By Victoria Pynchon, Co-Founder of She Negotiates, a Women in the Boardroom Media Alliance | Women in the Boardroom


Why We Don’t Hire More Women Leaders

By Victoria Pynchon, Co-Founder of She Negotiates, a Women in the Boardroom Media Alliance

Not that long ago, FastCompany told us why we need women leaders in an article entitled How Women Lead Differently, And Why It Matters,

“Long excluded from traditional power structures, women lead differently than men. Restricted access to resources has made ingenuity a matter of survival for many; frustration with impenetrable oligarchies and inherited bureaucracies has instilled the value of transparency and creative, practical thinking in others. Women have been forced to operate from outside closed networks, which means they’ve had to adapt by creating their own worlds; they’ve learned to unite peripheral, disenfranchised communities into collectively organized and governed microcosms.”

That all sounds pretty good, right?

There’s nothing genetically different about women that makes them good, better or best. It’s their outsider status from the corporate norm that allows them to create their own worlds and unite peripheral and disenfranchised communities into collectively governed organizations.

Couple that with the survival skills developed in response to a lack of access to resources and you’ve got leaders who break forms, eliminate bureaucracy, promote the talented and demote the brother-in-law with no imagination and few skills whose well-being is at the center of the CEO’s marginally happy home life.

Don’t be fooled. There’s a reason women haven’t raised themselves up into leadership positions across all industries anywhere near to 20%. Here are the top three reasons why today’s leaders – still mostly male – should dig their heels into the ground and continue resisting the emergence of a new class of leaders in American business.

They’d Have to Stop Doing Things the Way They’ve Always Been Done

Today’s business enterprises, no matter where they are in the pecking order, were created by men with men in mind, including their family “back up.” Do you really believe anyone wants to change that in the dust of a Great Recession that’s devolved into the Great Jobless Recovery?

Listen. They’re comfortable. They know the power players and the power games. The organization has not been doing great, but it has been doing good enough. Bring in outsiders and they’re bound to shake things up, change at least some people’s perspective, and suggest new and innovative programs, all of which is going to make today’s leaders feel less secure, marginalized even.

It’s bad enough that they had to give up openly treating women in the office as potential sex partners. Where have those golden Mad Men days gone?

All that PC stuff HR pours down everyone’s throat is bound to make the guys even more inhibited in the workplace than they already feel. They’re old dogs now and they’ve been forced to learn too many new tricks already.

So, really, stay away from women leaders no matter how many influential authorities tell you they’re good for business.

Broccoli’s good too but look where that got Michelle Obama.

Women Will Favor Women

Even though women’s history tells us otherwise, today’s corporate leaders shouldn’t be fooled. If women get into too many positions of power, eventually they’ll figure out what the men been doing for hundreds of years – they’ll begin to favor their own.

I can hear you saying that women haven’t favored their own recently but that’s because they’re frightened of judgment. If a woman they promote fails, it will be seen as a gender fault, not the failure of a single individual. It’s just so much safer to go with the default white guy. They’re always judged on their individual merit and not on any presumptions about the effect of their gender on their performance.

Younger people these days also still tend to model themselves after male mentors. They’ve been looking ahead at their gender-peers for forty or so years now and here’s what they see. One woman. Maybe two. They’re often childless unless they have spouses who have taken on the female role of child and house-tending in a way that, let’s be frank, doesn’t float most women’s boat.

On top of that, those women look positively exhausted, frazzled but with all their manic work energy, they still rarely exercise the degree of power you’d think people with their work ethic, qualifications and dedication should be wielding. Clearly, there’s only room for one or two of them at the top.

The guys are not women’s competitors. Other women are. This has created a mini-dog-eat-dog corporate culture for women that’s mostly beneath male radar.

Still, the men rightly worry that if they put more women in leadership, they’ll begin to behave pretty much the way men always have. They’ll hire their sisters-in-law. Give more breaks to women who fail to be absolutely brilliant on a single occasion and start firing the guys who screw up repeatedly.

They won’t just hire more women, they’ll promote them. And that means some guy’s job is in danger.

So, really, what do they have to gain by putting women in positions of power? Their bottom line might not be the best, but they’re getting along and going along. And with their in-group on most Boards, even when they screw up they get golden parachutes or 75% compensation increases.

So, really, what do they have to gain by putting women in positions of power? Their bottom line might not be the best, but they’re getting along and going along. And with their in-group on most Boards, even when they screw up they get golden parachutes or 75% compensation increases.

Women are Compassionate and Giving; That Will Throw the Entire Commercial or Professional Enterprise Out of Whack

Sure, the guys still call women leaders “bull dykes” and lesser supposed insulting monikers like the witch with a B.  The fact that they carry these stereotypes is not their fault. Truly. Women carry them too. We’ve all been acculturated to believe that women are compassionate, caring, saps for the hard luck story. People who are afraid to bargain hard. Lawyers who do not, as one partner told me early in my own legal career, “have the taste for blood.”

It doesn’t matter that the business and professional women business leaders work with contravene these stereotypes every working day. No weak sisters, they. Still, most of us – male and female – long ago cordoned off our experience of professional and executive women so that they do not upset our implicit, and often benevolent, biases.

If we need someone who’s going to close the deal, we naturally turn to a man, even though we all know half a dozen of those couldn’t close a paper bag, let alone a major merger with a former competitor. The world is just too much with us, pressing all around us, imposing unreasonable deadlines and requirements on us to give us the time to judge people on their merits rather than their gender, their Ivy League credentials, their family ties, their race, nationality, or sexual orientation.

We’re running at business-speed. And business-speed no longer permits deliberation. Everyone knows what to expect from an anglo-saxon white guy. Why trouble ourselves with the pussy-whipped HR department’s diversity and inclusivity goals?

We’ve got Fortune 50 divisions to run or an AmLaw 10 practice groups to manage. We’re not striving for perfection here. Just “good enough.”

So, don’t bring women into the power structure even as the evidence continues to pour in about the bottom-line benefits we bring to business. It’s just too damn hard.

– Reprinted with Permission – The opinions and experiences expressed by the author or subjects do not necessarily reflect those of Women in the Boardroom.

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