Guest Post by: Tessa Danielson
Women in leadership is a hot topic right now. I’ve seen it trend on Twitter, it’s been mentioned by many of my friends on Facebook, and there are plenty of articles about it circulating on LinkedIn. The current popularity of the topic is (without a doubt in my mind) in part due to the upcoming presidential election and the talk of multiple women being poised to run. For the first time I am seeing articles upon articles with the topic of women running for president. I’ve seen articles covering which women have spoken about running, who the author thinks should run, which women wouldn’t surprise them if they ran, and even articles about why a woman could be just as good a leader as a man. Wait….what?
I’m not talking about the satirical articles, I’m talking about the serious articles. I’m sure the authors had the best intentions in mind while writing these articles…but, really? I’m not sure if it’s more upsetting that 1) people feel the need to explain that women can be leaders or 2) people actually need to hear it. These women who have worked tirelessly to get where they are today, who have accomplished so much, and who have become public figures have to not only gain support for their policies but also have to convince the US that women can be leaders? Really, society? After years of civil rights battles and women’s suffrage, this is how far we’ve come? This disturbing reality begs the question: how can this be changed? It’s simple really: the environment needs to change.
Let’s focus on ad agencies creative departments where the gender gap happens to be huge. Women leaders here are few and far between. It has been blamed on many factors but the gist of it is this: women are not staying long enough to become leaders. If the environment in which someone is working is hostile, unfriendly, and sexist, why would any woman stay? Maybe if 10, 30, or 50 more women stuck it out and became leaders it would enact change. But who can blame them for leaving? When an environment is unkind to change, it will also be unkind to those trying to change it.
Disappointingly, this seems to be fairly representative of society at large. Not for lack of trying or determination or qualifications, women get to a certain point and then are pushed out of the conversation or decide that their efforts are better used elsewhere. There is something to be said for “leaning in,” as Cheryl Sandberg puts it, but if the environment a woman in leaning into is sexist, the disadvantage faced may be too great to overcome alone.
Sheryl Sandberg has said, “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” Personally, I can’t wait for this day. But until then, I’m pretty sure that in this environment, if a woman can convince the majority of society that she can lead as well as a man, she can do anything.