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Women and the Workplace

by Jane Miller

We have all read the blogs and books about how women aren't advancing in the workplace, from the lack of women in leadership positions to the issue of equal pay for equal work. Let's examine the accepted conventional wisdom, the statistics, and deconstruct what it all really means.

First of all, most of the metrics and headlines on this subject refer to the largest, publicly-held, for-profit companies in America, also known as the Fortune 1000.

So, while the media and others tend to focus on the largest 1,000 companies, the U.S. has more than 6 million businesses. These stats on workplace gender inequality rarely reference nonprofits or small businesses. In addition, depending on the industry, women can range from 5% (in utilities, heavy industry, and railroads) up to 93% (in women's retail) of a company's total associate base.

Any way you slice it, businesses with an employee base that is less than 50% women need more women in their workforce, and at every level, to truly have a well-run business.

Given the seeming inequality, we then have to examine if it is the organizations that are not employing enough women, or if it is that women are not choosing these organizations? In my opinion and experience as a chief operating officer, it is both.

Integrating "A Life Well Lived" Into Corporate Culture

What is a woman's definition of success or "a life well lived," and is that the same as a man's? What's more, do these align with a corporation's culture?

When Gallup analyzed its five largest data sets, including World Poll data from 160 countries around the world, employee engagement, and well-being data right here in the U.S., we found that men and women alike define well-being or "a life well lived" as five elements, consisting of the following:


  • Their purpose for what they do every day
  • Their social interactions
  • Their financial well-being
  • Their physical well-being
  • Their community well-being

When we break down the data by gender, we find that women are four percentage points more likely than men to be thriving in well-being, and that's significantly higher.

Women today are doing something right, whether they are working in the home, outside the home, part time, full time, or as volunteers. Even if we don't fit into those statistics or someone else's definition of what we should be doing, we are still doing something right.

When we look at Gallup's data on employee engagement, we find that women actually have slightly higher overall engagement than men, so women aren't more dissatisfied with their jobs than men are, and they aren't feeling left behind -- it is a level playing field.

Women's Strengths and How They Compare With Men's

However, what I found to be most intriguing, and what perhaps begins to depict why women choose different work from men, is what we found in our strengths database, representing more than 11 million people from around the world.

Men and women share the same four most frequently named top five strengths: Responsibility, Learner, Achiever, and Relator.

So what differentiates us? On an aggregate basis, men more often have Strategic and women are more likely to have Empathy in their top five. Now, let me be clear, I know a lot of women with Strategic and several men with Empathy -- what matters most is who the individual is and not the aggregate. However, the aggregate statistics begin to show us how society views us and how we play or work together.

Another intriguing strength statistic is that men tend to lead with Achiever while women tend to lead with Responsibility. Could this be because we were raised differently in our respective gender roles, or because our expectations for work or our definitions of a life well lived differed from the outset?

Do genetics and strengths determine our work choices, or is it society or our immediate families who influence them? These are important questions as they relate to our workplaces, businesses, and to the selection of the right people for your culture and organizational identity.

Women Can Have It All -- They May Just Be Hard to Get

It is important for companies to have more women in the ranks of leadership. But another factor we must consider is that being a successful manager or executive isn't for everyone. In a recent blog in the Harvard Business Review, a CareerBuilder survey shows that one-third of workers aspire to leadership positions and only 7% strive for executive positions. Forty percent of men want a management position, but only 29% of women have the same aspiration. It isn't a job for everyone.

If companies recruit women who have strengths that align with leadership positions, they will develop and retain more women in the workplace. In addition, companies must create a culture that allows for high performance through hard work on a flexible schedule. I am proud that 14 of my 23 direct reports are women. They range in age from 31 to 55 years and each one is driven, warm, caring, and performance-oriented. They are very hard working managers, leaders, and moms. These female executives are managing and leading teams of hundreds, and through that leadership, they can help moms and dads have lives well lived that will resonate for generations to come.

We all have work to do to help more people aspire to their strengths and goals. As leaders, managers, and most importantly as family members -- moms, dads, in-laws, and grandparents -- we need to help break the stereotypes of the past when raising future generations. And, we need to find the 34% and more who want the responsibility and achievement at work as well as at home. It is incumbent upon all business owners and leaders to recruit, source, and seek individuals who have the necessary strengths to succeed: from the drive, to the mission, to the intellect. We must encourage men and women with a talent to lead to assume management jobs, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.

The more we look for managers with the will and talent to lead, the better our workplaces, businesses, and the world will be for future generations.


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