Research: Women in Business & The Paradox of Power


Researchers Also Detail What Corporations Must Do To Be Part of The Solution

A new paper, WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER, based on research by Jane Perdue of Braithwaite Innovation Group and Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting, reports that corporations are leaving money on the table and forgoing future success by failing to move more women into senior leadership roles. Perschel and Perdue also claim that businesswomen must prepare themselves to take on these executive roles by understanding and using power more effectively.

In their study, which involved hundreds of senior level businesswomen, Perdue and Perschel find that many women relate to power in ways that prevent them from attaining senior level positions, be it lack of confidence; cultural conditioning; or simply not understanding what power is. In-depth interviews with women who have attained the highest-level positions of influence reveal that they understood and used different approaches to gain power and make important changes to business culture and leadership practices.

Reshaping a male-dominated business culture, changing the ratio of women to men, and thereby improving bottom line results, requires a very specific set of actions by those currently in leadership positions as well as by women themselves.

What Women Must Do

Know power and be powerful: Perdue and Perschel define power as the capacity to get things done and bring about change. Not so for many of the research participants who think of power as “being in control at all times,” or “deciding and announcing,” among other misconceptions. Sixty-one percent of survey participants hold mistaken views about how to advance their power (and themselves). The authors emphasize that women must study power, understand power, and use their power to change the culture of business.

Ditch Cinderella: Over sixty percent of the participants preferred passive approaches to gaining power, opting to be granted access, rather than actively taking it. Unlike Cinderella, women cannot passively wait on the business sidelines, hoping business culture will change and hand them the most powerful decision making positions. Instead, they must seek power, advancing both the change agenda and their careers. As one executive vice-president who heads a $300 million dollar business advised, “The success police will not come and find you.”

Show up. Stand Up. Voice Up: Fifty-two percent of the barriers to power that participants identified are personal and internal, e.g., “what I need is a constant drip-feed of confidence.” With women comprising nearly forty-seven percent of the entire workforce, holding forty percent of all management jobs, and earning sixty-one percent of all master’s degrees, they are uniquely positioned to work towards dismantling legacy organizational barriers and stereotypes.

Forge strategic connections: Relationships are the currency of the workplace, yet sixty-seven percent of the women in Braithwaite & Germane’s study are not taking charge of building their networks. To fill more than the three percent of the Fortune 500 CEO positions they currently hold, women must become masters of strategic networking as well as building alliances and coalitions.

Unstick their thinking: Thirty-eight percent of participants opted for being well-liked rather than powerful. Perschel and Perdue contend this need not be a choice. Based on research conducted at Stanford University, women are uniquely capable of moving beyond such an either/or mindset. Leaders, both male and female, too often limit solutions by framing problems as a choice between two mutually exclusive options.

What Corporations Must Do

Make gender balance real: Having more women in senior leadership roles is correlated with a substantial increase in total return to shareholders, which is a performance metric for most CEOs. Why, then, do so many heads of companies fail to hire, develop, and promote women for clout positions on senior leadership teams? Executives at the highest levels must move beyond positioning gender balance as politically correct and giving it perfunctory lip service on the corporate agenda. If they are serious about gender balance, they must position it as a business imperative.

Remake leadership: Despite decades of efforts to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, the needle on this corporate metric has barely moved. Gender bias is prevalent in the very way leadership is defined – a take charge, have all the answers, aggressive style. Corporate leaders must change both the definitions and practices of leadership. Women will help them do so.

Walk the talk. Develop women leaders: Seventy-one percent of firms responding to a survey conducted by Mercer, the world’s largest human resource consultancy, do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy to develop women for leadership roles. As some of the approaches that work for men do not work as well for women, corporate leaders must invest in modifying these programs to develop women and then follow up with promotional opportunities.

About the authors. Jane Perdue is the Principal of Braithwaite Innovation Group, a female-owned professional development organization, and the creator of the new Women’s Leadership Institute for the Charleston, S.C. Center for Women. Dr. Perschel is known as “an unstoppable force advancing women leaders.” She is president of Germane Consulting – an executive coaching and organization development consultancy. Both have been featured as leadership and women’s issues experts in newspapers and magazines, as well as on television and radio.

Utilizing their research and relative corporate experience, Perschel and Perdue lead and advance aspiring professional women through mentoring, sponsorships, coaching, and development programs. By identifying key obstacles such as those uncovered in WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER, they help women and organization leaders identify the issues they must resolve to ensure cultural change and enable women to reach the highest pinnacles of success.



Leadership Friday Favs 1.13.12

Our Friday leadership favorites are an eclectic collection of articles, blog posts, quotes, pod casts and whatever else engages our interest. Some items are recent, others aren’t. Some are mainstream, others are off the beaten path. Enjoy! Be inspired!

What it will take to lead 20 years from now (John Baldoni, The Purposeful Leader)

The BIG team looks forward to the day when command-and-control leadership sits alongside corporate fear of social media in junkyard of abandoned practices. John shares his insights about what leaders will be doing and saying a generation from now…and we like it!

Trust Me…Trust Me Not (Frank Sonnenberg on Susan Mazza’s Random Acts of Leadership)

Trust is both the foundation on which leadership is built and the glue which holds relationships together. We love Frank’s comment that “if businesses are to thrive in the global marketplace, trust must be more than something that is talked about; it must be at the core of everything that is done.”

5 Tips Leaders Can Use Today (Steve Roesler, All Things Workplace)

If you’re a procrastinating leader in search of a new year’s resolution, Steve has five good ones for you to target in 2012.

Don’t be a lazy leader: 3 bad habits to avoid (David Witt, Blanchard Leader Chat)

Society, academia, and business have conditioned us to use primarily an either/or approach to thinking and rewards us for doing so. Either/or problem-solving skills belong in every leader’s toolkit. Yet either/or thinking is only one component of the broad and inclusive mindset necessary for achieving both goal accomplishment and creating an atmosphere of trust and goodwill.

Top International Leadership Blogs (Mike Morrison, RapidBI)

What a great resource! A list of the top 50 leadership blogs, complete with links…enjoy!

Reflect on this over a cup of coffee or tea: “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” ~Thomas Merton

The BIG team sends BIG thanks to Wally Bock for highlighting our Leadership Friday Favs in his post To Curate or Not to Curate on “Wally Bock’s Zero Draft” site.

Here’s to using your head to manage and your heart to lead!

The BIG team is passionate about expanding the spectrum of leadership practices to include, value and reward both take charge attributes (things like decision-making and influence) and take care competencies (behaviors such as collaborating, engaging, recognizing and developing). We’ve taken a bold leap in proposing how to change leadership in this post on Gary Hamel’s Management Innovation eXchange. We would love for you to add your voice to the discussion about what we propose.



5 Not-Quite-Rocket-Science Ways to Build Leadership Trust

We’re guest posting over at the terrific Lead Change Group blog today, talking about five fairly simple ways leaders can build trust…

This statistic stopped me cold: 60% of the participants in a 2009 international study trusted a stranger more than they trusted their boss. Yikes, how sad.

In doing a quick mental tally of bosses I’ve had, unfortunately this figure didn’t seem too far off my experience. Many of those bosses didn’t grasp that in times of rapid change and uncertainty (which is the new normal for business) people turn to relationships and those whom they trust.  Read more…



Getting My Big On - A Big Life Lesson

For 15 years I thought I was living the dream after achieving my goal of becoming a Vice President for Fortune 100 companies. I was perpetually on the lookout for the next big title, big project and big deal.

Then, after a merger, a new boss described me as “Aunt Polly” to the new firm’s CEO. He failed to mention all the impossible assignments delivered ahead of time and below budget, cultures transformed, 80-hour work weeks - not a word about of that, just “Aunt Polly.”

I was astonished and asked him what he meant. He said it meant that people viewed me as someone they could sit down beside in a rocking chair, pour out their issues, then get inspired with a plan and go back to work. The acquiring company was male dominated, lots of mavericks and cowboys dolled up as GQ cover boys. And I had been introduced to them as Aunt Polly.

Aunt Polly took up unwanted residence in my heart and head in the succeeding months. I wrestled with her, and her demeaning (to me) introduction to the highest echelons of power within the new organization, almost daily. I made sure the work of my department was brilliant, on point and above reproach. Let’s show those fellas what ole Aunt Polly can do.

Yet Aunt Polly was a cosmic two-by-four, delivering a whack across my head and to my heart, opening internal doors corporate life had long ago sealed shut. Aunt Polly forced me to revisit my childhood goals of making a difference. Sure, by corporate standards I had made a difference. However, in terms of making a real and meaningful impact on someone’s life, rather than just making a buck, had I really made a difference? That was the question Aunt Polly kept whispering.

She had become my constant mental companion, forcing me gaze into the picture of my life. Forcing me to examine my contributions in another light. Relentlessly forcing me to probe deeper, revisit my values, assess my purpose. Damn that woman and damn my boss for putting her there.

Finally, I understood I had been chasing the wrong big. My right big was knowing myself, my strengths, what was important to me, and then using that knowledge and years of experience to help other people grow wings and get their big on.

Getting your big on is that “just right” feeling you have in your head and heart when you know what’s important to you - and you’re going after it. Your big might be something tangible like a promotion or starting your own business. Or it could be something intangible like helping or inspiring others. Either way, you’re going after something that matters - BIG time - to you.

My boss had really given me a compliment, a gift, one that took me a long time to recognize and appreciate. So I left Corporate America to run a small female-owned professional development firm where we bring seekers and solvers together to lead big, work big and live big.

To be closer to family, we moved from the West Coast to the south, where sweet tea is the house wine - and Aunt Polly’s inspirational beverage of choice in helping others get their big on.

Grow wings. Embrace possibility. Learn, share and connect!


Strategic Networking

INBOX EMAIL MESSAGE: Hi, let me introduce myself since we haven’t met. I’m Frank Doe, and I just wrote a great book, Leadership Strategies for Connected Success. I saw your website and know you’re the perfect person to read my book. I want you to write a review about it on your blog and on Amazon, too. I’d also like for you to tweet about it, too. Thanks for helping me out.

Have you ever received a request like this one? I have. To me, this is bad networking. I love to read new books, help people and make a positive difference. However, this style of asking feels like an order a demanding boss would give rather than the first steps in establishing a relationship.

The purpose of business networking is to develop a mutually advantageous relationship with other business people. There’s both an art and a science to getting it right.

Effective networking is two-way, so both parties engage, share and assist each other. As you work to build your network, start out by giving – share information that may be of value, send a note of praise and/or congratulations or comment on someone’s blog post.

I like to define networking as cultivating mutually beneficial, give-and-take, win-win relationships. ~Bob Burg, co-author The Go Giver

Listen intently and authentically. Rapport starts when you ask someone what they do or what they think, and then couple that inquiry with eye contact and active listening to the response. I dislike it when I’m at a business function speaking to a new acquaintance and see their eyes continuing to scan the room for someone else who might be a better contact. Annoying!

Maintain the connection. Exchanging business cards or that first online ‘hello’ is just the beginning of the networking process. Regular outreach is important for nurturing the connection. Call, write or send emails periodically to stay in touch.

Extending the breadth and depth of your network

Outreach possibilities for forging an effective business network are endless.

  1. Research professional associations related to your current industry or prospective ones.
  2. Attend and actively participate in meetings, gatherings, conferences, etc. where you can meet a wide variety of people. You never know who can provide your next referral, lead or job prospect.
  3. Share your expertise and insights by joining an online discussion group or by participating in social media. It’s a great way to meet people, refine your online communication skills and answer people’s inquiries to showcase how you can bring value to them.
  4. Volunteering is an excellent venue to both “do good” and to meet people.

Be strategic in building your network

To ensure that you are getting the right mix of relationships and exposure, include:

  • Family and friends – a given!
  • Brokers – people with a large network of their own and who are willing to introduce you to their contacts
  • Partners – people will to join you in endeavors or spreading your message
  • Promoters/Sponsors – those folks who believe in, and will endorse, you and what you do
  • Experts – subject matter authorities in your field whose opinion is widely respected

The way of the world is meeting people through other people. ~ Robert Kerrigan


Why can’t leaders play?

Hubby and I have a difference of opinion. What’s fascinating this time around is that we’re endorsing the opposite of what people who know us would expect.    Note: the content of this post has its roots in politics yet is NOT about politics!

Hubby says it’s inane for the President to complete his NCAA brackets because he has more important things to do.

I say it’s perfectly appropriate for the President to have done his NCAA basketball brackets because of all the important things he has to do.  (And I’m the workaholic in this relationship, and must confess that it took years for me to get to this point of view.)

Must leaders be all work and no play? Is it unprofessional to have fun? I’d love to hear what you have to say!


The Curious Leader

“Hello, Jane Perdue speaking.” (Had a boss early in my career who taught us to answer our phones with this greeting. He said it  tells you right away who’s listening.)

“Is Jane Perdue there?”

“This is she. How may I help you?”

“I want to speak with Jane Perdue.” (Tone of voice = annoyed, demanding)

“This is she. How can I help?”

“You’re Jane Perdue? Really?”

“Really,I am. And you are…?”

“Are you sure you’re Jane Perdue?” (Tone = no way, quit joking)

“I’m absolutely sure.”

First impressions - curiousity and context

First impressions…so important and so tricky. Important on the sending end because you want to make a good one. Tricky on the receiving end because you don’t want to be judgmental and wrong. Which I nearly was.

My first impression of the caller wasn’t favorable - low listening skills, low receptivity, a little combative, may be even a little haughty.  Would it have been easy to conclude that my initial assessment was accurate? Yes, absolutely. Would it have been right? Not in the slightest.

Do what you gotta do to discern, not judge

And that’s…

Challenge assumptions.  Did I have enough information to draw a viable conclusion?  Not even close. What came across as haughtiness was incredulity that I had answered my own phone.

Gather more data points. One brief encounter may not be indicative of a pattern of behavior. The caller admitted to not listening at the beginning.  His expectation was that someone would answer my phone for me, so he had tuned out.

Look for context.  Do you know enough about the background, environment, setting, situation, etc. to have a full picture of the facts? The caller’s context was that he would have to go through an assistant to reach me. I expected him to be fully present in the moment.

Are you making the “facts” fit the story? I loved the boss who taught me this way of answering the phone. Yet his rationale imprinted a point of view in my mind about a caller’s listening abilities — something for me to be perpetually mindful of.

What other counsel would you offer for being a curious leader rather than a judgmental one?


Influence and Intentions

This is the fourth and final post in the Playing Office Politics series - a collaborative endeavor between Jennifer V. Miller, Mike Henry Sr., Susan Mazza and myself. We hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Influence. Power. Leadership. Choice. Character. All potent concepts. All inextricably linked for leaders who want to play positive office politics.

Office Politics Research

In 2005, Gerald R. Ferris, Sherry L. Davidson, and Pamela L. Perrewe co-authored Political Skills at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness, a book which was the culmination of more than 15 years of research into office politics. According to Gerald Ferris,

Politically skilled managers are masters of four behaviors: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity.

Influence impacts both our professional and personal relationships. When used on the win-win “light side of the force” (as opposed to I win-you lose manipulation), having influence can distinguish you as a great formal or informal leader. Influence is determined by one’s ability to make an appeal for action based on logic, emotion or a sense of cooperation, or some combination of all three.

Art by Paul Downey

Do You Have What It Takes?

Positive influence, i.e., the ability to get work  done with and through other people, is a critical skill for leaders to have in their toolkit.

Some outcomes fall within your realm of direct control, others won’t.  For those outcomes for which you don’t have total responsibility, a leader’s power influence can be invaluable to shaping results.

As a manager who empowers others, you will act as a colleague more than a boss, relying on influence, respect and relationships  to work with employees. ~Jamieson and O’Mara (1991).

To assess your influence skills, do a little self-audit:

• Can I get people to move, to act, to get things done?
• Am I capable of gaining support from others to drive outcomes?
• Can I inspire others to act?
• Do I have the ability to create meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships?
• Can I persuade other people to become my champion?
• Can I engage someone’s imagination?
• Do I get results through and with people?
• Is my word and/or my involvement sufficient to make something happen?
• Do I have the personal power to shape outcomes and cause things to happen?
• Do others actively seek out my counsel?

Truly excellent influencing skills require a healthy combination of interpersonal, communication, presentation and assertiveness techniques. It’s about adapting and modifying your personal style when you become aware of the affect you are having on other people, while still being true to yourself — and without manipulating others. Behavior and attitude change are what’s important, not changing who you are, how you feel and think, or what you do.

Amping Up Your Win-Win Influence

1) Be a perceptive observer. Know what is going on by watching, asking and validating your observations. Tune into the cultural dynamics. Learn how to comprehend social situations, e.g. what nonverbal communication is telling you or what elephant remains in the room.

2) Be a broker of ideas and information. Know your job, your organization and its culture inside and out — and educate others, share what you know. Establish allies and stakeholders who share a win-win interest in mutual outcomes.

3) Engage, involve and communicate. Freely share data and information. Invite and encourage participation. Actively listen to what people are saying. Pull people to your ideas then push those ideas through to other people

What's Your PQ?

4) Be self-aware. Understand how others perceive you. Know your strengths, your limitations and play to what you do best. Be there when people need you. Be persistent (in a good kind of way!). Say thank you. Help BEFORE someone asks (use those actively listening skills!)

5) Give, give, GIVE!  Never estimate someone’s desire to leave a mark — and help them to do so. 

6) Let go. If you have a hidden agenda for I win-you lose, influence is impossible. You must sincerely have the other’s best interest at heart if you hope to interact with them and affect their behaviors. As John Maxwell says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

7) Don’t be a conversation or credit hog. Don’t force your ideas on people. Know what they want, watch their reactions and support them through conversation so they see the issue, the answer, the outcome, etc. for themselves. If they end up thinking it’s their idea, so much the better. Don’t let your ego stand in the way of positive win-win outcomes.

As you consider building positive win-win influence expertise, what other behaviors would you add to this list?


Playing Office Politics

Office Politics. Ewwwwwwww, you say, thinking of those smarmy, lying, back-stabbing, kiss-up, brown-nosing, schmoozing manipulators who play the game by one rule and just one rule…I WIN, YOU LOSE. Right? Not surprising.

Art by Jill Stanek

In its very worst connotation, office politics represents influence and power gone awry. I anticipate that many of us have experienced bad office politics via a two-faced someone operating on the “dark side of the force” and have a favorite horror story to tell.

While it’s a lofty dream to hope that someday all leaders will play from a win-win perspective, that’s unfortunately not the reality in many workplaces. The plain truth is that office politics are here to stay; and, based on a fascinating study done by the University of Florida, can be played ‘nice.’

Nice? The study revealed that adept leaders do politics competently – and nicely – and are never accused of playing politics.

In 2005, University of Florida Professor Gerald R. Ferris, Research Scientist Sherry L. Davidson, and Professor Pamela L. Perrewe co-authored Political Skills at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness, which was the culmination of more than 15 years of research into office politics.

Their findings?

If you have political skill, you appear not to have it,” says Gerald Ferris. “Truly skillful execution of the behaviors associated with politics is usually perceived as genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective. Politically skilled managers are masters of four behaviors: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity. Leaders who are not politically skilled come off as manipulative or self-serving.

Any time there are scarce resources, competing interests and ambiguity (sound like most work places?), office politics will exist. The key to success is playing with a win-win orientation versus an” I win-you lose” mindset.

Championing a cause, seeking budget for additional headcount, inspiring an up-and-comer on your team, persuading your boss to let you lead the special project – occur regularly in our jobs and require influence, relationships and social awareness to execute.

Office politics is the art of building relationships that will help you and your team accomplish more than you could on your own. ~Mitchell Kusy, Ph.D, Manager’s Desktop Consultant

A year ago, Mike Henry, Susan Mazza, Jennifer V. Miller and I partnered to produce a month-long four-part blog series addressing the competencies needed for leaders to play “Positive Office Politics.”

Given the ongoing relevance and reality of office politics, we’re repeating the four-part series this week beginning tomorrow.



International Women’s Day: Symbolism and Practice

I love holidays and yet I don’t love holidays. Huh?

On one hand I love the celebration and spirit of community that comes with holidays. There’s camaraderie and fun and love and shared experiences. Yet on the other hand, holidays can be an easy-to-use remedy if one forgets to regularly tell Mom or Dad that you appreciate them or you forget to thank your assistant often enough.

Either way, holidays are symbolic. Symbolism is important. So are day-to-day practices.

Today, women across the globe are celebrating the 100th International Women’s Day. There’s press coverage. Speeches will be given, and articles written.  Some women will be standing in solidarity on bridges at noon. It’s a day to both celebrate advances and reflect on the gaps yet to be closed.

All this is good. It shines a light on gender equality issues.

What’s even better is keeping that light shining tomorrow and the day after, and the day after. Keep women’s issues front and center as business and societal issues, not just women’s issues.

Some proactive things one can do to keep the light shining every day:

  • Reach out to a young woman and offer to be her mentor or sponsor
  • Start a women’s initiative at your organization
  • Join a mastermind group and share learnings, experiences and gain confidence
  • Find two colleagues and partner up to practice the Rule of 3
  • Ask a female co-worker to lunch and get to know one another. Keep widening the circle.

What other ongoing activities do you want to add to the list to keep the light shining?