As a woman reader, can you imagine not being able to vote?
Can you imagine not being considered a "person" by law? Can you imagine not being allowed to attend a college of medicine to become a doctor or to earn a degree of your choice? Can you imagine a married woman not being allowed to have her own bank account, but instead having to lump all of her resources under her husband's name? Can you envision a situation where you are not being promoted because you are a woman?
Frankly, thinking about our course of history and realizing the lives our mothers and grandmothers lived still makes me shudder. Thankfully, over the years, Canadian women have been successful in fighting for what we consider to be the fundamental rights of every person. Today, women have defined their place in society and have equal rights to men. Women can work in any job, attend any university and earn any academic qualifications they want. Women can retain their own names when they marry, can revert to a birth name if divorce occurs and take their children to day care.
Yet, has the business world and the role of women changed that much? While marketing experts recognize that women and their buying power are a powerful consumer market, we still don't see enough women in key business leadership roles. Just look at the lineup of corporate directors. Where are the women? The same goes for politics -- where are the women?
Women have certainly gained influence in the area of self-employment as many have built high-profile reputations for their successful businesses. However, there is still uneven progress in terms of women being at the strategic business or political table. Not only that, I seem to sense continued pockets of negativity and resentment at the notion of moving more women into executive leadership roles. Just recall the worldwide negativity caused by Christine Lagarde, the newly appointed managing director of the International Monetary Fund, when she suggested that more women need to be at the strategic table. Frankly, I was rather stunned to learn of such negative feedback.
At the same time, debate continues with respect to whether gender even matters in the business or the political world. For instance, Steven Pinker, a Harvard University professor, suggests in his newly released book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, that the increasing involvement of women and the influence of their "pacifying" approach to world affairs has proven to have created a decline in general violence.
Although many people continue to be concerned that there still aren't enough women at the senior leadership table, be assured that women's ways are indeed influencing workplace behaviour. At one time, for instance, informing colleagues that using intuition was a key strategy in your decision making was a death knell for career promotion. Over the past few years, one of the well-known male authors reframed our thinking on intuition and renamed it "emotional intelligence" and suddenly, it is an acceptable strategy.
What about the concepts of leadership and teamwork? Years ago, leadership was all about being in control, being in charge and having the right to make all of the decisions. Today, leadership is all about collaboration and shared leadership. It's about participation and employee engagement. Leadership is also seen as something that can be learned and this has led to a multitude of leadership training programs.
The same applies to teamwork. Women have always been known to be more collaborative and able to effectively use their relationship skills to develop formal and informal alliances, partnerships and teams. This relationship leadership style is now perceived to be the road to success and once again, multiple learning and training programs are being developed to teach people these skills.
Still, women have a long way to go before they sit as equal partners at that executive table and there are still challenges to overcome. One of the challenges women face is how to break into the male network and to be included in some activities that are gender free. Let me give you an example. I recall a personal experience earlier in my career when I was a partner in a growing but male-dominated firm.
We had planned an evening dinner event with an out-of-town guest. Things were going well but then, just before dessert was offered, all of the men quickly got out of their seats, put their jackets on and were heading to the door, leaving me alone at the table. I was shocked and surprised and quickly questioned where they were going. Guess what? They were going to the hockey game! Did these male colleagues think to ask if I was interested in attending? They didn't even consider it. Today, of course, I laugh at the incident as it is a good example of the behaviour that people engage in without thinking of the impact on others.
If we really take a good look at today's work world, you'll see many other examples of how women have influenced change for the better. For instance, we now have employment legislation that allows for maternity leave not just for 17 weeks but for an entire year. We have compassionate care leave, personal leave and employment equity that guarantees equal pay for both men and women. Since March 8 recognized the efforts of women to gain their rightful place in society, let's also take a moment to celebrate the influence women have made in the work world. And don't hold your breath, there is more to come.