In 2010, a small change happened on the surface of our nation’s demographics that speaks to much larger things brewing below: Women represented more than half of the national population and the managerial and professional workforce.
This is not a temporary statistical blip. Within four years, women in the U.S. are projected to hold the majority of associate degrees, undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorates, The New York Times reported.
These quantitative trends have qualitative counterparts as well: In 2012, research emerged that shows women exhibit as many—often more—leadership characteristics as men in business settings.
Through the lens of these statistics, women have gained the equality we’ve sought for so long.
Devils hide in other details, of course, because despite their competence and availability women are not yet equally represented in the ranks of “power.” Women represent only 20 percent of the U.S. Congress, and they have not reached parity in corporate leadership, often leaving the workforce before they move up the ladder.
Women aren’t staying stuck in low-level jobs, however; instead they are swelling the entrepreneurial ranks, particularly in pursuit of low-growth “lifestyle” businesses that allow them to “have it all.”
Replacing Stick With Carrot
I could keep throwing statistics and we could have a rousing good time discussing the conflicting data of the wage gap and whether women have true choices to stay in corporate America. But I’ll stop for a bit and point out the salient point of these data: The feminist debate is no longer about equality and the right to work. Women have achieved these goals as evidenced by their presence in the working world.
The majority of barriers and inequities that exist today do not result from foundational discrimination; they are remnants of cultural habits that define “leadership,” and many of these discriminatory attitudes apply similarly to both women and men.
These limiting stereotypes are changing, too, eroding as younger generations—raised by working women in an economic reality that requires two incomes—expect and want women to work.
There are plenty of injustices to continue shaking our stick at, but I believe that the trends are turning. We’re at a point of diminishing returns with the fairness arguments, receiving less and less bang for our stick-shaking-buck when we brandish it.
It’s time to toss the stick out and start looking for carrots to encourage the change we want to see when it comes to women in leadership.
Gendership in a Post-Fairness World
We’re now in the post-fairness phase of feminism where the most compelling discussions center on quality instead of quantity. It’s high time we make this shift, because ironically, in the effort to prove women’s equality as workforce contributors, we’ve overlooked their greatest value.
In the last few years some fascinating evidence has emerged showing that companies that have achieved rough gender parity in their leadership teams perform dramatically better—as much as 84 percent better—than those companies with no gender parity.
I call this leadership partnership between women and men “gendership.” After a lot of research into why gendership companies are so much more successful, I think the answer is simple: As researchers love to discover, women and men are different, and greater diversity of thinking styles at the top leads to better decision-making.
Women aren’t better than men; but women and men, working together, build stronger organizations. It’s a partnership as old as time and it still works.
Many get caught up in arguing about causation in this corollary data, but I believe much discussion on this point is wasted energy. Whether women “cause” corporate cultures that produce better business results—or whether more innovative cultures make it possible for women to advance—is an angels-on-a-pin debate.
I suspect there is truth to both those perspectives. Shaking the stick of fairness helped create enough change for us to measure the impact of women and men working together at the top. The improved market performance of those who changed fastest now gives us a carrot to wave under the nose of those reluctant to seek healthier, gender-balanced cultures.
Profitability and productivity come along with gendership cultures. Let’s start the discussion about what true gendership in the workforce looks like so we can become more intentional in how we nurture it.
Dana Theus is a research-based advocate for talent innovation and women’s leadership-change initiatives that produce business results. She is a leadership management consultant, coach, and founder of InPower Women.