Leaning In: Why Women In Leadership Positions Are Proving To Be Good For Business

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The cultural phenomenon ‘Lean In’, created by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, has enabled the topic of women in positions of leadership to be talked about a lot more and especially within workplaces where equality has typically been a taboo topic. Women in leadership is an important topic we like to discuss on our platform as we believe the more gender equality we have at the highest levels within the workforce, the less stigma and stereotypes will be attached to women.

Since we love sharing good news, we hope you all saw the announcement that Diane Irvine has become Yelp’s first ever Chairwoman, in a move that is being hailed as a progressive step forward for Silicon Valley. She has been on the board of directors since 2011, but is now taking on a role that is very rare among women tech companies.

“Technology companies in Silicon Valley have about half as many female directors as America’s largest companies, according to a recent study by law firm Fenwick & West. Only about 10% of directors at Silicon Valley’s 150 largest companies are women, compared with about 21% at S&P 100 companies,” writes Jessica Guynn at USA Today.

It’s not just women, it’s diversity in general that the tech world is sorely lacking in when it comes to board and C-suite positions. However we have seen many companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Intel openly share their appalling statistics when it comes to diversity in various reports, and all say the plan to do better.

Seeing Yelp make this step naming its first female Chairperson is hopefully going to act as a beacon to lead others down the same path. The significance is not lost on Diane, who believes change is happening in her industry.

“The percentages of women on boards is not where we would like it to be, yet there are women on boards so it could happen and should happen one company at a time. We want to show progress in the months and years ahead throughout the company and that would include the board,” she said.

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Compared to other high-profile silicon valley companies which cap out at roughly 30% when it comes to the representation of women in their ranks (and half that number when we’re talking about specific leadership or engineering positions), Yelp is doing a lot better. Women make up 47% of the Yelp workforce and 48% of managers at the company, according to recently released diversity figures. Women still represent just 10% of Yelp’s tech workers, and 67% of the workforce is white, with 5% African American and 8% Hispanic.

So while there is some progress to celebrate, it wouldn’t exactly be an exaggeration to say that corporate America is not on a path to gender equality. At least that’s what a new report by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization. The report, titled Women In The Workplace, shows evidence that women still remain sorely underrepresented right from entry level positions all the way to the top.

Around the world today, women make up less than 5% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. In the US, women make up more than half the population, earn almost 60% of undergraduate degrees, and make up 47% of the labor force. So why is there such a huge gender gap at the very top?

The study found that women are almost 4 times more likely than men to think they have fewer opportunities to advance because of their gender.  Senior-level women believe their gender is a greater disadvantage than entry-level women do, and are significantly less satisfied with their role, opportunities for advancement, and career than their male counterparts.

The uneven playing field is hindered by two key factors: ambition for leadership roles, and the fact that it can be stressful to obtain these high-level opportunities.

In a statement about the study, Sheryl Sandberg put the findings into easily an digestible scenario:

“At the current pace of progress, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-suite.  If NASA launched a person into space today, she could soar past Mars, travel all the way to Pluto and return to Earth 10 times before women occupy half of C-suite offices.  Yes, we’re that far away,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

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Despite the perceptions on leadership from a woman’s point of view, the study found that when a company does invest in diversity and looking to widen pool of potential candidates for a high level opportunity, it improves their bottom line and gives them a competitive edge.

They recommend a few key implementations such as tracking metrics to ensure gender equality and diversity measures are working, create initiatives that allow for greater diversity in their ranks, train employees to identify and counteract gender bias, and create systems that support women’s needs as much as men (equal pay, family leave, childcare etc).

While we could have a new report released every day to prove that what is happening right now in the corporate world is not working, it’s also important for women’s voices and concerns to be heard. We need to be able to translate the statistics into action, and a great way to do that can be to hear from other women who have successfully climbed the corporate ladder, or made opportunities for themselves, and learn from them.

This is why the Lean In movement is so vital to a thriving 21st century workforce. It has given women a renewed sense of purpose in achieving their career goals, as well as giving them the right community to back them along the way. When women support each other, share stories and create mentorship opportunities, competitiveness and fear can be eliminated a lot easier.

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All of a sudden it comes about supporting each other to the top, rather than fighting for only one position. The saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” definitely bears repeating because if we don’t have each other’s backs, the workforce can be a very lonely and overwhelming place.

We recently came across a badass leadership mini-summit put together by AdWeek who wanted to give women in the world an opportunity to hear from a group of CEOs and women in leadership positions in order to be inspired in their own career.

The women they gathered were Mika Brzezinski, co-host on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’, Liza Landsman, chief customer officer, Jet.com, Sarah Thompson, global CEO, Droga5, Kristin Lemkau, CMO, JPMorgan Chase, Dawn Hudson, CMO, NFL, and Rebecca Minkoff, fashion designer/co-founder, Rebecca Minkoff.

Lisa Granatstein from Adweek writes “women are having a moment” at the top of the article which kinda made us laugh for a second, because shouldn’t we have much more than just a moment? Shouldn’t we be empowered and be given permission to occupy an even split of the workforce in order to contribute skills that we too have worked so hard to acquire and use for longer than just one specific short time?

We say yes. We highly recommend this round table discussion as essential career advice reading, but here are some of our favorite tidbits:

Kristin Lemkau talks about the need to be risk-takers as women: “One of the best pieces of career advice I got was: If you want to get your job, you need to make your own job bigger because women wait and pull back. If you’re confident in your job, they already see you there. Men do that. Women, I think, don’t naturally do it as much.”

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Dawn Hudson started her job around the time ex-Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice’s domestic violence scandal blew up as did many other similar stories, tarring the NFL with a reputation that wasn’t exactly women-friendly. She relished the opportunity to take on a leadership role withing the organization at a time when it was more open to seeing what she could do.

“I think the league will be open to more change, and that’s a good thing for somebody new coming in trying to think of new ways to do things.” The biggest difference is not the fact that I’m back in a male-dominated sport or that I’m in sports; the biggest difference is that we are a collection of people…I came in with a perspective of a point in time in my career where I’m not climbing the ladder anymore. I’m coming in to do a job to make a difference, and you can listen to me and I can help you, or not,” she said.

Sarah Thompson emphasizes the idea that the female brand of leadership is something every woman should embrace, without having to feel like they need to “act like a lady, think like a man”:

“I feel incredibly comfortable and confident now that I have a different style than many men that I work with who are leaders. And I like that style, and I know the results that come with that style of bringing tribes or teams together and getting everyone focused on a common vision and not always being the person who has to win the meeting.”

If you believe women in leadership are a vital part of a company and the greater economy, we encourage you to find a mentor who can help give you the confidence to become the next Diane Irvine or Sheryl Sandberg. If we can’t be what we can’t see, then the visible representations of women in leadership are what we need more of in the media, not just facts, reports and recommendations. Those are a great way to create and raise awareness, but action can only be taken to change gender bias in the workforce the more we see how possible it is for us to lean in and have a seat at the table.

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