Women and Leadership
A comprehensive account of women's barriers to leadership.
The best way to become inspired is to read a book that studies, interviews, explores, and dissects the experiences of one’s accomplished colleagues and peers. That was our experience while reading Deborah L. Rhode’s new book, Women and Leadership (Oxford, November 2016). In her book, Rhode surveys politics, management, law, and academia to understand women’s historic and persistent underrepresentation in leadership roles. While there is still a long road to achieve gender parity, we couldn’t help but feel both excited and driven to action.
The exploration of gender biases in the workforce and among leadership at the highest levels, and what can be done about them, is often highly theoretical. Rhode’s book transformed the research into a personal, real, and relatable journey compelling the reader to help solve gender inequity. Rhode’s interviews with these highly accomplished professional women are full of personal stories, amusing quotes, and qualitative observations. The fight for gender equity in the workplace and among corporate leadership has led to some accomplishments, but continues to progress at a glacial pace. In fact, at the current rate of change, it will take another 100 years to reach C-suite equality in the United States. Despite these odds, Rhode’s book offers an optimistic belief that are ways we can get there faster.
Among numerous other solutions—such as reformed policies, family dynamics, and personal approaches—Rhode emphasizes three sources that will play a key role in bridging the gender parity gap in the near future:
- individual women’s strategies, including intentional steps women should consider at various stages of their careers. Most intriguing and compelling was her call for “women who have reached leadership positions” to “focus on empowering other women.” Rhode notes that although this may seem obvious in principle, “it is complicated in practice.”
- tangible strategies for organizations. Rhode notes that the “most important strategy for organizations in ensuring equal access to leadership is a commitment to the objective, which is reflected in organizational policies, priorities, and reward structures.” Leadership must acknowledge the gender equity problem, establish structures to counter it, and create accountability for results. Rhode declares that “commitment must start at the top.”
- including men as allies. To achieve gender parity sooner, Rhode explains, “enlisting men as allies on these issues should be a critical priority.” According to Rhode, men can use their privilege to speak out for gender parity. After all, she writes, “their voices carry special force because their commitment cannot be attributed to self-interest.”
Rhode’s book helped us see the big picture behind the fight for gender-parity, and left us hopeful for the future. However, she also whet our appetites and left us hungry for how we could take steps toward parity now. If we’ve learned anything from running Women Serve on Boards, an organization dedicated to gender equality, it is that very few policymakers, organizations, men, and women want to preserve the persistent, slowly-shrinking gender parity gap—they just need more tools to close it faster.
Today, the main issue in fighting the gender gap is not “why,” but “how.” Many policymakers, organizations, men, and women struggle to define concrete, effective, practical, timely, and affordable steps to solve the gender parity gap in the near future. Rhode’s engaging book can be used as a springboard into action. We can’t wait to see her tools and strategies get put into practice in future research that studies, interviews, and explores those who will be, undoubtedly, inspired to make significant strides to bridge the gender gap.
Olga V. Mack, general counsel at ClearSlide, and Katia Bloom, associate general counsel at ForgeRock, advocate for gender equality in corporate leadership through Women Serve on Boards.