The participants in my recent webinar for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) on July 2, 2019, “Delving into the Art of Storytelling in a Business Environment,” asked a lot of important questions. I will answer many of them in this series of blog posts.
It’s a double-edged sword: Women typically lead family decision-making; as parents, we juggle multiple demands and must show leadership continuously; children and spouses rely on our decisions re: life, future, etc. Marketers know to target women as consumers because we often make the family-spending decisions. Yet, in business, we are often not viewed as capable of being strong leaders.
Well said. That ‘double-edge’ can cut when women use stories from their family life in a business setting. As a man, I am pretty sure I get double credit for a story about my children used to illustrate a business point – first for a (hopefully) well told and relevant story and secondly for being a committed dad – while my female colleagues have to be careful not to get dismissed as a leader by bringing their home life into a business setting.
This idea of who we view as leaders, literally who we see in our mind’s eye when we say or hear ‘leader,’ is, hopefully, changing. But it is insidious. I heard an interview with a presidential historian the other day, a man who was arguing that we needed a different kind of leader, a leader with integrity and commitment to country rather than self interest and blatant dishonesty. He finished with, “We need another Washington or another Lincoln.” I agreed with his premise but the image in my mind was ‘leader = old white guy.’ When I purposely tried to substitute Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren for Washington and Lincoln, it was hard for me see the two woman as leaders without a lot of effort (though I really wanted to!)
Leadership and power go hand-in-hand. In a recent keynote I gave on ‘Power,’ a participant said, “As a woman, I am constantly noticing the flow of power and asking myself – Step in? Step back? Be assertive? Build rapport?” When asked, many women in the room said they also did this; most men didn’t.
All of this adds up to more work for women, more questions to ask themselves, more double-edged swords to evade. As I said in that keynote, we men need to see the work women are doing and then start doing some of it ourselves.