Do you work hard and have great ideas but just somehow feel like you are swimming upstream or just don’t quite get where you thought you would? Do you question your abilities, your credentials, and maybe wonder if you really have what it takes? At a Harvard conference last year I learned some things about women and success that just might change your trajectory!
I spent two days at Harvard Business School reconnecting with classmates and getting to know others as 800 women (and a few brave men) gathered to celebrate 50 years since women were first admitted to HBS!
It was a powerful group of women — full of life, wisdom, and ability to make things happen. We laughed at stories from the early days, were inspired by women who have shaped our world, and were informed by new research about the state of women’s lives and careers.
What struck all of us was how far we had come and yet how much had not really changed in many areas. Robin Ely, HBS Professor and Senior Associate Dean, showed research about where Harvard women are today. I was overwhelmed at some of the statistics about the world my daughters face. Somehow being highly educated, having a successful career, and tucking my head in my own family and business life has left me with the illusion that women are getting close to parity with men in areas of influence.
I learned this is not true. We only hold few spots at the top of corporations — a percentage that has remained flat for the past 10 years, few are heads of state in world governments, and a mere 4-7% of venture capital funds go to women entrepreneurs, despite the large influx of deals presented by women. Why fifty years after entering the Harvard business school do we still hold so few positions of influence?
If you speculate, like I did, that many women leave the workforce to pursue family – the research says 90% of women surveyed were still in careers. We cannot point there. We can also no longer point to less opportunity in education. In fact, more women graduate with high-level degrees than men today. So what happens?
Two critical things that you and I can influence are paramount to what we found.
First, men have years and generations ahead of them willing to mentor and help them move ahead, get a deal, and fund their ideas.
Women, ironically, do not use their gift of connecting when it comes to business and government. We choose to “earn” our way, prove our worth and ensure we are confident before we proceed – rather than ask for a favor.
In fact, Sheryl Sandberg’s talk pointed to the idea that women will go for a promotion only when they meet all the criteria (maybe even a few extra) whereas men will go for it when they meet 20% of the job requirements assured they will learn the rest! Men will use their contacts, after hour gatherings, and other venues to get promotions, funding, and basically advance their career.
Men are also more willing to bet on each other with their checkbooks. And they fund people they are more like – white males.
So our task – yes you and me, is two-fold:
Join groups, make contacts, and find other women to become your “good-old-girl” network. Start to look at other women as your source of power. And for the love of God, start asking for what you need. Call on other women (or men), ask someone to mentor you, write that letter or make that phone call asking someone to give you money for your idea or to help promote it. Stop waiting until you’re sure you or your project is a completed masterpiece.
Second, start to look for ways to empower other women and younger women.
What do you know, what can you share, who can you mentor? Rather than continue to push in on the existing power structure, we women need to change the game. All new innovation from the Declaration of Independence or Facebook changed the game – they did not just incrementally make email better, or improve the monarchy!
Join with me. Join with other women. Ask for help. Give help in money and time to other women.
Let’s change the game!