Without Political Clout Women Lose Ground in High Tech
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
There’s no doubt that encouraging girls to take STEM courses is imperative to their higher representation as women in those fields. But a recent Catalyst study of 6,000 MBA graduates from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia indicates that it will take more to increase the number of women in high tech. Women are far less likely to start their careers in these jobs and leave them more quickly than men. Seventy-five percent of women in the study reported feeling like outsiders as compared to 17% of men.
A certain amount of that feeling is to be expected whenever women work their way into predominantly male fields. The research findings, however, indicate a much larger problem than just being the new kid on the block. The study subjects also reported a lack of role models and vague criteria for evaluation as main barriers.
Taken together these are largely political obstacles. Vague and shifting criteria have long been useful ways to keep unwanted employees from thriving in workplace cultures that lack transparency. Subliminal and overt signs of not being welcome keep the insiders in and the outsiders out, creating feelings of exclusion. And it’s difficult to find role models when so few women stay in high tech and men are rarely rewarded for serving in that capacity.
Add to this unhealthy combination two additional challenges: (1) as indicated by a 2013 study reported by the Harvard Business Review, women generally show greater disdain than men for workplace politics, and (2) such disdain does not incline them to learn how to counteract and, as necessary, work within cultures common in high tech industries.
It’s imperative that those of us encouraging young women to enter high tech fields also emphasize the need to arm them with a keen understanding of workplace politics – mild to intense – likely to block their way. For forward thinking companies this is also to their advantage.
It’s one thing to achieve high-level of competence in preparation to enter any field and quite another to function effectively within a dismissive and/or antagonistic culture.
Kathleen also blogs on politics and influence here.
photo: Sergey Nivens/shutterstock.com
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