A few weeks ago a report was published claiming the end of civilization is upon us. It’s probably bullshit.
Society as we know it may not be ending any time soon. But let’s agree on one thing:
Things need to change.
Wealth inequality is extreme. We’re overweight. We’re unhappy. We’re unengaged at work. We’re in debt. Healthcare is an expensive mess. Renewable energy adoption is too slow. Our educational system is broken. Over the past decade, total job creation has been zero. Zilch. Nada.
Okay, so let’s point fingers. It’s the Republicans fault! That thirst-quenching Marco Rubio is the reason for California’s drought! No, it’s those tree-fucking Democrats! Obama, our presidential, socialist Nazi, wants to kill grandma! No but really, let’s all agree it’s got to be those tea-bagging, Wall Street-Hollywood-gay food-stamp-using-unemployment-collecting immoral soul-sucking minimum-wage-earning elites. It’s totally their fault.
Oh hey, look. That accomplished nothing.
No, let’s narrow it down to one category.
“Today’s leaders are failing on a grand, epic, global, historic scale — at precisely a time when leadership is sorely needed most.” –Umair Haque
Yesterday’s and today’s leaders are to blame for our current crises because they lack any determination to fix the world.
Turn on any 24-hour cable news network and watch as they discuss these important issues—well, they’re not really discussions, more like yellings. Listen to them drone on about the issues they’re supposedly trying to solve. We’ve been going around in circles for years. Have we seen any significant change?
Here’s a fact.
These leaders are overwhelmingly men.
The numbers are there. Men dominate all executive business positions, board seats, and political offices. We—men—are fucking up.
This must change.
Not only because it’s unfair. Not only because it’s absurd in the year 2014.
This needs to change because women deserve to have their voices heard. Because women have something significant to bring to the table.
Women have different experiences. Different ideas. A different perspective on life. Some studies even show that women may be better leaders than men.
In order to fix the world, we need more female leaders in positions of power.
One statistic sums it up: 20% or less.
Women account for 20% of executive business positions, board seats, and U.S. Congress. Women earn 20% less than men. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? Women represent fewer than 5%.
And yet, roughly 60% of undergraduate and master’s degree holders are women. Women make up a slight majority in the United States.
The numbers don’t add up.
The scariest part about these statistics? They’ve barely changed over the past decade.
Why is this the case? How can we change it?
Both are are the subjects of fierce debate. The general consensus is it’s a combination of both internal and external factors. Many women hold themselves back because of expectations (marriage, family and children ahead of a career). Many men are reluctant to mentor women because they don’t know how to (to used to “The Boys Club”). Or they’re afraid of what others will think (is John trying to pull a move on Stacy?). Strong female leaders are sometimes seen as bossy, while male equivalents are admired.
The first step towardsa solution is acknowledgement.
Acknowledging that these statistics are real.
Acknowledging that if a woman wants to lead, she can.
Acknowledging that gender stereotypes are so last century.
Males and females can be leaders. Or stay-at-home parents. Or sports fanatics. Or nurses. Or SVPs. Or assistants.
Stereotypes are holding us back.
But getting past them is a complex art form without a unanimous solution.
Besides acknowledgement (which, let’s face it, is easy), what can you and I do starting right now?
What small steps can we take to circumvent stereotypes and swing the pendulum in a direction where leadership is more balanced and better?
We can use mentorship.
Rarely is mentorship a formal arrangement, so don’t just find someone and ask them to be your mentor. That’s awkward. Work on creating and fostering relationships with a variety of humans at every level—in different departments, and of both genders. Human beings naturally want to help others succeed (because it makes us feel good) so you are bound to find someone who will take you under their wing if you expand your network.
We can join or start advocacy groups.
These can be groups within your current company or local community. Use them to start conversations. Figure out what works for you and your organization. Make things happen.
The Walt Disney Company is growing an initiative called Women@Disney from the bottom up. This group helps build networks, navigate the corporate ladder, and drive innovation not only within Disney but individual careers as well.
Read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.
It’s not just for women. Yes, there is controversy surrounding Sandberg’s book. But it’s thoroughly researched, straightforward, and easy to read. Better yet, it has takeaways both women and men can use to craft their own solutions. Read some examples here.
This is only the beginning.
As our current leaders retire and die, it is up to us—the new generation—to unite. To acknowledge the facts. To encourage female leadership. Ladies, we need you to help us tackle the seemingly insurmountable problems we have inherited.
It’s not going to be easy.
But then again, most things worth doing aren’t.