When Patience Is Not A Virtue

PatienceThe International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made gender equality an express goal of their organization. The percentage of women athletes at this year’s Winter Games in Vancouver was around 40 percent, up from roughly 25 percent in the early 1990’s. Nevertheless, women ski jumpers failed in their attempt at inclusion in the 2010 event and were roundly criticized by the IOC for taking them to court over it.

Jacques Rogge, Chief Executive of the Olympic Committee, said: “The IOC, in a very predictable human reaction, might say: ‘Oh, yeah, I remember them. They’re the ones that embarrassed us and caused us a lot of trouble in Vancouver. Maybe they should wait another four years or eight years.”

Given that Mr Rogge’s powerful executive board consists of 14 men and one token woman, it’s obvious that the espoused goal of gender equality hasn’t quite reached the top of the IOC where all of the important decisions are made.

Women ski jumpers are told they must be patient. It’s the same advice women leaders have heard for some time – just be patient (read less pushy) and gradually your time will come and will see more women in positions of senior leadership.

Unfortunately the facts do not support the myth that it’s only a matter of patience and time before women join men at the top of organizations. In the European Union 9.7 percent of the board members at the top 300 companies were women in 2008. In the United States and Canada, roughly 13 -15 percent of the board members of the Fortune 500 and the Financial Post 500 companies are women. In China and India, women hold roughly 5 percent of board seats, in Japan, just 1.4 percent. The numbers are just as low when we look at corporate officer positions.

These numbers are creeping up very slowly and in some countries like the USA and Canada, they are even stalling. If women are patient and wait their turn we might only have to wait another 70 years or so before we see more balanced leadership at the top of organizations.

In my opinion, being patient and waiting our turn is the last thing women need to do. The women ski jumpers know they haven’t got time to wait – by the time Mr Rogge and his predominantly male committee get over their petulant response to their push for equal opportunity at the winter games, some of them might be past their peak to compete.

Similarly, women leaders shouldn’t be fooled by the myth that if they patiently wait their turn, we will someday soon have equal numbers of women at the top of organizations. Under these circumstances, patience is not advise and is definitely not a virtue!

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