Part of the series “Women, Leadership and Vision”
I’ve spent the past decade focusing intensively on helping women advance and thrive in business, and in their lives. As a writer, leadership and success coach and trainer, and as a former corporate Vice President, I’ve been inside countless workplaces, observing what’s going right, and what’s going wrong, in terms of scouting, recruiting, hiring, developing, and promoting women to the levels of influence and the authority that they’ve earned and deserve.
Today, on International Women’s Day, it’s critical to review where we are. From where I stand, we’ve made some great progress, but have a long way to go. As we all know, thinking and mindset is what shapes behavior, and when we have faulty thinking about an issue, this thinking engenders mistakes and missteps in our actions, and halts progress.
After working with over 10,000 women in 10 years, and reading thousands upon thousands of articles about the issue of diversity, gender equality and women in the workplace, I believe that there remain five very damaging and misguided notions about what’s in the way of women’s success, and what we need to do differently, to ensure that by the end of this decade, we’ll have moved the needle significantly ( as other countries have done), to bring women to equality at work, in society, in the government, and at home.
The 5 most damaging myths that I see perpetuated in organizations, in homes, in the media and in the minds of men and women and leaders today are these:
Myth #1: Gender equality is just a women’s issue, and men don’t need to be involved.
If I read one more article or blog comment that says “Women don’t need men to help them – we’re powerful and capable to do this on our own,” I’m going to spit. Do women need the other half of the population to do what’s necessary to bring women to equality? Of course they do. It’s not just about what women can do themselves (although that is critical as well – see Myth #5 below). Women need the support of all individuals, all organizational and governmental leaders, all movers and shakers, thought leaders, and those with power and influence of both genders, to make the changes necessary to clear the way for women to advance and thrive, at work and at home.
Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant recently outlined in the New York Times the solid and measurable benefits men will reap from supporting women’s growth. It’s not just a women’s game. Here are 5 important ways that men can support women to flourish, and what needs to change for this to happen to the fullest extent possible. As Emma Watson shared in her compelling HeforShe Campaign speech at the U.N. recently, bringing men into this conversation, creating more awareness of the key issues, and giving men a seat at this critical table, is essential for any significant or lasting progress to be made.
Myth #2: Gender equality is just a workplace issue.
I’ve seen this to be true with every single conversation I’ve had with a woman these past 10 years (and there have been thousands), and every leadership training class and program I’ve conducted – there can be no equality in the workplace if there is none in the home. If women continue to handle the lion’s share of domestic responsibility, there is no possible way that they can become the leaders and influencers in the workplace and in government that they long to be. Fathers and husbands need to share and balance domestic responsibility in the home. As Gary Barker, International Director of Promundo explains, men can help advance women“by doing half the care work, the care for children, the care for elderly family members. There is perhaps nothing that changes the dynamics in workplaces and the home more than when men do fully half their share of the care work.”
Myth #3: Workplace equality is just the concern of CEOs and HR Leaders.
Many men and women around the world seem to believe that workplace equality is the domain only of the HR leaders and CEO’s of organizations. The reality is that this is the responsibility and concern of every single person on this planet, as well as everyone involved with people in any capacity. If you are in a role where you have any power at all over who gets hired, recognized, promoted, developed or advanced, then you are critical to the movement of women’s advancement and equality. And if you have knowledge, expertise, wisdom and insight to share as a mentor or a sponsor, you have the power to make a difference. (Read more about the Half the Sky movement and what each of us can do to end women’s oppression globally.)
Myth #4: Focusing on supporting women puts them in a “special victim’s unit.”
I’ll never forget in 2012 reading how Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric GE +1.02%, at a gathering of women executives from a range of industries shared that when it comes to career advancement, it is results and performance that matter. He explained his views that programs promoting diversity, mentorships and affinity groups may or may not be good, but they are not how women get ahead. “Over deliver,” Mr. Welch advised. “Performance is it!” (Here’s more about that.) He went on to share that, “the H.R. teams that are out there, most of them for birthdays and picnics.” He mentioned a women’s forum inside GE that he says attracted 500 participants. “The best of the women would come to me and say, ‘I don’t want to be in a special group. I’m not in the victim’s unit. I’m a star. I want to be compared with the best of your best.’” And then he addressed the audience: “Stop lying about it. It’s true. Great women get upset about getting into the victim’s unit.”
In my home where I grew up in upstate New York, my father was a G.E. man for 30 years with 7 patents to his name, and he revered Jack Welch. But these are comments I can’t stand for. I tweeted about how wrong I felt he was, and he responded saying something like “I didn’t say this – the women I work with said this.”
Yes, but he repeated it, sanctioned it, and promoted it.
The reality is that many people still have this misguided view. But focusing on the advancement of women does NOT put women in a special victim’s unit. It rights a long-standing wrong, corrects a situation that needs correcting. Anyone who thinks differently is standing in the way of progress.
Myth #5: Helping women to help themselves – and navigate through their challenges successfully — is “blaming the victim.”
A while ago, I published a post on the top 6 reasons women are not leading in corporate America as we need them to, and one of the six reasons involves personal accountability and responsibility. I explored what women can do personally and professionally to clear their own pathway for advancement and success. This is the terrain I cover in my coaching work with women – how to learn to access more confidence, power, and authority over one’s own life, and how to generate the changes in life that one needs and wants. I believe that we (all of us) are much more powerful and impactful than we realize. We can’t just sit back and blame society, or men, or the government for what’s going on with women. Women themselves need to stand up, speak up and power up to do what’s necessary to claim the authority, power, responsibility and influence they deserve and want. I feel these 6 reasons still stand.
Yet it’s been very surprising to me to receive responses from women who say I’m blaming the victim.
Here’s one comment I received:
“Thank you for the article, Kathy. Like many similar commentaries, this article is not nearly hard hitting enough. It’s time for women to call a spade a spade. The number one reason that women are not advancing is discrimination pure and simple. Discrimination against women may not be overt in the way it once was, but it is still a major factor limiting women’s advancement in the workplace. And, sadly, it isn’t just men who discriminate, but women who discriminate against other women. Other women are often our own worst enemies. The question is: how do we fix it? Can we fix it? Until men decide that they want to share power, women will not have equal opportunity and equality in the workplace. In the meantime, let’s stop blaming ourselves for our supposed deficiencies.”
I’m not in agreement with this comment. From my view, as long as we blame everything outside ourselves, and refuse to look at our own behaviors, we remain part of the problem. In life, each of us needs to empower ourselves, stretch far out of our comfort zones, and do what’s necessary – personally, professionally, in our workplaces, in our world — to clear our pathways and remove the impediments in the way of building lives and careers we cherish. It’s up to each and every one of us to make gender equality and diversity a possibility for all.
What are your thoughts? What is the ONE biggest obstacle in the way of women’s equality today?
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized career success coach, writer, trainer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough:The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, and Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and the Amazing Career Project, focused on helping professional women build successful, rewarding careers of significance. A Forbes, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and top media source on women’s career and workplace issues, she has appeared in over 100 leading newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit www.kathycaprino.com and connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.