A Look at Women and Influence

Graphic - Women and Influence

Today is International Women’s Day, so it’s fitting that I capture a few thoughts on women and influence.  Last year, Warren Buffett said, “America has forged (their) success while utilizing, in large part, only half of the country’s talent.  For most of our history, women — whatever their abilities — have been relegated to the sidelines.  Only in recent years have we begun to correct that problem.”

Women are often relegated to the sidelines.  Despite Sheryl Sandberg’s advice that we “lean in”, there are forces at work that have nothing to do with an ability to get the job done.  Many of those forces are benign, a simple artifact of decades (centuries) of male-dominated societies.  Women do things differently, and those differences are somewhat hard-to-understand for the pantheon of men-at-the-top.

Here’s the secret many men don’t understand about the influence of women:  We’re connectors.  We see the opportunity to put two people together, or build a team on principles of consensus, or share an idea for the good of all.  And we just do it – make the connection – often without an expectation of quid pro quo.

Here’s the secret many woman don’t understand about their own influence:  All this connecting is not necessarily advancing us as individuals.  In addition to bringing people together, we need to grow and enhance our own brands.  What’s good for us is good for our entire network.  It gives us a greater ability to give a (much-needed) boost to other women.  But it also provides our male colleagues with the increasingly-critical skill of building win-win social and professional connections.

I’m ready to see a time when we don’t need “International Women’s Day”, when women have such parity throughout the world that it would be ludicrous to spotlight one gender over another.  In the meantime, I applaud the efforts of companies like Kimberly-Clark and Lockheed Martin, which won Catalyst Awards this year for their initiatives advancing women.

I’m proud of the rapidly expanding list of large and small companies that have pledged support for LeanIn.org.    I’ll give a special shout-out to my passing-acquaintance and favorite CSO, Steve Howard of IKEA for bringing up the importance of women-at-the-top during his stellar TED talk on sustainability.  And, of course, to Warren Buffett, for his thoughtful and erudite essay in Fortune.

What all of these individuals and organizations – and many more – are doing is historic and remarkable.  I hope they all keep up the good work.


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