Joan Bragar, EdD

Coaching for Happiness in Love

Women and men, leading together with dignity and respect

by | Apr 28, 2017 | Leadership Development

A client I am coaching, a young female scientist, did not negotiate well for her salary as she began her job. She accepted what was offered and was glad to get the job. (This is a common pattern among women.)

A year later, though she was told she was one of the highest performers at her level, she found that she was being paid less than all of her male peers.

We talked about what she would need to overcome within herself to address this issue directly. At her annual review she provided her manager with a list of her key scientific contributions and asked for a large increase. Despite his initial hesitation, after two meetings, she was able to negotiate an increase that got her within range of her colleagues, and a promise of a higher bonus if she continued to perform well. She was fortunate that her manager was able to see the start of a potentially growing inequity.

Her manager also provided useful feedback. He encouraged her to “take more charge” in meetings and discussions, and to “act more like a decision-maker” for the team Despite her cultural upbringing, which emphasized that women should not act “pushy” in mixed groups, she saw that if she was going to be successful as a scientist in business, she needed to share her views more directly with her team.

I often hear this scenario from clients: Women who do not speak up for themselves in negotiations and settle for less, and managers who want women to speak up more and take decisive action.

More than half of college graduates and entry-level knowledge workers are women, yet the number of women at senior levels and leadership of these organizations continues to be less than 20% – the same percentage that it was in the 1990’s.

How can women lead in the workplace in the face of deeply embedded, and oftentimes unconscious, beliefs and behaviors held by both women and men?

What are we missing, in our organizations and in society, when we ask women to act like men in leadership?

I have taught leadership for many decades and know that people can improve their ability to lead. They can clarify their purpose and visualize a better future. They can identify clear measurable results and align stakeholders. I have summarized the application of these practices in my book.
Leading for Results.

But there is also a set of invisible leadership practices that groups and organizations need to sustain and thrive. These are the “relational” leadership practices — the “glue” that holds families, communities and organizations together.

Relational practices contribute to a climate in which others are developed and empowered. These practices encourage collaboration and teamwork – the values that most organizations now espouse. These practices are often seen as feminine traits that women naturally have. This is not accurate. These are leadership capabilities that both men and women can develop.

In my doctoral research at Harvard I conducted a large study of high performing corporate managers who were good leaders. I found that the highest performers used both relational and the positional leadership practices.(Bragar, 1990, Effective Leadership Practices for Managers, Balancing Interdependence and Autonomy)

What is a cost of ignoring the relational leadership practices?

Less collaboration, less development of people, and less communication of knowledge across boundaries

What can we do?

  1. Women need support to learn to advocate for themselves, and demonstrate the value they are bringing to organizations.
  2. Organizations need to recognize, value, and reward the relational leadership practices of both women and men.

This is not a call to promote women because they are women, regardless of their leadership contributions- often thought of as “affirmative action” or quotas.

Balanced leadership teams have been shown to lead to improved business results, including increased profitability. In my next post I will give examples of organizations that are succeeding at including women in leadership.

For this post I am calling on women, and the those that manage and support them, to encourage them to speak up for their value in the workplace.

We all need to recognize that we are in the middle of an enormous historical shift, one in which women’s roles in society have dramatically changed. These roles have changed faster than the cultural norms and expectations that we all carry in our heads!

We need to address this challenge directly if we are all going to benefit from the knowledge, wisdom and experience of our entire population.