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Do Women Really have a Choice?

by Beth on May 5th, 2010

I strongly believe that positive organizations are inclusive.  They recognize the value of diversity and take intentional steps to create environments where all individuals can thrive.  Unfortunately, too many companies fall short of being truly inclusive.  They have work structures and cultures that are not welcoming to all, especially not to women.

The issue of women in business, particularly the lack of women at higher levels, is a topic that inspires much debate.  Two recent contributions to the debate include a post on Harvard Business School’s leadership blog by Barbara Kellerman entitled “The abiding tyranny of the male leadership model – A manifesto” and a newly released book, The War on Moms, by Sharon Lerner.
Based on the research I have done on women’s careers, I’ve come to believe that the women who walk away from their careers to care for their children in many cases do not really have a choice.  They might say they “choose” to stay home, but a choice means you have options.  The rigid way in which work is structured in many companies makes continuing to work while raising a family not a viable option.

Work structures and cultures have changed very little since the Industrial Revolution when traditional male employees had few responsibilities outside of work.  Despite the fact that the workforce has changed, face time and sacrifice continue to be used to judge employee performance and commitment.  The number of hours spent at the office, the ability to attend early or late meetings, and a willingness to travel with a moment’s notice often determine who gets promoted.

Women, who typically have significant non-work responsibilities, are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to compete in these cultures.  Staying is not an option, so they leave.  I believe this is why there are so few women in positions of middle and upper management in larger companies.  Many women prefer to start their own companies or join smaller firms where they are able to achieve success working on their own terms.  Until companies start judging performance based on results and not presence, women will continue to look for or create for themselves better options.

How inclusive is your company?  Do the cultural values and policies support a diverse workforce?  Do employees have a choice about how to achieve results?  I’d love to know what you think!

From → Work, Working women

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