The low percentage of female executives and corporate directors is often perceived as a problem. Viewing this imbalance as an opportunity instead of a threat would create a wider range of solutions and potentially give women greater impact.
History landed women here, but the current reality opens the door for continued progress. We must acknowledge that cultural values in existence for thousands of years socialized women to stay home and raise children, while men evolved as the primary providers. Much has changed since those early years, as evidenced by women now outpacing men in obtaining degrees of all levels.
Although traditional roles are changing, there may never be as many women as men aspiring to senior management positions. Executives often spend long hours at work due to the demands of their positions. It is possible that a greater number of women prefer to spend time outside work on other activities, such as community service, or pursue small business careers that satisfy different values and permit greater flexibility. Indeed, this same group of well-educated women may have thrived in their education environment because it offered flexible hours, social opportunities, and engagement in diverse activities.
To gain an advantage, corporations and boards should recognize the value of women as part of their leadership and management structure. They should take action to adopt practices that signal to women the importance of their contributions and provide them with the support they need. To leverage the female advantage, companies should recruit top female professionals, technologists and managers; send promising women to leadership training; establish a campus-like environment that encourages continuous learning, social networking, and engagement in diverse activities; encourage women in senior positions to mentor, fostering informal networks and providing professional support; and institute flexible working hours instead of relying on continuous hours as a requirement for career advancement.
Changing an organization’s culture requires ongoing commitment and focus. The good news is that an increasing number of educated and motivated women are likely to stay, move up into senior corporate positions, make a positive impact, serve on boards, and nurture more women in their wake.