By Andi Simon, Ph.D.
How many times have you heard something said about women that was just not “true?” The myths seem to be everywhere, even as women penetrate areas that seemed out of bounds in the past.
What do we hear? Women aren’t great leaders. They aren’t decisive or they are too collaborative or too caring. Then you watch Angela Merkel or Kamala Harris, or all the other women today who are leading the way forward in challenging times.
Maybe you are a young woman dreaming of becoming a surgeon, like my granddaughter wants to be, and your teacher suggests you might consider being a pediatrician instead. They might tell you that women don’t make great surgeons, except on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Maybe you just have great ideas about the fashion industry like so many of those women graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology—and the graduates are almost all women. Those women look around wondering how to smash the ceilings holding them back when they see men running most of the major fashion companies. Women don’t run the companies as well as men do, or so you are told. Women do the work, create great fashion designs, while the men run the companies.
You aren’t even sure that becoming an attorney is the right career for you when you see that 40% of the lawyers are women today but only 19% of equity partners are women and women are less likely to get to the first level of partnership than their male counterparts. You aren’t sure why being a lady lawyer is going to be so tough for you. It is much the same in accounting firms where women are more than 61% of all accountants and auditors, yet less than a third are partners and principals.
As a woman you feel your boldness emerging. You see the dreams that are becoming realities. You feel a sea change in public and private stories that are being told about what women can do and are doing. But you realize that we are not there yet. We still have a lot of myth-smashing to go before people expect women to be those leaders, surgeons, and great CEOs.
I bet that all you heard from others through much of your life is that your dreams “will never, or might never, happen.” In reply, you might have asked, “Why?” Well, they would tell you something like “that’s not what women do” or “women are meant to have and raise the children, not start their own business.” You might have been encouraged to study IT, only to find that the world of coding is filled with men who are not particularly encouraging to you and your dreams. You find that, indeed, most surgeons are men, and women are discouraged from going into surgery, are rarely welcome, and often are held to a higher standard than the men are.
In the entrepreneurial arena, 40% of the businesses in the U.S. before the COVID-19 pandemic were owned and run by women. Yet less than 3% of the venture-capital investments were in women-owned businesses. The women were going to start and grow their businesses, and hope to succeed, by relying on family, friends, and revenue to underwrite their growth. If we dug deeper, we would find that their markets, often controlled by men, were not particularly supportive of those women-owned businesses, and neither bought from them nor helped them build their businesses.
The gap between the achievements of women and the culture in which they are trying to succeed reflects the myths that men have created over centuries and reluctantly modified in more recent times. What is a myth? Think about the stories that we tell each other, our children, our friends, about what we believe to be those “sacred ways we do things” in our societies.
As people, the secret of our success is in those imagined realities that we create to give meaning to our daily lives. Our cultural myths have driven how we believe our lives should be lived. Once we give these stories, these mythical “truths,” almost “godlike” power, these myths become what we believe are immutable realities. Are they “real”? Yes and no. They are what the stories in our minds believe to be our “reality.” But they can change, if we collaborate with our minds, change our stories, and share those new ones so our shared stories can change as well. This is not a solo act, even though it might feel that way.
These are myths that need to be smashed if we are going to change how men and women relate to each other, how women can succeed, and how organizations of all sizes and in all industries can find greatness in the women with whom they work and live.
None of this is happening to diminish the value or importance of men. Many men are great mentors and coaches to their women employees. It is just time for men to shift over and enable, encourage and empower women so both men and women can create better societies, businesses, schools, hospitals, and everything that is so important in our lives. Let’s change those men’s clubs enough to let women in without the men fleeing them.
It is time to get past the gender fatigue that men are feeling about having to actually address the inclusion, equity and need for diversity in their workplaces, in their organizations, and in our government. The times demand it. Women are ready for it. And the shift is happening, despite the brick walls, the glass ceilings, the enduring men’s clubs. These are important times to rethink our myths about what women can do and what men will allow them to achieve. It is time for men and women to rewrite these myths so women can thrive, and our society can become the best that it can be.
Andi Simon, Ph.D., author of the new book Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, is a corporate anthropologist and founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants. A trained practitioner in Blue Ocean Strategy®, Simon has conducted several hundred workshops and speeches on the topic as well as consulted with a wide range of clients across the globe. She also is the author of the award-winning book On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights. Simon has a successful podcast, On the Brink with Andi Simon, that has more than 125,000 monthly listeners, and is ranked among the top 20 Futurist podcasts and top 200 business podcasts. In addition, Global Advisory Experts named Simons’ firm the Corporate Anthropology Consultancy Firm of the Year in New York – 2020. She has been on Good Morning, America and Bloomberg, and is widely published in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Business Week, Becker’s, and American Banker, among others. She has been a guest blogger for Forbes.com, Huffington Post, and Fierce Health.
By Andi Simon, Ph.D.