3941886327_d3318bc05c_mWe recently read an article in Harvard Business Review called Six Paradoxes Women Leaders Face in 2013. The article came on the heels of a conversation I had with some of my friends about the continuing lack of women in the tech world, which in turn was inspired by this article from The Atlantic.

To say that the news from the Harvard Business Review post is depressing is an understatement. Here are a few key pointers.

• On average, the article reports, women earn 23% less than men. The authors, Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt, note that some of this can be attributed to the fact that women dominate jobs that tend to be at lower income levels, like teachers. However, they counter that age-old argument by noting, “An analysis of full-time workers 10 years out of college, for instance, found a 12 percent difference in earnings that was entirely unexplained by choice of profession.”

• The authors say, “Women must project gravitas in order to advance at work, yet they also need to retain their “feminine mystique” in order to be liked.” Really? Feminine mystique? Try working that into a resúmé.

• “Only four percent of the CEOs in Fortune’s top 1,000 companies are female and less than 20 percent of Congress is female.” The authors suggest several reasons for this, among them the famous “Women aren’t aggressive enough to ask for promotions” bit.

• “A 2012 analysis by Dow Jones VentureSource shows that women launch nearly half of all startups and the most successful startups have more women in senior positions than unsuccessful ones. Yet, despite these findings, less than seven percent of executives at the 20,000+ companies in the Dow Jones study were women.”

As a woman in business, there is a lot that I could say about all of these points. However, my primary, nagging question is simply, “Why are we still having these same tired conversations?” Why is it that women are dominant in careers that traditionally pay less? Why aren’t men increasing their numbers in roles like teaching? Why is it that women need to maintain a “feminine mystique” and what does that even mean? Why is the inequality present in the business world so often filtered down to the fact that “Women want to spend more time at home with the kids”? Don’t men want to spend time with the kids? Have we still not moved to a point in society where men can be interested, openly, in their kids’ lives? I certainly think so.

The article that inspired this post seems to indicate that the glass ceiling is still hovering above us all, unscathed and uncracked despite efforts to make it crash down. It is our society’s focus that needs to shift as a whole before women in business will be able to travel a more easy path. When we can move past a woman’s choice to wear a power suit with pearls, we’ll know we’re moving in the right direction.

Power and Femininity

What I found most disturbing about this article (and surprising given that it was written by women) was the fact that power and femininity were placed as contrasting elements of a female business leader’s life. You need to have “gravitas” and still be “feminine.” Why are these traits necessarily mutually exclusive? My friend Lisa Petrilli, who has established herself as a powerful coach and mentor for business leaders and who is working on a project to help women find their power, wrote a post recently about women needing to find power in their femininity. Whether men consign you to a fate of “being shrill,” there are endless ways to remain true to yourself while also demonstrating power, credibility, and effectiveness. Women, it seems, need to embrace this before anything else can fall into place.

What is your take on the position of women in the business world as we begin 2013? How do you explain the statistics the HBR authors pulled together? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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