Joan Bragar, EdD

Coaching for Happiness in Love

Women and Leadership – a Talk with Harvard Women

by | Apr 16, 2018 | Leadership Development

In November I gave a talk at Harvard on “Women and Leadership –Current Challenges and Paths Forward” for the Alumnae/-i Network for Harvard Women (ANHW).

We held a spirited conversation that included recent graduates of Harvard College, women who were students at Radcliffe in the 60’s and 70’s, and alumnae of the Harvard graduate schools.

We talked about the integration of women into Harvard, and noted that even though women have been students in Harvard classes since the 1940’s, they could not receive Harvard College degrees until the 1960’s.

In the early 1970’s, when I was there, there were four men for every one woman admitted, there were no tenured women faculty appointed by Harvard, and no women in higher administration.  The struggle to admit women on an equal basis with men was a long and protracted one. The struggle for equal representation on the faculty continues.

Today 51% of global college graduates are women and we enter the professional workforce in the same numbers as men.  But at each level of promotion into leadership, women become increasingly under-represented.

At the most senior levels of large organizations women comprise approximately 20% of total leadership. This figure has remained constant since I did my original research on leadership in 1990 at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Many barriers have fallen since women first got the vote in America almost one hundred years ago. But we still face enormous obstacles to full participation in public life. 

Some of these obstacles to leadership are explicit, like lack of access to affordable childcare. But many more are unconscious and not easy to address, including the cultural expectations we all have about leadership.

Women don’t look or act like the male leaders we have come to expect. But a large Zenger/Folkman study showed that women demonstrate leadership competencies at equal and higher levels than men. Are Women Better Leaders than Men?

Society is not benefitting from the under-representation of half of the population in leadership roles. It is time for this to be corrected.

Recent events have shown that many women have the courageous and principled leadership practices that are needed to face our enormous challenges. Our voices and perspectives continue to be essential in both the private and public sectors. In our workshop at Harvard we discussed what is needed and how to support each other as we move forward to balanced leadership in our organizations and in society.

It was a lively and spirited conversation. You can hear my talk and our conversation in the videos below, or at the Joan Bragar EdD channel on Youtube