Fish don’t see the water they swim in. It’s simply there. Always was. Always will be. Fish probably perceive it, or more likely they don’t, in the same way that humans don’t perceive the air we breathe. It’s outside our awareness, most of the time.

Our assumptions about the world are subject to this same phenomena. We don’t see them. We don’t know they rule our perceptions and govern the way we make meaning of the world. Our assumptions remain outside our awareness until something shakes us up and causes us to see differently.

Challenging Assumptions about Women Leaders

One such opportunity, regarding women leaders and women in business, knocked on my mental door recently.  Care to hear the story?

I’m serving on a committee of The Boston Club that’s researching, and will produce a report, about the status of gender balance on non-profit boards. My role is to find and write success stories related to more women on boards. I will be interviewing board presidents, of designated non-profits with the best gender balance score cards. I’ll be asking for success stories showing how the organization benefits from more women and what added value women contribute. An outspoken Boston Club member questioned my questions.

“Why do women have to prove our value? Why don’t men have to do the same?”

BAM! My previously unconscious assumptions were staring me in the face. Many of us have been seeking and finding proof of women’s value added for a very long time. I rarely, if ever, question why we need to do so. Women are later to the business game, but that doesn’t mean we should accept previously set definitions and measures of value-added as the standards we should match or measure ourselves against.

In my mind’s eye I saw the image below as it appeared in newspapers during the 2008 economic debacle.

LEHMAN-BROTHERS-signremoval-b

In response to this image, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Fund, a powerful woman, who’s adding much value to the world, suggested,

“If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, today’s economic crisis clearly would look quite different”

She also spoke about women’s strength in times of crisis – a different measure of value added.

Determining What is of Value and How It’s Measured

Why do we assume, consciously or unconsciously, men should determine what is of value and how it should be measured?  As the captains of industry, men got there first., while women were at home wearing aprons. Is being first in line a reason to continue being the standard setter? I think not.

Russia was the first country to land on the moon. But former president John F. Kennedy didn’t use Russia’s performance to set the bar for what the U.S. would achieve. They landed. We would land a man on the moon and bring him back safely. The U.S. would do better.

Women leaders should do better. Women leaders should, and can, raise the bar for all leaders. Women leaders should, and can, play a role in redefining what is of value and how it’s measured, whether in the world of business, government, or the non-profit sector.

Addendum:

On April 2, the committee decided  to add the following questions to the interviews:

What added value do men on boards bring to the organization and what success stories can you share?

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.