By Rieva Lesonsky
Recently on his blog social media guru Chris Brogan wondered if women even wanted to “lead like men do.” The easy (yet snide) answer is, “No, we want to do it better.” But to say I was shocked that the question was even posed is an understatement.
I think Brogan’s post was born in naïvete, especially given that the women leaders he saluted included Carly Fiorina, whose stint at HP hardly qualifies as good leadership, and overlooks the women who were true entrepreneurial pioneers and created business empires–Lillian Vernon, Estee Lauder, Cisco co-founder Sandy Lerner, Mary Wells Lawrence and, yes, Mary Kay Ash among them.
Here’s the comment I left on Brogan’s blog: I am a bit shocked we’re having this conversation today in 2010. It would have been more appropriate 20 years ago, when women started rocking the entrepreneurial world and their startup rate doubled (and often tripled) the general startup rate. In 1978 women owned about 4 percent of all the businesses in the U.S.; today it’s nearly 40. Women weren’t even “allowed” to get credit in their own names until 1974. Women are still at a big disadvantage when it comes to access to capital, and let’s not even talk about access to VC money.
Just in terms of sheer numbers, the first group of the original baby boom (which I believe peaked in 1957) were not given many choices or shown many opportunities to “learn a trade.” In the late 1960s I was given 3 choices of “what I could be” by my high-school guidance counselor–and I was a smart kid. Needless to say I rejected his choices (teacher, nurse or secretary) and forged my own path. I believe I was the first female editorial director of a general business magazine, but that didn’t mean I was paid or treated the same as a man would have been in my position.
The underlying premise of your point, Chris, assumes that ALL men want to lead. And they don’t. Nor are they necessarily good (or better than women) at it. These comparisons between male and female leadership might be more valid if men and women were treated equally in this country, but they’re not. While the overt sexism of the “Mad Men” era is gone (mostly), there’s still plenty of covert sexism to go around.
Instead of asking why women don’t want to lead, perhaps we should be wondering why there’s still such a huge wage gap in America, why women do NOT get equal opportunity, particularly when it comes to money issues, and how very sad it is this question had to be posed.
Stop searching for the answer to what women want; it’s like looking for the Holy Grail. There are hundreds of millions of us. Some of us want what some of the hundreds of millions of men want, and the rest of us want other things. We women are not monolithic yearners.
Please let me know what you think. This is an important issue and we all need to make our voices heard.