Developing as authentic leaders: Understanding how intersectional factors affect women’s leadership

Attach22658_20181025_120227Leanne Dzubinski and I presented a workshop featuring our latest research on intersectionality and women’s leadership at the 2018 International Leadership Association Annual Conference 2018 in West Palm Beach, FL. This research was developed in conjunction with Amber Stephenson.

As part of our unconscious gender bias scale development survey, we posed open-ended questions to women leaders in the fields of higher education, faith-based organizations, medicine and law regarding other identity factors which participants perceived to contribute to experiences of bias. From these responses, we identified 11 prominent identity factors:

  • AgeUntitled
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Parental Status
  • Maternity
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Physical Appearance
  • Personality
  • Health & Ability

The common theme was that women were given excuses for why they weren’t the right fit for leadership. They were too young or too old, and if they were middle-aged—that also mean they were too old. They were too short or too tall. They were not credentialed enough or over credentialed or their degree wasn’t earn from the right school. They were too introverted or too extroverted and outspoken. If they had children, they were perceived as less committed to their job. If they didn’t have children, they were expected to work even harder.

There were 913 open-ended survey responses, and through reading response after response, the conclusion was clear: “We want what you aren’t!”

IMG_20181025_114334So what is the solution here? To be sure, the low numbers of women serving in leadership positions is a complex, deeply entrenched problem. Workshop participants surfaced a number of ways in which individuals and organizations can support ALL women :

  • Mentorship including mentors who look different than mentees (diversity)
  • Reverse-mentoring : Gen Z and Male-female mentoring
  • Sponsorship including diversity in both sponsors and those being sponsored
  • Model respect towards women
  • Be a male ally/Be the courageous white man
  • Speak Up: Change by-stander culture to up-stander culture
  • Educate and socialize children to see women as leaders
  • Develop and enforce inclusive policies
  • Zero-tolerance for biased, sexist, racist, non-inclusive language & behavior
  • Blind resume reviews
  • Gather industry diversity data to set realistic, attainable goals
  • Inclusive infrastructure: e.g., build in lactation rooms

The overall theme of the ideas is be courageous and speak up—in our own realms, all of us can be the change we wish to see!




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