Here I am ready to launch WomenLead, Inc: an innovative online collaboration and learning platform designed to accelerate women’s advancement as Global Leaders, combining the power of the Social Network, with the appetite that women have to advance. The central theme of the business is to create “Your Personal Advisory Board” of 20 women in a closed online community to support you in your advancement. You can bring friends onto the site to join “Your Personal Advisory Board” or find them on the site through a matching algorithm or through search.
Only to discover that Sheryl Sandberg is launching Lean In, a new book and campaign, that could be looked at as a competitor to WomenLEAD. I am positioning WomenLEAD as distinct from Lean In but we will certainly ride the wave of interest in women in the workplace.
As someone who has been studying women for years, here is how I see it Even if we all had a shared definition for success and women developed themselves as leaders; organizational structures are designed to not advance women in their career.(16% women on all corporate board and 14% senior executives in the US, gender parity at entry level)
A 2008 study by HBS, the Athena Factor, concludes that 52% of women in Science, Engineering and Technology leave their career mid-career. The reasons the study sites are: no clear career paths, few role models, hostile work environments, isolation, unequal reward systems, extreme work pressures and lack of sponsorship and mentors.
I have spoken with thousands of women, many that are working in other industries as well and many of these issues ring true for them as well.
Having children was NOT one of the reasons women left their careers mid career in this study.
Maybe this study gives us insight into is the reason why there are more women becoming entrepreneurs then men and by the way women are getting paid better than men as entrepreneurs. Women are leaving their jobs to start companies because they see no career path for themselves. They are tired of butting up against the organizational structure that keep them stalled in their careers
While leading a non profit for women in science and technology, and now as the founder/CEO of WomenLEAD, I dug into the Catalyst, Anita Borg Institute, HBS, McKinsey, and Deloitte research on women in the workplace and concluded that for women to be successful in their careers and to advance as leaders they need to develop themselves in the following areas:
- Be Passionate about their work and know their purpose
- Perform equal to or better than men
- Be visible and manage their visibility
- Know how to engage people in their ideas
- Have a leadership experience: managing teams and projects and also learning softer leadership skills: negotiating, influencing without authority, bolstering their personal brand, etc.
- Learn to mentor others and find sponsors.
I realize that even if a women excels at all of these areas of success, without a fundamental shift in the way our organizations operate, (the organizational cultures and infrastructures) the conditions that women face will not change. Having women at the top may or may not change the organizational cultures and structures that limit women’s success in organizations.
I studied organizational change and leadership development with world masters: Peter Senge and Tom Peters while working with them for a span of 14 years and from a systemic view point I see that women need to develop as leaders in the above areas and the organizations that they work in need to transform culturally and structurally.
I believe we need opportunities for women to connect on-line with each other globally to learn from each other, to create self organizing communities of support. To dive into developing themselves as leaders. Which is why I founded WomenLEAD and is why Sheryl Sandberg founded Lean In.
Sheryl Sandberg has hit a nerve, so let’s ask ourselves why? It may be easy to harpoon her or call her naive if suggesting that Lean In will cure all ills, but I admire her for her courage to step out and go for it. This is the time for women to unite and shift the paradigm we have been operating in for centuries, we are hitting a tipping point of interest, Sheryl’s timing is excellent and is already causing much discussion and dissent. I applaud her for taking on this issue!
Editor’s note: More From Makers: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA is an innovative documentary (PBS and AOL), narrated by Meryl Streep. It tells the story of the women’s movement through personal accounts of leaders, opponents and trailblazers — unknown and famous – who carried change to every corner of society.
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Ilene Fischer is CEO and Founder of WomenLEAD Inc, a global women’s leadership network. Focused on women’s issues for decades, she established one of the first U.S. women’s shelters; served as a chapter president of N.O.W; and was the first woman engineer hired through affirmative action for defense industry. Her early leadership development and innovation work with Peter Senge and Tom Peters influenced the design of WomenLEAD.