October 22, 2009 / 7:08 PM / 11 years ago

Books tackle scarcity of U.S. women in leadership

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Women make up half the U.S. work force these days, yet they remain scarce in the ranks of top business leadership.

That persistent gap, in which women hold no more than 3 percent of chief executive jobs in Fortune 500 companies, is the topic of “How Remarkable Women Lead” by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston and “Women Lead the Way” by Linda Tarr-Whelan.

Barsh and Cranston study successful women in leadership to find what traits and talents they may share, and Tarr-Whelan argues why and how women should hold leadership positions.

Women who lead are inspired by a sense of meaning in what they do, assess situations in a positive light and know the value of connecting with others, write Barsh and Cranston, both consultants at McKinsey & Co.

Women who lead take risks, face down their fears, speak up and have a strong sense of optimism, which can be learned, Barsh said in an interview.

“All of it is practice,” she said.

Critical to the process is finding and recharging energy as well as plugging energy drains — which is not easy, she said.


“This is about facing reality, taking ownership and saying this is my life ... I am setting out to grow, and growth requires discomfort,” she said.

“We’re not asking you to pretend things are better than they are. We’re asking you to unlock the greatest potential for what you’ve got,” she said.

In “Women Lead The Way,” Tarr-Whelan lays out why more women should lead.

“I am not happy with those books that simply tell what the problem is. I think it is time to try and suss out what can make a difference,” said the author, who was ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in the administration of President Bill Clinton.

She advocates the “30 percent solution,” a concept that gained traction at the U.N. Conference on the Status of Women in Beijing in 1995.

“The catalyst for a wave of change is having at least one-third women at the table,” she said. “It works.”

Research shows companies do business better and nations govern better when they adapt the 30 percent measure, she said. Financial institutions with more than 30 percent women on their boards have fared the economic crisis better, she said.

“Often without even thinking about it, we are seeing the world through men’s eyes and don’t realize a woman’s perspective is missing,” she noted in the book.

Getting in the way are stereotypes and myths, she said, such as those that say women lack the drive to lead, the smartest women drop out to stay at home or not enough women are qualified to lead.

“They are very pervasive,” she said. “They influence people who are deciding who’s going to be promoted and who is considered to be a rising star or an emerging leader.”

“Women Lead the Way” was published by Berrett-Koehler and “How Remarkable Women Lead” was published by Crown Business, owned by Random House Inc.

Editing by Doina Chiacu

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