Monday, December 27, 2010

Making Women Count

I recently read, Susan Bulkeley Butler's Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World, a little book (only 131 pages long) that has succeeded in changing my thinking about women and equality.

Motivation for reading: I was familiar with Susan Bulkeley Butler's previous book Become the CEO of You Inc and receive her newsletter which is filled with insight and book recommendations. So when I was offered an advance copy of Women Count to review, I happily accepted.

Susan’s background:
Susan Bulkeley Butler was the first female partner of a major consulting firm. Susan has experienced the discrimination women face in the workplace. She has gone from a self-described “man in a skirt” at Accenture to the CEO of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders, and has used her experiences to write a book that highlights the successes of women in the world. Butler believes in personal responsibility and advocates mentoring as a way to help the next generation of women leaders. Women Count gives examples of how every woman can change the world and how communities can remove obstacles to equality and success.

My thoughts:
Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World is packed with inspiring, eye-opening revelations. Here are some of the major points that resonated with me:

Susan’s explanation of “Women Count:”
For as long as I can remember, the world first ignored, then focused on counting women’s accomplishments. Each time a barrier is broken, another marker is posted along the way.

I experienced this firsthand. In 1965, I became the first professional female employee at Arthur Andersen & Co. Fourteen years later, I was the first woman partner at Andersen Consulting, a division of Arthur Andersen & Co. that became Accenture, one of the world’s largest management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing companies.

Make no doubt about it: The accomplishments of women in recent years are truly astounding and well worth celebrating. But tallying numbers is no longer enough. We’ve done that. It’s no longer enough to count women – it’s time to ensure that we are all women who count. Change our way of thinking. (Pg. 1)
Women Count?
Of course they do, but not like they should in the roles that matter most in today’s world. Consider some numbers:
-Less than 3 percent of the top executives in America’s biggest companies are women.

-Less than 16 percent of the directors of Fortune 500 companies in America are woman.

- Only 17 percent of members of Congress are women. As of early 2010, only six of the nation’s fifty governors are women.

-Four decades after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act; women still earn an average of seventy- eight cents for every one dollar a man earns. (Pg. 9)

Why don’t the numbers add up for Women?
Partly it has to do with basic discrimination that still exists today, despite the introduction of numerous laws over the years. Partly it’s because there aren’t enough women who strive to be CEO’s and members of Boards of Directors and not enough people are mentoring and supporting others to help women reach such heights. Partly it’s because there just aren’t that many of these sorts of positions available, due to lack of turnover. (Pg. 13)

Also, women continue to think about others before themselves.

Susan goes back in history revealing the incredible progress women have made in a relatively short period of time. I was astonished to learn Catherine Littlefield Greene invented the cotton gin. It wasn’t considered proper at the time to hold patents, so she passed her idea along to an aspiring young inventor named Eli Whitney.

To move from being counted to counting, Susan feels every woman has to figure out her own way to make all the disparate pieces of her life add up to success and happiness.

So where do we begin?
We begin by changing our organizations. We must all ensure that women and men are represented equally in our companies, our government and elsewhere. Diversity, we have learned, fosters change.

At first I had difficulty with this point.
Susan suggests that if company leaders promote diversity and increase the ranks of women in their top management, those top managers will in turn promote diversity and women who work for them.

I was skeptical. How is this going to happen? If men hold the majority of leadership positions in our companies what will magically change their way of thinking and persuade them to begin promoting women. I went back and reread the chapter “Change our Organization.” I discovered this is the key to change:

Women need to do more to promote women on our own teams. Be their advocates and help them get the visibility they need. When I ask women why there aren’t more women in the senior ranks of any organization the answer I frequently hear is, “The woman at the top likes being the only woman.” They are not helping others climb the career ladder and join them in leading the organization to new heights. Others say “I did it on my own merit, so others can too.” Actually none of us – women or men –made it to the top on our own. (Pg. 82)
Women need to do more to promote other women. More often than not I hear women backstabbing and gossiping about other women at their company rather than promoting them. I’ve even witnessed women trying to rally male company officers to their side against other women. Believe me this behavior will not lead to men promoting women; no officer male or female wants this kind of drama managing their organization.

I loved Susan’s chapter on community service. Here are her thoughts on why it is important:
Community service makes a difference, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Just like your organization, changing your community changes the world.

I remember when my company first stressed the importance of “giving back.” The idea that stuck with me was that the people in the city where I lived helped make my company profitable and helped pay my salary, so I should support them, too. There was clear incentive to volunteer in the community, because without the community, my company might not exist. I learned the importance of giving back (or as I like to say it, “giving forward”) and making a better place for my having been there. (Pg. 88)
And let’s not forget the international community:
As secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has made women’s rights one of her signature issues. As columnist Ellen Goodman put it: “Clinton’s role is a boon for women around the world.” In her push to improve the social and political status of women, Secretary Clinton says, “Democracy means nothing if half the people can’t vote or it the vote doesn’t count, or if the literacy rate is so low that their vote is in question. The transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress. (Pg. 92)

Susan has inspired me to change my way of giving:
Although we are changing, women typically have had a different giving pattern than men. Since we have a hard time saying “no” to anyone, we have a real tendency to give our money to a lot of organizations and consequently to give smaller amounts of money. And in many cases, we do not consider what we want to see happen as a result of the donation. Men typically do just the opposite giving more to fewer causes and probably saying “no” more often. (Pg. 94)

This is true in my household. I have no giving plan, my donations consist of contributing small dollar amounts to every request I receive from friends and colleagues throughout the year. My husband on the other hand has three causes he is passionate about and concentrates all of his giving on those causes. When he receives additional donation requests he simply says, “No, I concentrate my donation dollars on X, Y and Z.” And doesn’t feel guilty or look back.

Bottom line: Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World is packed with information and guidelines guaranteed to motivate you to change your own thoughts and behavior. Butler gives numerous examples and inspiring stories to get you started. In addition, to recommending books throughout Women Count she includes a guide for further reading at the end.

I am going to close by quoting her final paragraphs:
But remember that as long as we dream big, beginning with the end in mind; take our teams along with us, mentoring others along the way; make and follow our plans; and navigate our way to a successful outcome, every one of us will be a woman who make a difference.  We will be women who count.
And together, we will change the world. (Pg. 124)

1 comment:

  1. A great way to start a new year. THanks for sharing this.