Where Do All of the Good Women Go?

Every morning, I sit at my desk as Global VP of Public Relations for AIESEC International to do my daily news scan. I am instantly flooded with new articles about women not being represented enough in the top leadership positions; blog posts on how women need to take every opportunity they can at work; and reports on how to encourage female Millennials because we’re facing a leadership gap.

I then take a look around me.

In my office, there are women everywhere. Out of twenty-two full time staff on the global executive team of AIESEC, eleven of them are women – three of them are at the upper management level. Around 50 percent of our 100,000 members are women. As an organisation we are rich with “up and coming” young female leaders.

Even down at our national level where we have offices in 124 countries and territories, young women are consistently represented in the highest leadership positions. “I decided to run for President of AIESEC in India because I had something to offer and I had a vision for where I wanted the organisation to go” says Ramita Vg, Global VP Product Development for AIESEC International. “I never questioned myself because I would only be the second female President. I did it because I felt responsibility for the organisation.”

So if at a younger age our women are still striving for these upper leadership positions, where do all of the good women go?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg ignited an international conversation about women and ambition with the publication of her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Her argument that women need to overcome internal barriers in order to advance as leaders has provoked significant debate. Skeptics claim that Sandberg’s message simplifies a complex problem and ultimately blames women for not making it to the top; supporters believe she is inspiring women to aim higher in their careers and offering practical advice to help them succeed.

From looking at the way our young women advance in AIESEC, we can pinpoint to four possible reasons why they do not make it to the upper leadership roles:

1. They are satisfied enough not to apply for these positions.

It is not always a natural next step to apply for a higher position within an organisation or to seek out more responsibility in a higher labeled role. Regardless of being a male or female, if someone is feeling happy, challenged and fulfilled in a particular position, they may not have the urge to apply to a higher position. It may be that they are already happy in their current role and in the impact they are creating. Generally, when people are happy they do what they can to keep that feeling.

2. They choose to have other priorities.

Not every woman will decide to put her career first. This comes down to what the individual defines as success; as their end goal for their lives. Some will choose their education level; others will decide that attaining a certain position will determine their success. For some the salary they make and the materials they own determine their success. Some women will decide that having a family and children is their idea of success. Each woman will have their own definition of success, and this does not always coincide with taking leadership roles within an organisation. There are certain tasks and behaviors that upper level management roles will demand that are unable to be balanced with other priorities. Maybe what needs to change is the way we view leadership roles and what is needed to fulfill them? If you were to ask someone what a typical day looks like for a C-level executive, they will most likely describe it with long hours, back to back meetings and an overall demanding lifestyle. Maybe the typical life of an executive needs to be redefined so that the opportunity can be taken by more individuals than just those who strictly prioritise work.

3. They are not in the right environment.

A woman may be skilled enough to take on a leadership role, but if the environment around her does not encourage and support her to do so, it could never happen. This is down to the system and people that make up the work environment she is in. If the system is not open, progressive and does not embrace diversity it is very hard for a woman to push her way through it. If the people around her are not encouraging, and are not showing and supporting her through the path of advancement, she may never know the opportunity is open for her. Creating an environment that supports any skilled person, no matter their gender, to take on a higher position is the responsibility of the company or organisation.

4. They hold themselves back.

Do women question their abilities to take on larger roles and responsibilities? Does the male-dominated boardroom intimidate them? We can think of many questions when we look at the substantial drop in female leaders as we move up the corporate ladder. Is there a change in their ambition as they get older or are there other factors stopping them? In her books Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and Lean In for Graduates, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, states that women often do not aspire to more in their careers and in their leadership journeys. Maybe it is because they don’t think about it, or they don’t believe that they could actually succeed in reaching the goals they set for themselves; as women tend to not believe enough in their capabilities. After determining that they want to be a leader, women need to lean in and take every opportunity regardless of their fear of failure.

PwC is one global company that identifies with the Lean In movement and is committed to supporting an environment that will help women to achieve their full potential. The firm believes that it will take a collaborative effort of companies, leaders and from women themselves to start to close this leadership gap. According to U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner Bob Moritz, “Leaders profoundly influence the aspirations of the people who work with them, which is why ambition requires mutual accountability. Companies have a responsibility to provide opportunities and support women as they explore career possibilities and life choices. That’s why PwC is leaning in.”

On 24 April from 4:30pm GMT, PwC will be hosting its first-ever global forum on women and leadership. The event is part of “Aspire to Lead: The PwC Women’s Leadership Series,” which includes a number of programs and workshops designed for college students who are looking to build their leadership skills.

Sheryl Sandberg will share her perspective, and answer questions on the challenges women face when transitioning from campus to career in a special live webcast. The event will be broadcast live from Facebook’s campus in California.  A replay will be available shortly after the live broadcast and translated versions of the webcast will be available the week of 5 May.

We encourage you to participate in this discussion by tuning into the live webcast or watching the replay at www.pwc.com/aspire. In addition, this webcast is open to anyone, so please share this unique opportunity with those in your personal, school and professional networks.

Maybe if we can get young women to start planning their career goals now, we have a better chance of helping them get there – and hopefully gain more good leadership that the world desperately needs.

The topic of women in leadership sparked a conversation throughout our office that we want to continue – stay tuned for more content coming in the next few weeks!

8 replies
  1. dianne
    dianne says:

    we are in a right business and right environment..however experience has made us question our abilities. we want to be guided and heard despite our effort ..we are always scrutinized.

  2. Sokaina
    Sokaina says:

    I believe it all comes down to time management and SELD MOTIVATION. If we, Women; could just set our priorities, and manage our time between them, we can accomplish great things as leaders, and family members…. all at once. Who said we must chose? just as long as we’re MOTIVATED, we can do wonders, and that has been proven throughtout history. So in my opinion, the real issue is that we wait for others to motivate us and ispire us into taking leading positions, but the thing is, we should motivate ourselves, and seek challenges that would get us out of our comfort zone, only then, we can achieve and fulfill our potential, and be the source of inspiration we once seeked and may or may not have found.
    That has been said, I am looking forward to this event, as it is a really great initiative.

  3. Gita Anindita
    Gita Anindita says:

    Hi Cassandra!
    I totally agree with the fact that maybe what needs to change is the way we view leadership roles and what is needed to fulfill them. I believe every person has their own way to define what leadership really is where then it should be up to them to decide the right path to achieve it.
    Thank you and keep up the great work!

  4. Fiorella
    Fiorella says:

    I also agree with the encouraging environement women need to have around them, in Latinamerica we need also our families support in order to create more challenging goal that could maybe keeps us apart from the perspective a conservative society has for us and our future

  5. Nidhi Savla
    Nidhi Savla says:

    Held under the patronage of the Ministry of Economy United Arab Emirates, the 16th Global Edition of the Women In Leadership Economic Forum is focused on making change happen by uniting 300 of the most influential business and thought leaders from the across the globe to discuss key issues on women in leadership.


  6. Anna Rose Barker
    Anna Rose Barker says:

    Great topic and some good thoughts here!

    The crucial theme that is lacking and missing from the piece is the inclusion of men, as well as women, to feel empowered and excited for change. The common issues women face are seemingly the lack of courage, understanding, support that everyone needs to pave a successful path in both their personal and professional areas of life. My issue with this is that the paths have already been designed and diagnosed by society, perpetuating the inequalities in it. A woman cannot demand a path of her own, no. She can only pick one that is predetermined by others.

    Why are we telling women to succeed in prescribed world, rather than empowering them to change it?

    What are we telling the men to do?

    Most importantly we need to empower women AND men to change these paths.

    To remove these paths and replace them with something that has been built and designed by all of society, to truly create something in which people can succeed and grow into a better person, making the world a better place. Not making people better in the framework of an existing place.

  7. Douglas Glaeser
    Douglas Glaeser says:

    I’ve worked with many remarkable women over my 36 years in IT as a Senior Management Consultant. I was also blessed to have several extraordinary mentors in my lifetime. So, whenever an opportunity presented itself on the job, I mentored whenever I could. But it wasn’t enough to give back what had been taught to me only one person at-a-time. That’s when I decided it was time to write the book everyone keep telling me to write. I’m glad I did. When my book was released last year, I was amazed to find that over 68% of my book sales were women as opposed to men. Then I did a little researched and discovered why. Women are more proactive when it comes to their careers.; more apt to continue their self-education after college. Many of my most rewarding reviews came from women who express how my writing had helped them to advance their careers. There is no greater testament than that. I am, and always will be, grateful. – Remember, change is life’s only constant … embrace it. – Douglas Glaeser Visit: http://www.workingwithidiots.net/

  8. E. Pratt
    E. Pratt says:

    Oh just stop. Enough is enough. Women are constantly blaming men for everything, but they never look at the reality of what is going on. Here is the reality: I went to a restaurant the other night and what I saw was indicative of today’s woman. There was a large group of girls sitting at a table and they weren’t event talking with each other. They were texting on their phones. You may think this is not a big deal, but it is. It highlights what women do. Women don’t want to go into hard fields such as science, engineering, computer science, construction, etc. They want to text and chat and have fun. Women spend so much time developing nothing in their lives but still want to be given things. Women want it all and never take responsibility for anything. They wanted to be treated as special but equal. You want to really help out women — stop catering to their every whim. Let them go it alone for a couple of decades. Force them to have personal responsibility for their actions because right now, women are not ever responsible for anything. A person who is not responsible for anything should never lead. Ever. Because they do not know the burden of being a leader — after all, it is always someone else’s fault. I am not anti-woman at all, but I am tired of the complaining of women. Many men are and if women think they can go it alone in this world, they are sadly mistaken. You already see the results of that all around you: 56 million abortions (dead babies), boys committing suicides at a rate 5 times higher than girls, destruction of the family unit, increase in prison population (many prisoners are from single mom families), rise in female alcoholism in college (you wonder why rape cases are so high – start researching this), etc. Nothing ever gets better because a woman never takes responsibility for anything. When was the last time you ever heard a woman say — I didn’t get the job because I wasn’t qualified? You never hear it — you just hear about misogyny. All you hear is an excuse so the real issues never get addressed. Ladies just start admitting you can’t do it all and to get something you have to give up something. Take responsibility for your choices and actions. That is being a leader. You can’t be everything. A wife, mother, lover, career person, activist, and leader. You have to pick and choose and be okay with your choice but you must realize you CANNOT have it all. Men learned that long ago. Why do you think we die earlier than you? Do you think we actually wanted to work like to dogs to provide for a family? Ignore our wives and children? No. We learned you have to give up something with everything. To provide for our families, we gave up years of our lives and our personal happiness. You ladies will have to give up something. Whatever you decide is fine, but realize you can’t have it all and just stop blaming men. In a very real way, men are not your problem — it is your fellow women filling your head with unrealistic expectations about what life is. No one can have it all. Even the people you think have it all, don’t have it all.


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