Little Girl, Big Bull

It’s a great symbol, I’ll give ’em that. State Street Global Advisors unveiled a statue of a badass girl who is power posing opposite the virile bull just steps away from the New York Stock Exchange. She represents their command for companies to increase the representation of women on their corporate boards.

I love it, and …it is a very different thing to open doors for women to assume leadership roles than it is to be the woman walking through those doors with inadequate practice for optimizing that opportunity.

Let me be clear: I am NOT saying women are not equipped to be leaders. I’m saying that in a world that tells our women to boldly lean in, we often come up short with HOW they might lean in and what skills they will need once they do.

It’s like the prequel and the sequel to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. How do you get in the boardroom? When someone hands you the mic, what do you say?

Thankfully, Sandberg introduced us to a deluge of facts we can never un-know: Gaps exist by gender considering wage, leadership ambition and confidence. These gaps represent two converging sets of barriers — institutional and internal — that differentiate women from men.

If State Street Global Advisors’ true intent is to have diversity of opinion reflected on their boards as it relates to gender, then urging compliance with regulations solely based on gender representation will only allow for women to flood the boardroom.

How effective will they be once they are there?

As a result of long-standing external (institutional) barriers, women have acquired different internal barriers than men. As much as any other general difference between the sexes, these can and do affect performance.

The real call to action is to address the complicated matrix of both institutional as well as unique internal challenges facing women so that companies can optimize the value from female leaders. Otherwise, women are sitting as symbols in boardroom seats the same way a (temporary) statue of a girl stands boldly across a plaza from the robust (permanent) statue of a bull.

That Charging Bull is in motion and the little girl is standing there. She is clearly defiant, but is she in motion? Is she waiting for opportunity to knock with the blessing of Wall Street? Is she bracing herself for contact? Does she intend to defy the bull with her moxie? Her hard skills training? With her ponytail? Will she take him by the horns?

In this new world of opportunity for women, that girl has to be charging, too. Women must charge, too.

In order for this gesture to manifest real change, we must understand the underlying problems and design solutions that address them.

The Problems
Yes, there are significant gaps between women and men when it comes to wage, leadership ambition and confidence. These are matter of cause and effect. In order to address, them, we must target the real issues yielding these results.

One real issue is finding out what age young girls and boys are when they start reacting differently to fear.

In our own research at BRAVE Enterprises, we have found that as early as age 13, even though girls and boys articulate similar fears, girls pause and even become paralyzed in the face of fear while boys step into their fear with action.

If those same boys and girls grow up to be 40 years old, boys growing into men will have reaped the benefits of their bravery while women of the same age will have suffered the consequences of their fear.

Another real issue to track is who girls and boys identify as their role models, what gender that person is and for what reason they chose him/her. One interpretation of this data BRAVE is studying seeks to determine how open boys are to the notion of female leadership.

Without training designed to address the 1) ways in which boys and girls are socialized differently in this world, 2) what our institutions have done to perpetuate a divergence in behavioral responses to fear, risk and discomfort, and 3) what effects these things have on repeated internal messaging, we will miss the way to make real and formidable strides on gender discrepancies in the workplace.

The Solution
The first part is to increase training for more women regarding hard skills needed for jobs done mostly by men. Secondly and more critically, training must aim to build soft skills intended to break the systemic habits propagated by women who are risk averse. Women need practice seeking opportunities, overcoming imposter syndrome, addressing their fear of failure, and increasing their emotional intelligence.

State Street Global Advisors’ gesture to decrease institutional barriers warrants a big Hi-Five. But if they really want women to crush it, they need more than a bronze little girl standing across from a big bull. Even one with her hands on her hips.

We — and the men who have put this symbol there on the eve of International Women’s Day — need a woman who can and will take the bull by the horns.

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BRAVE Enterprises works with companies to increase risk tolerance, confidence and effective leadership skills for their employees.