Do Women Executives get a Poor Education? What is missing?

Our unfolding research speaks to these questions! What do we know so far?

  • Do you sometimes feel you did not get the best kind of prep needed for your role?
  • Do you worry over whether you are creating the right experiences and development for the next generation of women executives?
  • Do you long for a thinking partner more often, which feels like a wiser way to find the best answers?

Well, you are not alone!

This year, in my role as a Senior Fellow of Social Innovation at Babson College, a high ranked Business School, I am asking this question and giving guidance on how to close a gap that has since the beginning of Business Schools. And Babson is better than most and still seeking to learn and grow. It is already #2 in graduate entrepreneurship education and #1 in undergraduate prep. But there is a specific set of challenges that go unexamined.

What is missing in business school and even inhouse development are core capabilities women executives see as of particular value but had to learn elsewhere. Here is what I see so far in the Survey of Women Executives?

Here is just a taste of what we are discovering and invite you to participate in the Regenerative Women Executive survey to augment our responses so far. I am reporting the first stage of exploration respondents. The three challenges we have found so far are:

  • Not seeing clear paths on how to grow themselves as a leader and their organizational members at the same time. They often feel behind what they should know. Imposter syndrome is referenced repeatedly.
  • Knowing how to design work so they don’t need all the layers of hierarchy, controls over mission critical activity and keeping everyone on the same page. Pat answers do not work here. It feels like living in the 18thcentury or the industrial revolution
  • Leading every day for business growth with a very diverse and growing younger workforce without shutting down your heart.

Let’s start with the last one:

Sheryl O’Loughlin wrote a fabulous book called, “Killing It: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart.” Sheryl is both a founder and a step mother to a business. She is the currently the second, not founding, CEO for REBBL Beverages and is Killing It in regard to the growth of this new brand in a ridiculously crowded market — beverages—not to mention, retail! That itself is crazy making. Before that, she co-founded Plum Organics which was purchased by Campbell Foods, and was CEO for Clif Bar before that. And she is not half way done.

But as her book title says, the challenge she faces is continuing to let yourself be touched and affected by the people and business every day, without feeling a need to shut down to take care of the numbers that others also watch—like investors.

Sheryl is not the only CEO, but it’s particularly true of women in an executive role, to feels like they have to stop feeling and stay above the emotions. It is similar to what doctors are told in medical school. Don’t get attached to your patients and what they are going through. Just use you head, or logic and keep moving. Sheryl’s first chapter gives you the experience of the roller coaster that pulls you. I am not going to tell you how she copes with and in fact, transforms it and herself, but you should read her book, if this is how your life feels on many days.

You would not be alone.

Our survey confirms other’s research that women grow up learning to be pliable, agile in the extreme to respond to children, families and community demands. But those instances are with people you care about by blood and being neighbors. How do you stop, or manage, the open boundaries of our experience when the roller coast kicks in and jobs, investors and a socially responsible view of supply relationships and community stewardship, kick in.

Business School does NOT deal with the heart. With Caring! The innate instinct is to care for all involved, as the roller coaster soars and crashes. It is assumed that you just “handle it”. What we know is possible is to build capabilities to make this not only not painful, but growthful. It is not a part of the curriculum in college including in business school. Learning to help people be self-managing in the face of tough decisions is not core to school or mentoring from especially male managers. But often, not from female managers either, since they were not given the skills to do this in their own roles, much less pass it on.

What I particularly like about Sheryl’s book, and is evident in the title, is things are not happening in isolation. She experiences that collision of different energies in the same space and has to manage more than one thing at a time. And so, does everyone who works for REBBL. And lives in a body. Ok, everyone.

Our first curriculum thinking:

The new curriculum needs to teach ways to engage in systems thinking so you can work on many things simultaneously and to design work and ways of working that keep people caring while you do the counting that is required.

This is just an intro to how the research we are involved in is starting to affect our ideas of what we call the Regenerative Women Executive. A Living Systems version of systems thinking, not the versions based on machines.

Do business schools know how to do this?

Maybe not yet. We think it can be imbedded.

Help us learn more by telling us a little about your experience in this arena.

Check back soon for part 2 and 3 posts, for what we are discovering about how women executives feel about the constraints of antiquated work design, the second theme arising. Join the project and contribute to the survey.

Criteria to participate: The senior leader of a business or business unit with a P&L; 25 or more employees of the organization. Deadline Feb 28th.

Get a copy of the reports as they are released. Feb 28this deadline to take the survey. Also share widely with other who meet the criteria. If you leave your contact info, we will gladly share what we learn and recommend. Participate in The Regenerative Women Executive study.