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Gini Dietrich

Is It True Behind Every Successful Woman Is a Man?

By: Gini Dietrich | August 5, 2009 | 
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rosie One of my favorite reporters in the entire world is Del Jones, the leadership columnist for USA   Today. I’ve worked with him for many years. I know him in real life. I’m featuring him as a case study in a book (details forthcoming). And I have a daily conversation with him on Twitter.

So when his cover story, “Often, men help women get to the corner office” ran today, I was more than intrigued. As usual, his style of reporting is fair and covers all of the reasons the title he choose might be true.

The premise:

* There are more men in leadership positions at companies big and small so it makes sense the mentor a woman has is male (only 29 Fortune 1000 companies have women CEOs).

* Men, (Gini adds “unfortunately”) have the power to make women great.

* Female champions are rare.

I agree with all of this. I am in a communication business and I’ve only had one female boss my entire career…where females are prevalent at the lower levels, but not at executive levels.

But I am FIRED UP! Why, you ask? I just spent 20 minutes reading the comments. Because there are nearly 200 comments, I started with the most recommended ones.

I am shocked and appalled there are men out there, like Slay and ChristianCon3, who still think women belong in the kitchen and not the workplace. And that people recommended their comments for others to read!

Read this comment from ChristianCon3:

“Not an issue for me since I believe women do not belong in the workplace, but at home tending to the children and the husband. Much of what is wrong with our society today is because of women’s liberation (a product of liberal / socialist thinking) and the idea that women “can have it all.” — family AND career. Well they can’t. Just look at the divorce rates. The crazy, drug addicted children that come out of two career households. It’s high time we get back to a traditional nuclear family: husband who works, wife who minds the house and two or three kids.”

Now I know that by putting this on my blog, I’m engaging this man and his ludicrous opinion. Did he not read the story? The point is that, even in 2009 where women ARE in the workplace and DO have it all, their mentors still are men. That even though we’ve come a long way, we still have to rely on men for procreation and to promote our careers. And that does NOT mean we’re sleeping our way to the top as other comments on the story suggest.

I have belonged to two women-only organizations in the past and have gotten nothing from either of them. No return-on-investment of my time or money. Not one woman from either of those organizations referred business to us – most women see other females as competition. I’ve always kept this in mind as I grow a business – that women deserve as much mentoring as the men in an organization.

But truth be had, the most ROI on my time, the most referrals we receive (even today), and the people who affect my business decisions are men. I have a handful of women business confidants, outside of the Arment Dietrich walls, but I’d venture to guess they’re less than 10 percent of my “mentors”.

Social media is changing that. I’ve been able to connect and engage with women business leaders around the world and we help one another quite often. It’s fun to get a woman’s read on a particular situation because we look at things so much differently. We lead differently. We think differently. We act and feel differently. We should be mentoring one another, without threat, and with a man’s assertiveness and ability to forgive and forget sprinkled in.

With Del bringing this very sad reality to light and with our social media connections, soon behind every successful woman will be another woman.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

21 comments
Davina Brewer
Davina Brewer

I've never been comfortable with "women are more threatened by other women,” as I've experienced territoriality from men and women over the years, both protecting their little seats of power, challenged more by my intelligence and abilities than my gender.

While the concept of the USA Today piece is a little sexist, it's as you write "unfortunately" true by default: men (mostly) are the ones in power, hold the most senior positions, ergo men promote (mentor) women. Statistics.

Aside from the crackpots that commented on the story, even the supportive arguments bug me:

“I am a man who had a woman as a mentor. She was the most brilliant woman I have ever met and had charisma as well, but served as a great role model and could do about anything. She was beautiful too, but did not have to be. That was a bonus.”

Just like women in politics have their hairstyles polled by USA Today, a woman in business is judged by appearance.

“..the stereotypical female manager that was compensating for something or other and seemed to think that being a jerk added something positive to their style. I would blame the management that promoted them for this though - it seemed that the upper executives somehow expected a certain personality in women to think that they were promotable when in truth a woman can act like a woman and be competent just as a man can act like a gentleman and be competent.”

Men who are jerks or other negative terms are just that: they are jerks because they are jerks, not because they are men. Yet for a women in business, jerky behavior is part of a “style” and “compensation” but somehow acting “like a woman” – whatever that means – is deemed incompetent, not leadership worthy.

That said, I am glad to read that you have found women you've connected with, as have I. Part of that probably has to do with the statistical numbers of women in PR and social media. I like to think it has more do to with the people: smart, capable communications professionals, many of whom happen to be women.

Sorry to highjack your blog with such a long comment. Great post. Thanks.

Dave
Dave

Gini,
Once again, you give us a well-written thought-provoking post! What I particularly appreciate is your ability to be transparent without being narcissistic. I believe that this is what is necessary to become successful in the rapidly changing workplace. It has been a slow process, but we are moving away from the old patriarchal “good-ole’-boy” top-down management models that have created many of the problems that organizations face today. To survive in a globally-connected, real-time market place, then organizations must embrace the ability to create trust within relationships through communication that respects the voice of all stakeholders-especially the consumers! The new world demands that people feel connected to the institution in a way that goes deeper than a transactional experience. Let’s face it guys, history has shown us that for all of our ability to swagger and yell we might be able to get short-term profits up, but we haven’t exactly cornered the market on getting our employees and consumers to really buy into our vision, take ownership, and breed the kind of loyalty that will only come when an individual is tied by the heart strings. There is a distrust of institutions that has been sown throughout our country by the vindictive, back-stabbing, selfish, greedy nature which has exemplified many of the transactions that have steamrolled our economy. Much of this can be attributed to the “us vs. them” war-room mentality that takes place in organizations, where everyone has to jockey for position by sharpening their teeth on the neighbor’s leg bone as they prepare to follow the alpha male into battle (at least until he is taken out of the picture so someone can jockey for his position.) When it comes to women in the workplace, it is dangerous to generalize because there are always exceptions. (Believe me, sometimes I wish it were socially acceptable to punch a woman because I have met some that deserve it!) However, most women in our society have been socialized to be more relational than men, therefore are better listeners, and may gravitate toward a transformational leadership style. This is exactly what we need within the workplace, and I think women are poised to make unheard of strides toward transforming our business cultures to adapt to a new world! One last thing I want to say: if a woman OR A MAN (I know-shocking, right?!?) wants to stay at home to be a spouse or parent, or caretaker, s/he should not be frowned on for that choice-nor should s/he be blacklisted from the corporate world when s/he is ready to return. Our society has it pretty screwed up when the only activities that are valued are the ones that produce a dollar! For those who complain about women being in the workplace instead of the home, I agree one of the reasons for society’s ills is the breakdown of the family. But perhaps the reason why our culture has so many problems related to women being in the workplace is because there are so many knuckle-dragging troglodytes (of both sexes) hanging out in offices and clinging to stereotypes while they ignore their role of being a parent/spouse/caretaker in favor of bringing home a bigger brontosaurus than the one their neighbor has!

Teri
Teri

Wow, I don't want to bring myself to read that USA Today article and accompanying comments. I can't deal with the Neanderthal mentality.

I have had horrendous and fabulous female managers and colleagues, just as I've had horrendous and fabulous male managers and colleagues. I think the mistake that some women make is expecting a natural "sisterhood" where there is automatic bonding and they are shocked to find vicious competitiveness or at best, blase neutrality where thy hoped for mutual support and assistance.

Color me wary, but not cynical. I have made it a point to be the kind of manager, mentor and colleague that I would like to have, regardless of the gender of the people I'm managing, mentoring and collaborating with. As a result, I have a strong network of individuals who will typically put me at the top of their priorities when I cry for help. As a woman who has climbed to senior management in a variety of industries and organizations, I feel it is my responsibility to set a positive example for other women, and not give in to the cliche of the corporate catfight. No thanks.

Jeff Lipschultz
Jeff Lipschultz

What comes to my mind are three little words: "Diversity of Thought."
I don't care if you are man or women when I look for mentorship, or from another country or background, for that matter. Bottom line: Does the mentor offer valuable experience that pertains to my needs at the time.
I've had mentors from walks of life for all types of different subjects. They all brought value.

As companies become more and more diverse in their population of employees, the odds of having a mentor from another camp will be more and more likely. And won't it be nice to have a couple of different thoughts on how to tackle a tough problem. Perhaps a melding of the two would be even better.

In fact, in most cases, a BLEND of a man's approach and woman's approach to tackling a problem is best. Seek out both.

Jenifer Morack
Jenifer Morack

After reading Del Jone’s article in USA Today, I tried to remember my “company days” and the mentor’s of past. I will agree that most were men but I’ve had a few women challenge and educate me. As increasing numbers of women advance to executive levels, I believe we will see the result of more women mentors. There is another issue that was not appropriate for Del’s topic but does demand discussion and that is the issue of “choice”. Many women at many different levels in organizations will make a choice to either leave the workplace permanently or take time off to care for children. This time certainly affects the woman’s career and her ability to move up the corporate ladder to become that much needed mentor.

When I was a young woman and working in corporate American I encountered the same culture that Gini speaks of, in response to Del’s article, with regards to women colleagues. I too, felt the competition. Gini, it is unfortunate that you find the “women only” organizations unhelpful, unsupportive and uncooperative. Here in NJ, we have a wonderful woman’s organization, The New Jersey Organization of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO). This group strives to better all members via mentoring and education. My business has experienced a large ROI with new clients and employees via NJAWBO. Gini, I will say that I do think that sometimes “most women see other females as competition”, but I’d like to believe that it’s only for that last awesome pair of Burberry black patent leather booties!

Matthew Dibble
Matthew Dibble

My first and only boss that has ever mentored me is a woman. She was tough, fair, driven but unbelievably sensitive to others as well. I can not say enough about the business and personal lessons I learned from her.
It's because of her that I now gravitate towards women in the workplace. My current business is for everyone, but it tends to generate interest from mostly women and I believe that they are a bit more well rounded at work than men. They are many times concerned for the personal aspects of the employee and how that can help or harm performance. Which, if you've ever been lucky enough to have a boss like that, is a wonderful trait.
Women should stay home and take care of the house? What year is this?

Joe Heidler
Joe Heidler

Has anyone examined whether the inverse could also be true. Although all of my mentors have been men, I know that I would not be where I am today if it were not for my wife. I believe that most successful men have the love and support of someone to allow them to do what they do. In the end the people who get ahead are the ones who surround themselves with others, be they mentors or supporters, male or female who help them to drive life passionately in a positive way.

Heidi Goldstein-Sidley
Heidi Goldstein-Sidley

I think that sometimes people (both men & women) might not necessarily recognize who has mentored them or influenced them the most during their careers/lives. I didn’t have a traditional childhood, growing up between 2 countries, broken home, lots of new places, new friends and new environments. I learned to adapt quickly and was probably more independent than most kids, traveling across the Atlantic often as an unaccompanied minor.

My mom remarried when I was 9 and my mom & step-dad raised me. He was a strong successful businessman (entrepreneur). I came into the family business as a teenager and worked my way through college and grad school. I had always given credit to my step-dad (I call him dad now) for giving me the tools to get to the level I have achieved in business. His sharp business sense, his idea of "movement, motion, make it happen", punctuality, fairness and problem solving all seemed to have been key contributors. They had been drilled into my head since I was a kid. He was always my role model/mentor and I always aspired to be like him and live up to his expectations.

I was surprised one day when this theory of mine, that my step-dad had been the main influence on my business success and mentor, was challenged by a comment that was made by him. We were having dinner and reminiscing about the past and he noted that I reminded him a lot of my mother and credited my success to the traits and experiences that she instilled in me or exposed me to. I had never seen my mother in that light before and I definitely struggled against her during my teenage years. She didn’t have a higher education like my step-dad and spent a large part of her life in the countryside in northern England, where she was borne (and so was I). She was also raised by an entrepreneur and I remember him well. I spent lots of time with my grandfather and grandmother in the UK when I was growing up.

My grandfather was amazing; he could sell anything to anyone. I think now (looking back on things) my mom was a lot like him and she also had a great entrepreneurial flare and way with people. She was also bold and daring. She would have had to be, to move from her comfort zone in North Yorkshire England to New York City with a young child and no support and little money. She did it all though and had great success. She overcame her limitations, she was brave and independent and she made her own destiny. Now that my dad has opened my eyes, I see more and more of my mother in me and I have stopped giving all the credit to my dad. Our mentors and those that shape us and help us to reach out goals are not always the obvious choice. Sometimes they are so close to home that they are hard to see.

Lois Arbogast
Lois Arbogast

Gini,
As always, I completely agree with your post. I too read Del's article and was appalled at the comments that followed. Not only do I believe that women bring a different mentality to business, as Paul suggested in his comment here, but I also believe that women bring an entirely different skill-set. Women constantly have to battle their male counterparts for equal opportunities, from the lowest levels in a company through to the highest. Their ability to persevere and brush-off male domination is exactly the reason they should be invited into the boardroom. It's my opinion that the same drive that pushes women to outperform their male peers in a corporate environment is also an invaluable characteristic that aids in running a successful business.

I also think what hurts the female executive ratio, is that women often define their own roles due to what they believe the culture demands of them. I can not tell you how many times I've seen smart, talented women back down from their own goals or careers because they didn't think they could be a good wife and a successful businesswoman.What I don't understand is how they can watch their husbands be "good spouses" while pursuing their career goals, and not think that they can do the same. I think as females, we discredit ourselves just as often as males do, and primarily for the same reasons. Until there's a shift in the mentality of both men and women, this problem will persist.

Beatriz Alemar
Beatriz Alemar

" But, I can tell you this, women in business are better at developing and nurturing relationships, more insightful and perceptive, and are definitely better communicators than their male counterparts. All extremely valuable traits, and when worked at, actually become skills.

That being said, there are certainly management and leadership skills where men excel. But maybe only because men have had the opportunity to develop those skills over a long period of time within male-driven organizations."

Paul -

Very, very true. Most women are taught from very young to be great at relationship building but to be submissive. To stand out and stick up for yourself and what you deserve - is championed in little boys but frowned upon for little girls.

I have to agree with a great book I read recently, "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office," to be successful, women need to overcome certain "girlish" conditioning to compete in a male-dominated environment. If we can get past being girls and act like women, we do have a major advantage over men in understanding and building relations. Men happen to be better versed in office politics.

Kristen Leigh
Kristen Leigh

Agree with Laura above, great post. I can understand your outrage at comments like the one from CC3, but surely you realize there are A LOT of nutty people out there with A LOT of nutty ideas (on many topics). Sometimes you just have to deep sigh and move on. I do want to make a note about two particular points though. 1. I've worked in communications and advertising for over 15 years now, and -- setting my own merits aside for a moment -- I can directly relate my current success to 4 people and 1 organization. The first two people (one man, one woman) were in my advertising days. The man, who was the boss, gave me the opportunity to try new things. The woman, would regularly help me to learn and expand my skills. The other two (one man, one woman) were in my communication/marketing days. The man (again, the boss -- that's just the reality), believed in me, encouraged me, and gave me tons of opportunities, and helpful feedback in order to expand my role and move up in the organization. The woman shared so much of her knowledge and expertise with me I can truly say I could not do what I'm doing today without having worked with them. ALL of them. Not just the men, not just the women. They each contributed something big. 2. Women tend to get a bad rap when it comes to supporting other women. While that can definitely be true (the competition thing...perpetuated by men, by the way...is definitely real). However, a few years ago I came across an organization that is changing that. Ladies Who Launch is a community of entrepreneurial women that truly do seek out other women to do business with. I've gotten wonderful clients, wonderful connections, and truly valuable business and personal relationships.

Mike Koehler
Mike Koehler

Hey Gini. I'm fortunate, all of my mentors have been women and women who have been around for 20-40 years with the company. We are lucky in that women hold many positions in leadership here and that will actually increase in the next 5-10 years. The knowledge and assistance I have received from them the last 8 years is immeasurable. If I didn't have them coaching me and pushing me to better, I really would be up a creek here. I may complain about 1 or 2 of them from time to time, but they are really pushing me to be better and to succeed and sometimes I need that swift kick. Yes there is the "competition" you mention with some of them, but it's fairly minimal here. That sort of competition I see more in men actually, at least around this place. It's nice that the tide is turning. Oh and the one guys comments are just out and out ridiculous.

Paul Segreto
Paul Segreto

Personally, I believe more women need to be in the boardroom. Maybe keeping them out in the past helped create the economic turmoil we're in today. We'll never know for sure. But, I can tell you this, women in business are better at developing and nurturing relationships, more insightful and perceptive, and are definitely better communicators than their male counterparts. All extremely valuable traits, and when worked at, actually become skills.

That being said, there are certainly management and leadership skills where men excel. But maybe only because men have had the opportunity to develop those skills over a long period of time within male-driven organizations. Who is to say women wouldn't be further along in any of the male-dominated areas if provided the same opportunities over the years?

My hat is off to the women who have defied and beaten those odds and have left men in the dust. On the flip-side, I admire the men who have recognized talent for what it is, and have hired and mentored individuals based upon their skills, talents and drive, instead of cleavage.

Now, for the guy that wrote that women belong at home - blah, blah, blah. Maybe he should stay at home, take care of the kids, transport them from one activity to the next, clean the house, do the laundry, prepare and cook meals, and cater to his wife so she could have a clear head at work. Knowing this, she can focus on her job and career, and provide for the family with minimal distractions. Sure there a few men that have done just that and I admire them too, because I couldn't do it.

But for the most part, again because women are better at relationships, are more insightful and perceptive, and are better communicators, they are actually better at running the household as well. Ironic, huh? Aren't those the same traits and skills that make women better in business? Hey guys, I think there's a lot we can learn from our female counterparts if we just keep our bravado in check.

Beatriz Alemar
Beatriz Alemar

Gini,

I agree! Although relatively "new" to the workforce, I do see a lack of women mentoring and promoting other women if only do to the lack of women in higher-level management positions.

I for one am thankful that women like you are reaching out to other women as mentors and sources of inspiration. Women aren't meant to just be in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant - they are meant to be what they strive to achieve. For some women, their calling is being primarily a homemaker - for others, it means climbing the corporate ladder. There are plenty of mentors for the housewife - let's continue to build connections and find mentors for the career woman too. You can definitely still be feminine and an effective manager.

Thank you for standing up and making a difference for all of us career women!

Carol
Carol

Gini - I love it when you get fired up! This is a subject on which every woman business owner undoubtedly will have an opinion. Unlike you, in my career, I have mostly reported to strong women. And, I belong to many women's organizations where building trusted relationships has and hopefully will continue to lead to ROI. HOWEVER, this is not to say that strong men have not played an important role in my growth and development as a CEO. They have, and I certainly will continue to look to them - just as much as my women advisors - as mentors. I definitely think social media helps us ALL connect, thank heavens we can block the ones who believe women don't belong in the workplace!

Laura Scholz
Laura Scholz

Great blog, Ginni! I also work in communications, and female mentors are few and far between. Many of the older women I've worked for seem to view the younger ones as "competition," and have been downright hostile. I agree with you that social networking is allowing me to form relationships with other great female business owners and entrepreneurs--something invaluable to my work.

kevin
kevin

Nice commentary, Gini. I agree that social media can and will help. One will have access so many more people from various industries and backgrounds without the competitive concern or insecurities that sometimes come from people within the same company. I agree that men and women think, act, and lead differently and it is the person who is open to learning from, and mentoring to, both who will be most successful.

I read Del's article, but have not read the comments. I may do so now, but first I have to go home and check my children as I just now realized that they must be crazy and drug addicted because they come from a two career household.

Dovya
Dovya

One of my biggest goals is to become the kind of woman that can mentor others. I've been lucky to have some pretty good male business associates and bosses in my life, but -- man alive -- as a full time working mother of two with no small ambitions for her family OR her career -- it's a bit like stumbling through no-woman's land... Awesome post as always Gini. Can't wait to read your friend's article -- and your book!