Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Women and top leadership positions

Women in top leadership positions—a topic that continues to fascinate the business media. There aren’t enough women in top leadership positions, we’re told. Those women who make it to the top tell us that there is no longer a glass ceiling for women (there once was, but it’s not clear exactly when it disappeared); they’ve made it to the top, so that’s proof of its non-existence. So the question at present is why there aren’t more women at the top, especially in Norway where women get long maternity leaves, where daycare is a given (not free, however), and where men are raised to pitch in and do their share. Even in this country, women are not aiming for the top-level leader positions, and it’s been written about and discussed in the media. Women no longer hit a glass ceiling on their way to becoming top leaders; the problem is rather that women don’t choose top leadership positions, for a variety of reasons. Some feel that they are not qualified to be leaders; others know that they simply won’t be able to juggle a top-level job, a household and a family, without help. And some families cannot afford help in the form of nannies, housekeepers or maids. But such help is essential if you’re going to be a top leader. Because company expectations for a top leader are high when it comes to job commitment and availability (often 24/7). How top leaders plan their days, when they start work and when they leave for home, is a personal challenge for each of them. They don’t get all their work done between 9 am and 5 pm, even though they may go home at 5 pm. They are working in the evenings at home while trying to spend quality time with their families, if they have them. It’s a superb act of juggling; some women manage it, many do not. But many men do not manage it either, especially if they are part of a two-career family, like most are these days.

It’s not just women who don’t choose top-level leadership positions; it’s men too. I know a number of American men who are/were middle-level managers, and that suits/suited them just fine. They were content to stay at the level of middle manager, because they at least got to leave the office by 6 pm to get home in time to see their kids and spend some time with them before they went to bed. In the New York City metropolitan area, a commute into and out of Manhattan from a surrounding suburb can take a commuter an hour or more at the very least, depending on where the commuter lives. Even if a train or bus ride into Manhattan is thirty minutes long, getting around in Manhattan by subway or bus can easily add another thirty minutes to the journey. There are transit delays; traffic corks if you drive or take the bus. Nothing flows smoothly all the time; you’re lucky if it does. It’s a crap shoot when it comes to commuting; I can attest to that personally. My forty-five minute commute by car into Manhattan from New Jersey took me two hours door-to-door by bus. If I had had a family at that time, I would never have gotten home before 7 or 8 pm each day. That’s no way to have a family life, and my job was just a regular job, not a top-level one. I know some men in New York who were ‘reprimanded’ for leaving the office early (5 pm) to get home at a decent hour in order to spend time with their children. I know some women here who experienced the same when they left early (4:30 pm) to pick up their children at the daycare center. It’s tough to find a balance; I see that with younger people now as well. Husbands and wives drop off and pick up children at the daycare centers; they take turns doing so. A two-career marriage with children can’t work any other way. Sacrifices must be made, and two people must make them. The sacrifices can involve spending less time at the office. However couples manage it, the fact remains that choosing to be a top leader means sacrifices, the kind of sacrifices that the majority of men and women won’t be making, by choice, in this lifetime, especially once they have a family to consider. Top-level leadership is not for everyone.  

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