Former Vermont Governor and commentator Madeleine Kunin has been
thinking about what women need to become leaders in government and
industry. She thinks there are still some fundamental issues that must
be addressed at the policy level.
(Kunin) The debate about women
in the workplace hit a new decibel level when two top executive women in
the high tech world added their two cents – or should I say billions –
to the discussion.
Sheryl Sandberg, of Facebook fame, has been
making waves about her new book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to
Lead. She writes that more women need to be in leadership. She places
the responsibility to get to the top almost entirely on women
She urges women to be more
demanding, confident and ambitious. She’s half right. Women must develop
a firm handshake, a confident voice, and the courage to ask for a
promotion without hesitating.
But women have to do more than
advocate for themselves. They have to use their voices in the workplace
to push for sensible family friendly policies that will make it more
feasible for all working women and men to manage their work lives and
their family lives without sacrificing one to the other.
why I wish that Marissa Mayer, the new Mom CEO of Yahoo had not only
solved her predicament when she had a new baby, by constructing a
nursery next to her office, but that she had paid attention to the women
(and increasingly men) who work for her. Instead, she proudly took only
two weeks of maternity leave and banished off site work arrangements
which enable many families to achieve that near impossible nirvana of
Until recently, female CEO’s have been more
understanding than their male counterparts, of the stress that new
mothers experience to "do it all," which often means, "all by
themselves." Why? They’ve been there. They understand the policies
needed to keep women in the workforce.
One reason the United
States is one of only three countries in the world that do not have any
form of paid maternity leave is that many American business leaders,
like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oppose any family friendly policies
is that they scare people into thinking maternity leave will be a job
Other growing businesses are discovering that the
opposite is true – companies that provide family friendly policies have
less turnover, higher shareholder return and greater profitability.
business leaders have an opportunity to add their voices to the Yea
Sayers, instead of the Nay Sayers. Fair treatment in the work force is
no longer exclusively a labor issue, nor is it a women’s issue – it is a
fundamental economic issue. Women’s contribution to the economy has
surged in recent years. Every time a woman leaves the workforce because
she can’t find or afford childcare, or she can’t work out a flexible
arrangement with her boss, or she has no paid maternity leave, her
family’s income falls down a notch. Simultaneously, national
productivity numbers decline.
Global female leaders, like Mayer
and Sandburg are positioned to add heft to the argument that investing
in family friendly policies, improves the bottom line. They can begin by
setting an example with their own families.