Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Women keeping power? That supposes they want it to begin with.

Well, yesterday’s post was on how women could keep their power. Today’s story asks whether women want power all that much to begin with.

According to some research from Harvard Business School – and, let’s face it, who would know better:

Women aren’t in leadership positions because they just don’t want the jobs as much as men do.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), incorporates nine studies conducted on various high-achieving groups. Combined, the research indicates that women value power less than men.. . (Source: Bloomberg)

In one of those studies, researchers found that women don’t want the “stress, burden, conflicts and difficult trade-offs” that come with being at or near the top.

Women have other goals in mind – goals like having a family. They want it all, but recognize that wanting and having are two different animals entirely. Having power involves juggling power with the other items on the most wanted list. Power sometimes loses out. (The studies found that women tend to have more goals than men, and fewer that are power-related.)

This reminds me of a situation involving my sister. Many years ago, when she was discussing her upcoming maternity leave with her manager, she brought up coming back on a part time basis for a few months to ease her transition back into work. Her (male) manager said something along the lines of, “It sounds to me like you care more about your baby that you do about your job.”

Let’s see. Well, one of these things I like well enough, but it will get along just fine without me for a bit, and other I will be head over heels in love with, and that one will actually not be able to live without me for a while. So, duh, yeah. Baby trumps job.

Although for those with seemingly infinite resources (and, yes, power) – like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo – there appear to be fewer trade-offs. Mayer famously had a nursery built into her office, while at the same time clamping down on employees who wanted to work from home on occasion. To do things like minimize their commute so that they could maximize time with their kids.

In my experience, a whole lot of people – women and men, with and without kids – aren’t especially power mad. They want work that’s interesting (at least some of the time) and challenging (at least some of the time), and decently compensated (all of the time). And they want to spend time with family and friends, and on whatever else floats their boat: travel, sports (playing or watching while lounging around, beer in hand), music (playing or watching while lounging around, Beats on ear), hobbies, volunteering...

Didn’t Freud say something along the lines of love and work, work and love, that’s really all there is?

Hmmmm. I don’t see the word power in there, do I?

Anyway, in my humble experience, I worked with very few women in power positions – and none who were president/CEO.

Part of this was the nature of the particular industry beast I chose: technology. Sure, there are the Marissa Mayers, the Sheryl Sandbergs, the Meg Whitmans, and the Carly Fiorinas of the world. I just never worked for an organization run (or run into the ground) by one of them.

Two of the companies I worked for – companies where I served the majority of my corporate time – each had two women in senior management - VP positions. (At one time or another, I reported directly to three out of the four. At one of these companies, after enough downsizing etc., I ended up the only woman VP.)  Both of these yin-yang dyads would be a case study in itself. Grist for the mill of another day…

(I’ll have to think about whether to spend the time working them into Pink Slip posts – they’ve all, I must say, made a guest appearance or two over the years. Or make them characters in one of the novels I really do intend to write some day. The trouble would come from trying to make them characters that were reasonably believable. In order to do so, I’d have to jettison much of what I knew about them.)

Of the four senior-most women I worked with, I would certainly say that three were absolutely driven by the desire for power. (Two of these women had children, by the way.) The other I’d have to say appeared more driven by the acquisition of expensive clothing, jewelry, and furniture. Her nickname was, in fact, Material Girl. (This was at the outset of the Age of Madonna.)

One of these four women has dropped off the face of the work earth, but the others seem to have done okay for themselves – one in particular has achieved quite a bit of success. But none of them made it to the top of any corporate pinnacle as far as I can tell. Maybe, like most of the rest of us, they just didn’t want power all that badly. (And given that these women were all my age or a bit older, they’re all pretty much winding things down, not revving things up the ladder)

What am I trying to get at here? After re-reading the post up to this point, I’m not quite sure myself.

Maybe it’s the simple observation that women probably do have less of a tendency to go after power. Maybe it’s the simple observation that most people actually don’t want top-dog power to begin – it’s just not worth it. Or maybe it’s the simple observation that, unless you want power, you’re probably not going to go after it. And, even if you go after it, there’s no guarantee that you’ll do much with it when you get it. Assuming you get it to begin with…

Damn. Blogging sure is hard at times. Maybe I should have gone after power instead…

My personal bottom line: happy to be living in a work zone where I don’t have to worry about power one way or the other. (Assuming that folks that hire me manage to hang on to theirs…)

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