinking that maybe it is self serving and all about me. There is no money attached to it. In fact it costs money. I can be successful at work without it. Honestly, I was ready to delete the blog and walk away. But then two days ago I was talking via Skype to a fabulous young fundraiser I met in India. She had no idea I was feeling depleted. She thanked me. Told me I inspired her, she looks up to me. Feeling incredibly unworthy, I was inspired by her. Of course I quietly cried - something else women do that men don’t. (Their loss)
There are lots of ways to change the world. Not everyone will be comfortable with a high profile. We are lucky in North America though because I actually can list more than ten women who have personally influenced my life and my career. But you may not have heard of them.
We do need women to be ambitious, egocentric, hungry and assertive. As women we need to support and help each other to do that.
But mostly I think we need women to stop complaining about inequity and to just get to work making the world a better place and inspiring others to do the same. I can’t think of anyone who would like a senior level position because of their gender. Senior level positions should be given to the best candidate. Period.
Thank you for spending time here.