The Book

Introduction from the Book

Although extensive research has concluded that women have the desire and competence to lead in business, government, education, law, and the social sector, there are still relatively few women at the top of organizations. Theories abound about why this is so. Some think it’s because women lack the relevant qualifications and experience to succeed senior male leaders. Others claim that women do not have the inborn psychological traits necessary for good leadership. And more recently, as a few high-profile women have resigned their top jobs, the media questions whether men are more ambitious for power and whether women, despite their claims to the contrary, don’t really want it.

There is certainly no shortage of advice, much of it contradictory, for those women who do want to succeed to the top of organizations: women need to be more assertive, but not so assertive that they are disliked; women need to be collaborative, but not so friendly that they lack credibility; women need to be more competent than their male colleagues, but in a way that does not threaten them; and women leaders need to be role models for other women, but need to behave more like men to succeed. Women obviously also need a good sense of humor.

It’s hard for women to know how to respond given the advice they are receiving. If they model their behavior on successful male leaders, they are criticized and rejected for being too tough and unfeminine. If they behave authentically as women, they are often considered unsuitable leadership material. Reacting and responding to such well-meaning advice usually has little positive impact and, so far, has not resulted in anything near equal representation in the boardroom or the corner office. If more women are to succeed at the top, we need to understand the unwritten rules behind the popular theories that explain the often-inhospitable organizational environment in which women strive to become leaders.

What are the dynamic forces in play that explain why there are so few women leaders at the top of organizations and what, if anything, can women do about them? If you are a woman who aspires to lead, no matter what sector or type of organization, it is essential to know the answer to this question. This is not optional or “nice to have” if you are serious about leading within the current leadership framework. A lack of understanding of the organizational environment and its unwritten rules is an ignorance that you simply can’t afford. It’s like having a snake in the room with the lights turned off—you never know when you might trip over it or get bitten, sometimes fatally. This book turns on the lights, revealing where the organizational snakes are hiding, when and why they are likely to strike, and how to manage or avoid them altogether. Arming yourself with a clearer understanding of the obstacles that female leaders must navigate will position you more strategically in your career and enable you to make better-informed choices about your leadership style and professional development.

This book is in three sections: Section One answers the question of why there are so few women at the top of organizations and reveals the unwritten rules—critical information that women need to know about today’s organizational environments. Section Two uses this understanding to provide pragmatic solutions about how women need to develop themselves to progress within this context and how to succeed within the unwritten rules that show little sign of changing. And for those who question their desire to stay in the world of large organizations, Section Three provides a stimulating exploration into the worlds of women who have become “corporate refugees,” leaving their traditional organizational jobs behind to successfully express their leadership capabilities in different arenas.

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