The Biggest Loser: Legacy Enterprises Losing Female Leadership
I grew up with a mother who followed my father to every lumber town in Oregon. In each town, she found work. She put in her day, and then came home to manage three kids and the house… just like many mothers do today. The difference between her and so many today: my mother was doing this 50 years ago.
My whole life, it seems, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by women who work hard and contribute to their families, communities and the economy. A sister who has been a registered nurse for 40 years. A wife who sticks out like a sore thumb among her aerospace engineer (95% male) colleagues. And more recently those women I’ve met through my work and via social media; workplace and entrepreneurial veterans like Dr. Janice Presser, Caroline Di Diego, Deb Mills-Scofield, Jennie Mustafa-Julock and Angela Maiers – all of whom are contributing mightily at the top of their game.
The difference between these women and us men?
We could say that women invented work-life balance. We know it wasn’t a man. No way. If the world was up to us, we’d all be driven CEOs, deal-makers, master craftsmen and workaholics whose family lives would nearly always take a back seat to our professional ambitions.
So maybe it is no surprise to me – as this blogging series on Switch and Shift is exploring – that women are leaving the top floor corner office (some even before they get there) to carve out their own corner of the world. Maybe it is the women who get – and have always gotten – that there is more to life than monetary compensation, ever-increasing levels of responsibility, a ‘CXO’ title on a business card and that singular focus on work.
The biggest losers in this balance game?
Our legacy corporations. Those Fortune 5-whatever companies and SMEs who need – desperately – someone other than white-haired males making decisions that affect their company, their brands and the lives of their sometimes tens of thousands of employees.
It is these enterprises that are losing women to not just the balance issue – but to start-ups, non-profits and purpose-driven organizations where work-life balance is an organic component of their culture… compassionate cultures often started from the top-down by women. It is these smaller, more nimble and flexible organizations where former corporate female executives are now innovating, thriving – and leading.
As these corporations look back on the mistakes they made over the last 50 years, failing to anticipate the loss of their female leadership will be right up there among the worst mistakes made. They’ll look at their executive ranks and boardrooms and see the error of their ways. And they’ll look around at those truly innovating and providing passion-based, life-fulfilling mentorship and say, “She used to work here. I can’t believe we lost her.”
Look ahead, you white-haired male executives firmly entrenched in your legacy enterprises. The future of your business just may depend on building a culture where women see potential in not just the brand, their direct contributions and the upward trajectory of their careers… but one where women can live balanced, fulfilling lives.
Because that is where women – smart enough not to be all-consumed by compensation, power and an ultimately artificial title – will continue to go… instead of working for you.