Friday, August 23, 2013

Where are the Women?

Just finished reading through another trailblazer list, the one that names those individuals who have made great strides in their careers. This one named the top female professionals in the tech industry. Each nominee had her credentials and quote right beside her picture and boy, were they impressive. 

The list was followed by statistics on how women leaders have performed in the tech industry. Once again, we fall behind men in representation. As study after study has shown, companies perform better when there are more women leaders on board, but still we lag. And those who do make it to the top of the charts are still in the minority. 

Sometimes I wonder if it's due to the lack of relatable mentors. Sure these trailblazers are amazing, but how many of us actually know one we can personally relate to? Those featured in the likes of exclusive magazines as Fortune are the untouchables. They're women who soar against the odds, the privileged who have  ties through money or family. Whatever their fascinating case may be, they are not role models the average woman can see herself through. They have nannies, the unconditional support of spouses and family members. Not that they didn't work hard to accomplish their goals, but that they did get that extra boost somewhere along the way. Or so we convince ourselves. 

When I think of a woman the average Jane can relate to, it's Oprah. Sure, she lives in a mansion somewhere and enjoys a secure materialistic living. Having been an addict of her talk show at one point, what sets Oprah apart from other women at her level is her authenticity. She was able to reach out to women by consistently referring to her humble roots as a young girl. She never hid her wealth, but supplemented it with stories of the effort it took to get where she was. Women were able to see their struggles through her trials and experiences. We were able to relate to her, which I believe finally contributed to her success. That is, aside from her wisdom and intelligence. 

So what will it take to get more women moving up that ladder of success in any industry? First, the obvious: a sound education, hard work, determination. But most importantly, and what we lack more than women in executive suites, are real role models. Because those feature stories of the ones who do make it that far seem unreal. They're for those women "lucky" enough to get a break, to know "a good idea" and run with it, to have that "confidence" so many women feel they lack to reach their greatest potential. I put those words in quotes because that's what the average woman believes it takes to make it onto the pages of exclusive magazines and into the suites of corporate America. 

The practical know otherwise. Inside every one of us is an unrealized greatness that has brought us very far, we just need to stop waiting for someone else to recognize it.  And to those wondering where the women are: they are at home raising the next generation of professionals, at their 9 to 5 jobs waiting for their turn to rise, or at their minimum wage jobs working their way out of the gutter. Imagine how many more women would make it to the labor force if those small efforts were recognized. Profile that. 

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