Times They are A’Changing But The Timing Just Ain’t Right (Part 2 or 2)

Ok, so 2 blog posts in 2 days is a personal record and now makes up two-thirds (as in 2 out of 3!) of my posts so far, but I couldn’t let this topic go without discussing one more thing: Cultural constructs that make up the status quo that many of us, including Gene Marks who authored that Forbes article, don’t think or appear to think about questioning.  In my first blog post “Times They Are A’Changing But Are We Changing WithThem?” I responded to the Marks article and I talked about the talent pool.  The talent pool is only as good at the policies, procedures, and practices in place that support the cultivation.

So, when it comes to the talent pool of the C-Suite, what constructs do we need to consider? What are the policies, procedures, and practices in place that would help to get more women into that seemingly coveted CEO spot (as per my previous post, I don’t think everyone wants that position and NOT for the reasons that Marks had in his article.  That is quite the presumption of Mr. Marks).  But I digress…

Back the topic of constructs:  Men started industry and they created the constructs of industry including the definitions of success.  For the most part, much of what was created made sense.  And when the constructs no longer fit the context of market requirements, then an evolution and sometimes revolution occurred.  It’s time for an evolution or revolution of change (type of change required depends on who you talk to).

Forms of effective leadership and management have changed as business and society has progressed.  The transactional forms of Tayloresque management in the industrial era wouldn’t necessarily be conducive to the transformational leadership needed for the creation of rapid innovation by knowledge workers in the technology industry, for example.  Of course, this is obvious.  What isn’t so obvious is how people who are supposed to embody the leaders in power are identified.  And, as we are starting to see from new research – the question may not be just about HOW people are identified, but also WHEN people are identified for the C-Suite that matters when we talk about the glass ceiling between women and CEO positions.

Researchers exploring the “what” and “how” causes of the glass ceiling tend to focus on discrimination and discriminatory practices, cultural perceptions, career equity and success, and women’s life choices that impact perception and ambition (Bruckmueller, 2007; Cornelius & Skinner, 2005). Removal of cultural barriers that enable equal access to all positions, early identification of high-potential women, flexibility in work schedules and sites, and visible support for gender diversity are programs that organizations employ to address the lack of women in the executive talent pool (Bruckmueller, 2007; Cornelius & Skinner, 2005; Weidenfeller, 2006).

Top talents considered to be potential CEO material are often identified during their 40s.  Makes sense, right?  After all, this is a time in our lives when we could be perceived as having gained enough work experience to demonstrates leadership potential (Brizendine, 2008), developed those competencies needed to really understand the operational and strategic requirements of running a business, owning a P&L, and planning for an executing on the strategic goals of that business and its board.  It is also that time when we develop key relationships and build out networks of influential people who can help us achieve a lot.

Here’s the problem with this status quo of identifying CEOs in their 40s.  The age range makes sense for men, but not necessarily for women (Brizendine, 2008).  The age range represents a time in many women’s lives when biological changes combined with personal priorities take precedence over professional endeavors. “For reasons important to the survival of the species, women in childbearing years undergo changes that intensify their focus on the viability of offspring. It’s a passing phenomenon, but ill-timed for those with career ambitions” (Brizendine, 2008, p. 36).  So, what’s the answer?  Keep on identifying men in their 40s.  Sounds great!  But, in my research, the women BOD members looked at their 50s as when they really started enjoying their professional lives.  That is the time when they felt the most free to be the types of C-Suite leaders they felt wanted to be.  Maybe that status quo of WHEN a C-suite executive should be targeted could be adjusted, in addition to the “what” and “how”.  We need great leaders.  There is a scarcity.  Different times call for different strategies and this is one worth changing.

 

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References

Brizendine, L. (2008/June). One reason women don’t make it to the c-suite. Harvard Business Review, 86(6), 36.

Bruckmueller, S. (2007). Gender stereotypes and the glass cliff: Reduced importance of male attributes results in more frequent selection of female leaders in times of crisis. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (UMI No. 1451498)

Cornelius, N., & Skinner, D. (2005). An alternative view through the glass ceiling: Using capabilities theory to reflect on the career journey of senior women. Women in Management, 20(8), 595-609. Retrieved December 20, 2008, from Emerald database.

Weidenfeller, N. K. (2006). Breaking through the glass wall: The experience of being a woman enterprise leader. ProQuest Dissertation and Theses. (UMI No. 3245891)

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About the author
Patti
Patti
Patti’s blog is a mishmash of research and advocacy mixed with her personal experiences as technology executive and first-time high growth entrepreneur, working mother, and wannabe athlete.

4 Comments

puttingtheseatdown

2011-11-03 12:52:27 Reply

Patti

Thanks, Julie, for your comments! And, while I agree that generalizations do not make sense, Brizendine was not necessarily making generalizations about women in their 40′s and their family lives. Her reserach is more focused on the biological changes during that time period in a woman’s life and how those biological changes (which are different than men) cause a woman’s brain (and heart) to react. Her reaction to having aging parents, and young children or children who are in college or high school, plus any other activities related to the non-work work woman often do, can create a “cup runneth over” kind of feeling. That feeling may cause a woman to not want to take on more, such as the role of a CEO.

    Julie Lenzer Kirk

    2011-11-03 13:55:42 Reply

    I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, I guess because I’ve felt like ‘my cup runneth over’ for years! I thought that was just ‘status quo’ ;-)

Julie Lenzer Kirk

2011-11-03 11:57:07 Reply

Great insight, though I have to disagree about one thing: the ‘right’ age for women. The reality is, there is no typical profile for a woman in her 40′s.Some could be parents of teenagers (like me) while others still have young children or even grandchildren. I had children by what we be considered early in some standards (I was 28 when my first child was born, 30 for #2). I started my company when I was 28 and sold when I was 38. So as I’m about ready to see one off to college and 2.5 years shy of an empty nest, I’m already transistioning into my next chapter and it has nothing to do with ‘retirement’ (tried that already after we cashed out of our company – couldn’t do it).

I think we can agree that the age of consideration and review should not be one-size-fits-all, and just like the coming shift in medicine, it calls for personalization.

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