The Missing Link to Innovation and Inclusion

Women and Leadership

work family balance

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 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.

3 Responses to “Women and Leadership”

  1. stacykap70

    Some days I wonder what my career would have been like if I had not had any children. Not that I regret having children at all – I can’t imagine my life without them. But I DO wonder what would have been if I could have focused ALL my energy on my career. I think without kids I certainly would have taken a totally different path and possibly one leadership. But instead I decided to opt for part time work — very fulfilling, yet still part time, and definitely not in a top role. You’re right – I KNEW that leadership path would have taken way more hours than I could give and still raise a family, shop for and cook a decent meal, help with homework, walk a dog, and get all the other stuff done.

  2. jackieacho

    Absolutely. It’s simply a matter of TIME,no matter how wonderfully we multitask. What’s also interesting to wonder is what kind of leader you would have been without the lessons you’ve humbly learned from being a hardworking and engaged parent of children, vs the kind of leader you can be now and into the future, leveraging all of that wisdom. Thanks so much for this comment.

  3. jackieacho

    From a friend who is a Rabbi (copied from Facebook):

    So, I have been leading congregations and raising children the past thirteen years. I don’t think it’s impossible, I do think it only works with partnerships in all areas of life: partners in parenting and running the household with spouse and child care; partners with other professionals in a team framework rather than heirarchical dictatorship; and with your lay leaders of your boards for synagogues/churches/nonprofits…not sure of the equivalent in business and consulting, but I’m sure it’s there. Not needing to be perfect but always moving forward according to your goals and values is important as well as pausing frequently to evaluate the sacrifices to make sure they are not too high to overshadow your happiness or accomplishments–personal and professional. It is extraordinarily difficult…as well as rewarding, fulfilling…except when it’s not!!


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