Myths about women probably started about the time of Adam and Eve, creating dilemmas and dichotomies of every sort ever since. Women’s History Month, marking its 30th year, is a prime example of our persistent issues around women. Every March, we honor women for their achievements, which are easily as substantial as men’s. At the same time, we pay women 20-30 percent less for the same work in the belief that they are somehow not as capable. This cannot make sense to effective business leaders.
This year, on International Women’s Day, we saw thousands of women striking across the country to protest unequal rights for women and demonstrate women’s value in the workplace. On the very same day, March 8th, an all-woman crew of pilots and flight attendants, including five pairs of mothers and their daughters, delivered the first Boeing 777-300ER to United Airlines in Chicago from Everett, Washington. Thank you United for giving women the opportunity to show their equal capabilities. And why is this still necessary?
Whether you’re looking at pilots, soldiers, scientists, engineers or business leaders, women contribute equally, if sometimes differently, than men. What holds women back are the myths that despite being disproved over millennia still persist—creating stereotypes and barriers that have never been true.
There have been a number of excellent recent articles about myths and women published online by Insead Business School, Fortune, Elevate, Catalyst and others. Drawing on this information, and in celebration of Women’s History Month, here is my personal take on a few of the common myths I see holding back women in business, to the detriment of women, men and business growth:
- Myth: Women lack confidence in themselves.
- Reality: Like men, women draw confidence from the opportunity to succeed, encouragement to take risks, mentoring, and recognition. Given this support, there is no difference between men’s and women’s confidence levels.
- Myth: Women with kids can’t be successful leaders.
- Reality: I, and many other women leaders, are proof that this is false; and many of us have happy spouses fully supporting us, just as men do.
- Myth: Women leaders don’t support and mentor women below them on the ladder.
- Reality: While there were a few “queen bees” who wanted to keep their thrones back in the early 1970s when the term originated, most women have experienced the opposite in recent decades. The fact is that today more women leaders work to develop and empower both men and women than male leaders do (Insead).
- Myth: Women are bad at numbers.
- Reality: Culture, not biology, perpetuates this myth. The gender gap in math is nonexistent in gender-equal societies (Lisa Wade, PhD, Sociological Images). Women are equally capable of developing and managing budgets, forecasting, reading financial statements and counting profits.
- Myth: Women lack the leadership qualities to be effective in top positions.
- Reality: Women have many of the qualities that define transformational leadership, a style that combines the best practices of other leadership styles and is becoming recognized as the most effective leadership style (author, Joel Garfinkle). When women are on the leadership team, corporate performance improves significantly.
Women are running billion dollar companies, increasingly becoming successful entrepreneurs, and getting more college degrees than men. What will it take to move beyond the myths so that everyone and every business achieves their full potential? It starts with you. What are your policies related to equality and what impact do they have throughout your organization? It’s time for a thorough and honest review.
Let’s work toward celebrating a Women’s History Month where women are not fighting the same myths that our mothers and grandmothers fought. Although women are fully capable of flying alone, we’re all better off when we fly together.