Adding to the debate on why we have fewer women leaders than we might expect, President Debora Spar of Barnard College offers helpful advice about not trying to be perfect everywhere and helping each other http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/09/23/why-women-should-stop-trying-to-be-perfect.html. This is certainly an important mindset shift for many working women (and some men). We should go further.
I’ve done growth and innovation strategy and leadership consulting for almost 20 years, including as a partner with McKinsey & Company. In my experience with clients and personally, it comes down to this: with the current organizational structures and expectations, women (or men) can work and raise a family nowadays, but not LEAD while raising a family. Without true partnership at home and at work, whether we accept imperfection or not, the math just doesn’t add up to enough time in the day. Because of biology, women tend to be the ones to back down on work at a time when men “lean in” to work and away from family. Another model which supports the rise of leaders is one in which a large part of childcare is outsourced. What we need ask ourselves is what kind of leaders are we growing in this case? Are they creating innovative work environments which will drive the next generation of American business, education, social services, arts, etc? All evidence suggests no.
Our paradigm of leadership is built on an old-fashioned model in which leaders have the peace of mind of someone at home loving and caring for their children; they retire at 55; and we all die at ~70-75. The 80-100 hour per week treadmill which claims so much time during the childrearing years is not only unnecessary, but it’s driving talented and empathetic people away from leadership, where we need them most. We live and work much longer. Imagine how wise our leaders could be at 50-55 if they live balanced lives, learning, growing, and caring for people (including their own children) while having positive impact in the world.
Debora’s suggestions are good. I’d like to emphasize one more that I don’t see anywhere but was made abundantly clear to me when I was asked to pursue a CEO-ship recently: shared leadership, which I highlighted in the last post. It’s not the only answer, but this is the kind of bold action we need.
We need a leadership paradigm shift.