Reshma Saujani's Women Who Don't Wait in Line: Break the Mold, Lead the Way talks about keys for success for women in today's work, and shares activist and former NYC Deputy Public Advocate Saujani's own experiences running for Congress against Carolyn Mahoney three years ago. Here, she breaks down the reasons why the old model for female leadership is outdated, and the ways in which we should look ahead to a new one.
When I ran for Congress in 2010, I was thrust headfirst into a conversation about the F word. Feminism. Was I a feminist? Was running for office against another, older woman "anti-feminist"? And if I was a feminist, what kind of feminist was I? Reporters wrote about my clothes before my policies, voters dubbed me "ambitious," and political insiders told me to wait in line. And after a year on the campaign trail, I finally had an answer: I was a feminist, but I decided feminism needed a facelift.
At first glance, there's never been a better time to be a woman. Women are now the majority of voters, the majority of college students, and the majority of the labor force. Overall, our numbers are looking pretty good. But there's a catch. We make up just 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 19 percent of Congress.
Past models of female leadership have carried us right to the brink of shattering that infamous glass ceiling, but crashing through it seems just out of reach. So now what? I argue that if women are going to rise to the top ranks of leadership in America, we have to wake up, take risks and embrace failure. Here's why:
1. Technology is changing the game -- or at least the arena. We need a new model of female leadership that encourages women to seize the opportunities afforded by the digital era. The numbers are clear: women are the majority of Facebook, Zynga, Groupon, and Twitter users. On Facebook, 62 percent of messages and updates can be attributed to women. The web gives us an invaluable opportunity to build our networks and promote our own accomplishments. At the same time, if the Internet is already our domain, we have to ensure we aren’t just using it, but ruling it. That means getting serious about closing the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education, promoting female entrepreneurship, and investing in other women.
2. There’s more than one seat at the table. Across the country, more than 20 million women have influence over hiring decisions. Middle management is now more than 34 percent female, while senior leadership is 21 percent female. With several generations of women now in the workplace, and in positions of power, the environment is ripe for sponsorship and mentorship. It’s time to do away with the old notion that there’s only one seat at the table that women have to compete for, or that women from different generations must be at odds. The next generation of female leaders will help our sisters race up the ladders by sharing our networks, hiring women, and becoming mentors and sponsors.
3. Getting trapped in the ambition gap. Aversion to risk and failure, and particularly fears of being branded ambitious, are leading to a dangerous disparity in pay between men and women. For example, men are four times more likely than women to negotiate their first salary, and 20 percent of adult women say they never negotiate at all. We hear a lot about women “opting out” of the workforce for motherhood, but the reality is that ten years out of college, full-time working women who have never had children, still make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The new model of female leadership has to not only address this discrimination, but also remind women that if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
4. More women now work and have children. Today, 75 percent of American women who enter the workforce each year will start a family while they are employed, but the United States has some of the most hostile work-family policies in the world. For example, we’re one of only three nations worldwide that does not provide paid maternal leave. While the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires employers to provide unpaid leave, it does not require that the leave be paid. And it hasn’t been updated in 20 years! The next generation of female leadership has to drop the guilt over “having it all” – we have to be honest about how hard it is to fit in soccer practice and work or we’ll not only drive ourselves crazy, but also hold our sisters back. Being honest about our needs – whether it’s a flexible working arrangement like telecommuting or on-site daycare – is an important step towards bringing about the structural changes that are desperately overdue.
5. The glass ceiling still looms. Let’s face it: politics is still a male-dominated sphere. Women represent only 19 percent of US Congress, and only a handful have reached the governor’s mansion. Disturbingly, research shows that nearly a third of women report that someone tried to discourage them from running—most often an officeholder or political party official. The new model of female leadership challenges old advice that encourages us to stay on the sidelines and wait our turn. The reality is that for most women, it’s never our turn. It’s up to us to run, support each other, and most importantly, whenever possible, vote for women. As we fight the battles for paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and even continually re-litigate our reproductive freedom, we need more women in office and a new approach to getting them there.