Women and Corporate Success

women leadershipAs of October, 2011, there were 18 female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list. Top female executives earn, on average, 68 cents for every dollar a male executive earns.

The business world is male-dominated. That’s not a judgment, it’s a fact. Like most people, men prefer to surround themselves with others who make them feel at ease. Human beings affiliate by nature--like attracts like. Differences can create discomfort and even conflict.

Our society has created a division of labor between men and women, and historically one sex has tended to supervise certain tasks, and consequently determine the rules. That division is becoming blurred, however, as both men and women are challenging and expanding traditional boundaries at work and at home.

That said, in today’s business landscape, a woman is most likely to occupy a position of power when she starts or inherits her own business. Data shows us that women are not climbing the corporate ladder and making it to the boss’s office, which is where the power lies in corporate America.

Women that have defied the odds and achieved corporate success have something in common. Successful, powerful women in the corporate world have mastered, and find joy, in the game of business.

Gail Evans, Business Professor at Emory’s Goizueta Business School theorizes:

…from early childhood on, boys and girls play with different sets of rules. Since men created the rules in the game of business, and women are only now trying to be effective competitors, we will prosper only when we are familiar with those rules. (Evans)

One way women become players in the world of business is by learning the rules men play by.  Once we understand the playing field we can engage, and eventually, if we choose, make up our own game.

The Object of the Game

A professor at a top university asked her business school students about the games they played as children. She wanted to know what was the object of the game, how many other children participated, what lessons did they take away from them, and so on.

As usual, the sharpest young man was the first to raise his hand.

“I always hung around with at least a half dozen other boys,” he said. “We played games like pickup baseball, soccer, street hockey.” He added, “The silliest question you asked was about the object of the game. We played to win. What else is there?”

“Oh my God,” interrupted a young woman. She explained how she usually played with one, or maybe two, other girls at a time, rather than a large group, and that they were always more concerned with building a friendship than with winning. Then she told a story about playing a game of jacks with two friends at camp. When one of the girls was about to win, they all made up new rules so they wouldn't have to stop. “The object was to keep the game going as long as possible,” she said. “And we wanted everyone to win.” (Evans)

What do you think the “object” of the game is in your industry?

How can you “win” in your business environment? How do you quantify success?

For more information on this topic, register for Women in Leadership, one of our new Professional Development classes in 2012.


Jennifer Albrecht is the Director of Professional Development and Senior Facilitator with Learn iT! She helps individuals, teams and organizations develop leadership capacity, improve business practices, strengthen relationships and enhance performance to achieve bottom-line results.

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