Advocating the C-Suite for Professional Women

20 Feet from Stardom, a movie about women backup singers, gets my 3 thumbs up! The music alone is worth your time. 20-feet-from-stardom-review-photoThe film also sheds a different and very important light on women in back up roles, whether they’re 20 feet from center stage or 20 feet from the C-Suite. It got me thinking about the emphasis on the C-Suite for professional women, and the lack of emphasis on professional women who are 20 feet away, making those in the C-suite look and sound great.

I, along with many other professional women and men, consult, coach, advocate, push, pull, speak, write, and do a variety of other things to remove barriers to the C-suite for professional women. Doing so is part of 3Plus International’s mission. 20 Feet from Stardom is a reminder that well-deserved credit, attention, salary, benefits and rewards, should also accrue to professional women in back up roles, 20 feet away, yet often barely visible. We need to treat them with the respect, and pay them in accordance with the value they bring, even though they don’t at stand center stage.

Ending the Myth of Lone Leader as Hero

If we advocate only the C-suite for professional women, we also feed the false notion of the lone leader as hero. We should, instead, heed the message of 20 Feet from Stardom. Without their backup singers, the Mick Jaggers, Bruce Springsteens, and David Bowies of the world would sound, and fall, flat.

The lead characters in 20 Feet from Stardom are real women, playing themselves, and singing their incredible voices. They never made it to center stage and suffered shame, humiliation and poverty as a result. Several factors explain why this happened.

Making it in music requires talent. It also requires that you drive hard to achieve fame and fortune on your own behalf, as did Mick Jagger, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom are in the film. Making it to the C-Suite requires a similar driving force on behalf of self. Women are typically less driven to promote themselves. We are typically more concerned with a community of others, be that family, friends, or team.

Making it in music requires a song writer who recognizes a special quality in your voice and writes music to make you, and that quality, shine. People don’t write music intended to make the back up singers shine. Making it in business requires one or more sponsors who help you shine. Men sponsor other men. It’s not a wrong thing to do. It simply happens naturally on the golf course or after work at the bar. It has the unintended side effect of leaving women out, without sponsors to help them shine.

20 Feet from the C-Suite: from backup to up-lifter

It’s time to shine the light, and pay due respect and salaries, to women backup singers and those backing up the C-suite. Lisa Fisher, featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, has an absolutely amazing voice. Listen to her solo performance. Then listen to her “?backing up?” Mick Jagger. Consider what Mick would sound like without Lisa. Not so good, aye?  )

Consider a VP of Human Resources, a woman, who was asked to backup an EVP, known for his winning business strategies AND for behaving badly. Her role was to keep him in line. She did more than that. He wasn’t a great, or even a good leader, or a brilliant strategist. She was both. He sold the company (down the river) and walked away a very wealthy man. She owns a book store and is struggling to make a living. Please celebrate women back up players you know, in the comments section below. Together, let’s take these glorious women from Back-up to Up-lifter.

Dr. Anne Perschel

About Dr. Anne Perschel

For over 20 years Dr. Anne Perschel has been an “Unstoppable force for the advancement of women leaders,” beginning with her role as chair of the Women In Manufacturing Conference at a Fortune 50 company. She is currently a coach and trusted advisor to senior and high potential men and women in a variety of industries. Dr. Perschel also works with companies to address systemic and cultural obstacles standing in the way of the promotion and success of women managers and executives.