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Women and Leadership: Is Leaning In Enough?

Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Women and Leadership: Is Leaning In Enough?

March 31, 2014 | Healthcare | Time for Action | Comments
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Is leaning in enough?

Leadership, it’s the ability to win over and motivate a group of people with your voice and presence. We have two women leaders keynoting the National Council’s upcoming conference in May, Hillary Clinton and Kelly Ayotte. Politically on different sides of the aisle, they share the ability to lead, to win over, and to motivate people. Working on introductions for Former Secretary of State Clinton and Senator Ayotte, I’ve been thinking about the talented young women in my life, the intelligence they bring to the table, and their potential for leadership. But is that enough? As Sheryl Sandberg urges, will they lean in? And is leaning in enough?

Women represent nearly 60 percent of college graduates, and 60 percent of master’s degrees earned in the US. But consider these statistics from the Harvard Business Review when it comes to work: of 190 heads of state, 9 are women. Of corporate America’s top jobs, women hold 15 percent. And women account for only 24 percent of full professorships. Of top managers, 78 percent are men.

Hillary Clinton put “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling,” but behavioral organizations have not yet seen the light streaming through. Of the 2,200 National Council member organizations, only 800 of the CEOs are women, although almost 75% of the middle managers are women. Of the eight National Council corporate partners (large corporations), all eight CEOs are men. Of the 55 affiliate members (small- to mid-size businesses), there are only 18 women CEOs or owners. And on our board, only seven of our 25 members are women.

Healthcare is increasingly complex, affected by our culture’s willingness to experiment, our demand for convenience and immediate impact, and by the technological revolution that puts information and the possibilities of change at our fingertips. What are the demands on leadership in such a world?  Women bring to the table the ability to solve problems by seeing the big picture and understanding how the pieces fit together, by being experts in multi-thinking and tasking. So what is keeping them from the corner office?

First, women need to be seen as potential leaders. Executives do not always give women feedback that nudges them toward leadership. We employers all too often overlook the potential to give constructive feedback to women because of false, preconceived notions of what a leader looks like (male), or how women will respond to criticism (sensitive). If we cannot find a professional way to give constructive criticism, then we as leaders must learn to develop this skill.

Second, our workplace culture needs to reflect reality. As feminist Anne Marie Slaughter recently revisited in the Atlantic, the notion of women “having it all” places the pressure of compromise – notably, work or family – on women alone. At the leadership table, we need different perspectives – men, women, parents, etc. –  to look at how our policies support employees to have the best of both worlds. And not just policies, but our expectations for when employees can be on call and responsive to our needs. A recent Washington Post article noted that the White House is taking steps to make their office “more manageable for working parents.” Surely behavioral health can take steps to do the same.

These are certainly only parts of the solution, but they are parts we can immediately begin to address. At the conference next month, as behavioral health leaders discuss and share approaches to leadership and clinical excellence, let us make this a focus of change.

Hillary Clinton promised us it “will be a little easier next time, and we are going to keep working to make it so, today keep with me and stand for me, we still have so much to do together.”