The Advancing Leadership Blog

Are We There Yet : Women, Position & Power (Part 2)

Continued from Are We There Yet : Women, Position & Power (Part 1)

On making it to the C-Suite

It was her CEO who approached her to discuss succession planning. When he asked her if she was interested in the COO position,“ I laughed and said I can’t do that job.”

Lesson for leaders – Ms. Kinvig’s response confirms what I learned in my research for Road to Respect. Women, as well as members of visible minorities, typically do not self-identify for senior leadership positions. Simply put, they don’t Speak Up. Ken Martin, CEO of PBC modelled best practices by initiating and continuing the discussion with Ms. Kinvig. All of the Employers of Choice featured in Road to Respect require similar kinds of conversations between leaders and their direct reports. This is a proactive strategy that ensures that internal talent is identified, supported and developed for effective leadership succession planning.

Lesson for women – Ladies, work is not dating. We don’t have to wait for the man to ask. If we are interested in a position, we need to Speak Up. In addition, we need to ensure that we are acting as our own advocate. Watch your self-talk. Might you, like Ms. Kinvig be limiting your possibilities?

Ms. Kinvig stressed that a solid understanding of business financials is a pre-requisite for anyone interested in climbing the corporate ladder. Women interested in senior leadership positions should be proactive in ensuring that they acquire the skills and experience they need to be qualified for senior operational positions.

On Gender and Career Progression

While Ms. Kinvig did not believe that gender had affected her career progression, she did state that she had experienced wage discrimination early on in her career, as well as a perception, perhaps self-imposed, that she had to work harder than her male colleagues to “prove” herself.

Lesson for leaders – Equal pay for work of equal value is supposed to be the law. It isn’t. Wage disparity exists in virtually every industry and every sector. Starting salaries of male MBA’s are typically $4500.00 higher than that of female MBA’s.The biggest wage gap in the U.S. is in the Financial Activities industry, with women earning 70.5 cents for every dollar men make. How do your compensation policies stack up? Might these policies be affecting your ability to attract and retain the best talent?

Lesson for women – Ms. Kinvig commented that women don’t assert themselves with respect to salary. This is borne out in the research. We tend to undervalue ourselves. We are often uncomfortable talking about money or asking for what we want. The bottom line here is that if we chose to remain silent, if we continue to accept less money, we will continue to receive it. Find out what the going rate is for the position you want, then step into your power and ask for it.

On Women and Power

Ms. Kinvig commented “ I do agree that there is a tendency to label women leaders differently than men. If you are collaborative and engage in team based decision making, they view you to be weak and not in control of the situation. If you take control you are labelled a bitch, and I don’t think the same is true for men. Men can also be collaborative and team based but I don’t think they would be viewed to be weak. They would be viewed to be a good leader. I think there are differences in the way women and men lead. ”

Lesson for leaders – As I discuss in Road to Respect, we all have biases and prejudices, many of which we are unaware of. The problem arises when these unconscious biases affect our perceptions, judgements and decisions about those we work with. Are you judging, or interpreting a women’s behaviour differently simply because she is a woman? Is that in the best interests of your business outcomes? At the end of the day it is about identifying the qualities of leadership that work, determining which qualities contribute to the most effective leadership style, gender aside.

Lesson for women – Women can lead differently than men, but Ms. Kinvig’s experience is that because senior leaders, CEO’s, have traditionally been male, there are certain expectations with respect to how an individual in a CEO position behaves. If you want to lead differently, it helps to clarify your intention, to talk about your leadership style so that people are not left to make their own assumptions on the basis of their expectations of what you should or shouldn’t be doing.

On whether the choice to have children is a career liability for women

Ms. Kinvig does not have children, but commented that the flexibility that PBC allowed her when her Mother was terminally ill has affected her decision to remain with the organization.

Lesson for leaders – Research supports Ms. Kinvig’s experience that it is that “intrinsic thing”, an organization’s cultural norms and whether those norms cause people to feel valued and respected that determine if great talent is attracted and retained.

Offering flexibility in terms of when and how employees get their work done is another best practice among employers of choice. At PBC, where 80% of the employees are female, flex time policies are available for all employees. Unionized employees work a 35 hour work week with flex time, which include shifts ending at 3 so that employees are able to pick up their children after school. Managers have the ability to make a request to work at home. “ As long as it does not impact the business we look favorably on that.”

Lesson for women – If workplace flexibility is important to you, make a choice to speak up about it. Arm yourself with the research that clearly establishes the bottom line benefits of creating a workplace culture that respects the whole person at work. Present the business case.

On the reality of women bullying women at work

Ms. Kinvig’s comment confirmed my experience as well as the research in this area. “That is true in our workplace. I don’t know why. I find it quite shocking actually. I have seen it. I don’t think I have ever seen a man bully a women, it is always a woman bullying a woman.”

Lesson for leaders – It is important to realize that if you have large groups of women in your workplace, chances are you are going to experience this phenomenon. Gender makes a difference. It is not discriminatory to talk about this or adopt a different approach when dealing with groups of women than you might when dealing with groups of men. Diversity is the new reality, a business reality that needs to be managed. It is about looking at how difference affects the workplace and reacting accordingly.

Lesson for women – Many of the behaviours that women engage in relative to other women are habitual and reflect norms that are reinforced in society. It’s time that we as women start thinking about, talking about, and determining what behaviours really serve us as women. Does avoiding a direct conversation with someone we are in conflict with serve us? Does gossip serve us? Does focusing on what powerful women look like rather than on what they do support our ability to have access to power? It is important that we start to talk openly about our conflicted relationship with our own power as well as the myths and stereotypes that work to keep us from stepping into, and manifesting our power respectfully.

***If you would like to hear the entire 35 minute interview, you can do so here(

Erica Pinsky M.Sc, CHRP, is a respectful workplace solutions expert and author of the highly acclaimed book Road to Respect: Path to Profit.  A provocative and inspirational speaker, trainer, author and consultant she works with business to build workplace cultures that attract and retain top talent in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying and destructive conflict. Contact her at 604-266-1267,

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