Corporate culture wasn’t built for women. Here’s how to fix that.

Here's how corporations can bring women out from the "leadership pipeline" and into actual leadership.

TINA BROWN: Well, there's no doubt, I think, that women are scrutinized and blamed far more than men are in the executive positions that they take—in any leadership positions that they take. And the tone of dismissiveness about women is remarkable very often. It's as if they just don't have the same kind of gravitas just because they're women. And it's a very irksome thing, I think, to many a woman artist, CEO, achiever of any kind, that they always feel that they have to be gold in a silver job, that they have to be an exceptional perfectionist, unimpeachable figure just to get to first base of the high leadership stakes.

And I don't know that that's really changed. I think we are definitely seeing a rolling pushback that's gathered enormous momentum, which is very exciting. There's a sense that all the talking, all the blow-hardery about women in the pipeline, women executives, we have to mentor women, we have to have diversity programs—frankly, that's just been a free pass to so many corporates over the years, which is, 'Yes, yes, well, we mentor women. We have a lot of women in our pipeline' and whatever. Well, frankly, that pipeline has exploded, guys. The pipeline has been stuffed. And women are saying we're tired of being, quote, "in your pipeline."

Well, first of all, I think it's very important that we, as women, don't put ourselves under so much duress that we think that we have to keep on adapting and adjusting all the time. Clearly, we have to come together as a group, as a lobbying group as such, to insist that we can thrive as women and also do our jobs.

It also, of course, means that there are times when your life and your career go into different phases, that there are cycles of being for a woman that are emergeable from in a way that's productive. Because you may need to take that time where you're dialing back because your children are young, but you fully intend to ramp back up afterwards. And you've got to find a way, and companies have got to find a way, to keep women engaged throughout that process, so they don't sort of disappear, and then all of a sudden, they want a job back, and of course, they're out of date and out of touch, and they find it very difficult to get back in.

So one thing, I think, that enlightened companies are doing—I know that MasterCard has worked very hard on this, actually—is about how you keep women engaged throughout this dial-back times and find ways for them to keep working in a smaller way for the company, while at the same time being able to grow and keep in touch, so that when they're ready to come back they can.

Secondly, I think the parental leave has to be so imaginatively structured. I mean, personally, I'm actually not of the belief that it's helpful to kind of disappear on maternity leave or paternity leave for six to eight months and then come back absolutely rattled by the pace of work.

I actually think it might be more useful to have segments and periods where you can take trenches of time throughout your career as an employee and as a parent. Because people get very exhausted. It's almost like it would be more valuable to work three weeks out of four during a period when your kids are young, than it is to take huge chunks of time and then have to come back in one big rush.

So I think that this question of creating new patterns is very much an experimental one. We saw that the Gates Foundation recently said we gave parents a year off and they had children. We find that's not viable.
And I thought that was an honest, at least experimental way of looking at that problem. So we tried that. That didn't work. OK, so what does work? And I think companies have got to be, I think, very adventurous now about figuring out what really works best, while at the same time, getting the job done. Because this is not a charity you're in. You're actually in a business. And you've got to get the business done. So how you use your orchestra has become far more creative. I mean, HR now has to be a really innovative activity, which it really wasn't and hasn't been in the past.

  • Women in high-stakes positions are scrutinized far more than men, says Tina Brown, to the point that they feel they have to be "gold in a silver job" and be absolute perfectionists to merely keep their position.
  • For women, being a parent necessitates parental leave and companies must develop ways to keep females engaged so that they are able to integrate back into work smoothly. Women, too, must lobby for this change.
  • Six to eight months of sequential parental leave may not be the best approach for keeping women engaged and on their career paths, says Brown, who thinks it might be more productive to take trenches of time throughout your career as a parent, as opposed to one huge chunk.

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