My mother works as a high school English teacher. She cooks and takes care of my father, and me and my brother, whenever we are around, packs lunch for us, takes our dog for a walk, tends to the garden ( 21 coconut trees, flower garden and a kitchen garden) all before she goes to school in the morning. She comes home and does this all over again apart from regular school work like essays, notes and answer scripts which she brings home to check.
At least twice a week she walks to the market which is a kilometre away to buy fish and other home related shopping. She has no time for T.V although she sometimes sits with us. She is also pretty active in the local community and because she is popular as a teacher, every other weekend she is invited to speak at a community event.
Most people would think of all this as an achievement. But not my Mom. In fact despite all the praise she gets for her work, I have not come across a woman more unsure and self-critical of her abilities!
Virginia M. Rometty, I.B.M.'s first female chief executive, was earlier offered a big job, but she felt she did not have enough experience. So she told the recruiter she needed time to think about it.
That night, her husband asked her, ‘Do you think a man would have ever answered that question that way?’
"What it taught me was you have to be very confident, even though you're so self-critical inside about what it is you may or may not know," -reports the New York Times which incidentally is also headed by a woman.
If the first female CEO of Big Blue thinks she's under-qualified, one wonders how the rest of women are stacking up on the self-confidence and self-promotion scales? Here's where I think women get it wrong: we are perpetually rounding down, where, by all rules of mathematics, we should be rounding up. And that slight miscalculation has huge repercussions in our professional lives……
A female CEO of a commodities trading firm once told me every time she posted a job opening requiring eight qualifications for a candidate, she would have a trove of men banging down her door demanding the job or promotion. They would invariably tell her they were the absolute right person for the job while actually only having four, maybe five of the qualifications listed. She'd then notice that no senior women approached her about the job. So she would reach out instead, and time and time again, the women would respond, "I wanted to apply, but I only have six of the qualifications, so I'm not the right person." The men rounded up, often lobbying for the job when they had a mere 50% of the stated qualifications (not even 51%!) while the women with 75% of the skills needed, took themselves out of the running……..
In the corporate boardrooms women face a different but a familiar problem, tokenism or under-representation For example, having a woman CEO surrounded by males! I believe it is irresponsible to represent women in such a way that they are shot down more than they are heard.
Representation for women is not a question of equality or merit or fairness as much as it is about diversity. Diversity is about balancing testosterone with a more cautious approach. It is about Emotional Intelligence as much as business intelligence. It is also about ensuring that mistakes happen less often simply by exposing company decisions to more points of view before implementation.
Having said this, I do not see top-down policy level changes favouring gender diversity on boards unless of course there is undeniable statistical proof of improvement and since companies are painfully slow in implementing such initiatives, there in no way of knowing the benefits of better women representation without shareholder activism.
In other words, women face an inner struggle of confidence just as they fight for their rightful place in the outside world all at the same time! They need to reconcile both to get ahead without losing their natural advantage of Emotional Intelligence in the process. That’s not easy.
No wonder so few of them make it to the top!