LeadingWoman: Playing the blame game

I read with amusement yet another story – Office Hell: Is the high-heeled she-devil destroying your worklife? By Kamahl Cogdon (Herald Sun, March 12) – in which women in leadership roles are denigrated. The story claimed women leaders are the “biggest barrier” confronting other women getting to the top.

Actually, this is something often said to me when I raise the issue of women’s equality at work: women are the worst bosses.

The research in fact suggest the opposite: women are better leaders than men, according to studies published by the Harvard Business Review, because they excell in many of qualities that make companies succeed.

OK, we can all think of a bad boss who was a woman, but I would argue this point: how many times have you had a terrible boss? Answer: a lot. How many of them were men? A lot. And how many were women? Actually, I am lucky. All the women who have led me have been great, but I do acknowledge that some are bad.

The reality is that there are plenty of people with poor management skills, and they tend to congregate around the middle ranks of management, where women are more plentiful (albeit not plentiful enough).

The story was infuriating because none of the qualities of poor management levelled at women leaders were in anyway exclusive to women – they were simply qualities of poor management regardless of gender. I tried substituting “he” for every “she” – one of my favourite litmus tests for sexism.

Of course, women have to fight their way up the ladder; that probably doesn’t improve our sense of compassion for others, and might even make us a little paranoid. But, as the saying goes, just because I am paranoid, doesn’t mean people are not out to get me!

The reality is women cannot put a foot right, and that goes for working life too. If we climb the ranks, we are too ambitious, if we are happy on the bottom, we are not ambitious enough. If we miss out on promotions, it’s because we don’t try hard enough, and if we get them, we stepped over our colleagues, and dumped on our sisters, in the race.

Many men and many women are excellent leaders. Others, women and men, have a lot to learn about management and leadership.

What is known for a fact, through rigorous global research by many reputable groups, notably including McKinsey & Company’s excellent Women Matter series, is that women are systematically held back from promotion and underpaid compared to their male peers.

Let’s focus on the real issues.

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