Despite the new shared parental leave law, more women than men will experience a significant career break to have children, and will need to navigate their way back into work and face the challenges associated with this.
Other women in an organisation who have undergone the same experience would have a unique opportunity here to be an inspiration; to offer pragmatic advice, based on personal experience, on how to negotiate this step.
Quite often though, I’m not sure they do. Mostly this is because those women simply don’t exist. They haven’t made it yet – they aren’t there. But for a few who are, and aren’t able to be role models, it’s the same as for men who aren’t able to be role models to other men: they are not empowered to be so. The culture isn’t right.
Today, we tweeted this article, by Shana Lebowitz of Business Insider UK. It’s entitled “Here’s why you should worry if a woman just got promoted to a top position at your company.” It cites new research from Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business that shows that if a woman makes it to the top position in a company, the likelihood of other women being appointed to senior roles falls significantly.
Let’s be clear, though, that the research suggests this could be more to do with quotas being hit, the job having been done, the boxes ticked, than about any problem with women helping women.
Even so, my experience of this, having worked closely with a large number of women, is that there simply aren’t enough senior women to go around, and the culture still doesn’t exist that encourages us to empower one another.
At an event that I put together last year, a guest speaker shared her perception that within our industry, there was little evidence of women being able to help women – certainly not for the generation of us who are now approaching the last third of our careers, at least. It saddened me that I was unable to disagree with her. She quoted that mantra of our “Lean In” era, Madeleine Albright’s signature “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
I don’t want positive discrimination. I am absolutely 100% of the attitude that the right candidate for any job is the best candidate. Finding that individual for my clients is my mission in life, after all, and if I were in any other way inclined, I’d go and do something else.
What I do believe is that young women coming into any competitive industry don’t ask for, or need, favours or special treatment – but they do need role models, male or female – and a few more female role models who can provide personal experience for some pretty undeniably female experiences wouldn’t hurt.
Let’s not have this be about quotas. Let’s have it be about creating a positive environment where everybody can speak to someone who understands. This is something we all need.