My Proposal for A New Product: A Certificate in Gender Perspective

I was asked to research and propose a new product for the Executive Education Department of the company: a women’s leadership certificate program. And so I did, sort of.

What does women's leadership mean today?

Women’s leadership used to be out of the ordinary, but has it become out dated? Have we reached the point where both genders view each other equally?

I dug up tons of scholarly articles, picked through fields of data, weeded relevance out of the jungle of online information, and my proposal was finally coming together.

But as I was scripting my presentation, I kept writing it, and re-writing it. Editing it, and re-editing it. Six drafts later, I realized I wasn’t bothered by how I wrote it, it was what I wrote. It was missing something. Women’s leaderships programs, courses, and seminars that promote women to feel more professional and empowered have been successful for quite some time, but the sociology of the workplace is changing.

It’s no longer about getting women the opportunity for success, it’s about properly channeling the tributaries of success in a diverse work environment.

Women’s leadership initiatives are paradoxical by nature. Women are hard-working and results focused. Women are naturally driven to succeed. So it’s naive to think that women as a general category need leadership training. Leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman found that women outscored men on 15 of 16 leadership competencies. The researchers evaluated the judgments of 7,280 professionals about the female and male leaders they work with, and women excelled not only at the strengths commonly attributed to them (i.e. collaboration and communication) but many other measures traditionally attributed to men (i.e. initiative and technical/professional expertise). Women have what it takes, and they are bringing home the bacon. Over 40% of all American households have women as the primary breadwinner.

Women are also most likely to been seen rocking the latest fashion trend: a cap and gown. 60% of the world’s university graduates are women, and they’ve earned their way to the top of some of the most prestigious positions in the world. Their current repertoire includes the chair of the US Federal Reserve, the head of the IMF, the chancellor of Germany, the President of Brazil, the CEO of General motors, IBM, Xerox, PepsiCo, Lockheed Martin, and the COO of Facebook to name a few.


Women are still only earning, on average, 84 cents to every male dollar.

Women, as a sexual category, don’t need special help. But, the statistics are still real. According to a study done by the Pew Research center, women earn 84 percent of what men earn. That means it takes women approximately 40 extra days to earn what a man earns in a year for doing the same job. Young women (aged 25-34) continue to be the front runners in trying to close the wage gap–earning about 93 cents for every male dollar–but we have yet to see a 1:1 ratio. Most importantly, though, the majority of both parties say that something needs to be done about it, a crucial fact that lead to the plot twist in my PBI certificate proposal.

I proposed a certification that discusses gender related issues in the workforce, how they affect management, and professional development. A program that would focus on overall leadership techniques and what works best for both sides, hard facts and statistics about oppression, but strategies for adapting and educating others on the issues. It should talk about realistic and possible scenarios that you might see in the office, with concrete examples and success stories from the top.  And here’s the plot twist: it should be marketed to women AND men.

Women’s leadership conferences and certificates have been proven very effective in getting women together to learn and be inspired to make positive professional change for themselves, and intern the rest of their female counter parts, by changing the standards of what it means to be a woman in the workforce. BUT they often leave out a very critical part of the solution: there are 3.4 billion men out there in the world. They should be included in this fight for equality, because this kind of female exclusiveness isn’t allowing them that option. There are not many men that would willingly sign themselves up for a women’s leadership course. He might say to himself, “I don’t want to educate myself on how to be a better female leader. That doesn’t make sense. Why would I sign up for this certificate?”

I’ll tell you why. We change the focus. We created a gender based leadership course to discuss the ideas of feminism AND the changing themes of masculinity.

Picture2The idea of the working woman is changing, but so is the idea of the working man. In the 1960s, 50-60% of American jobs were a form of manufacturing and mining. Today those two sectors constitute less than 10% of our economy. This means that the old idea of having strong build could get you a well-paying job—and thus be a man and support your family—doesn’t exist anymore. Being a working man has less to do with exercising your muscles and everything to do with exercising your brain. Measurements of manliness are now better described in units of intellect, and emotional competence. Dads are picking up more responsibility around the house in general, and are taking a more active role in raising their children. There has been a jump in the number of men working as stay at home dads— it’s now 21 percent, compared to 5 percent just 25 years ago—warping the demographics of the private and public spheres.

The idea of what it means to be a man is being redefined. So, what does that definition say now? The up and coming trend? Sensitivity as a form of masculinity. Feminism as a form of masculinity. This is due to a number of factors, which could range from the changed way that men are portrayed in their romantic relationships in movies, to viral spoken word poetry that challenges the correlation between masculinity and the number of women you sleep with; we’ve seen our president, our commander in chief, cry when he talked about the school shooting in Connecticut. It’s becoming cool for men to care, and genuinely care about sensitive subjects, and women are making the case that they are a topic worth caring about. (It also could also be partially due to the fact that men are starting to care about women’s equality because women find it attractive when they do.)

Take a look at this Upworthy video of reformist male high schoolers. Pretty incredible stuff. Is this door being opened due to the steady demise of homophobia? Or because of the availability for open dialogue on social media?  It’s hard to say, but we can say that there is a hopeful light shining from the rising male generation. And there is credit owed to some very progressive grown-ups who have cleared the way for this light. Jackson Katz being one of them. He is a promoter of what he calls the male feminist movement, saying that society is constantly confusing and generalizing gender issues with women’s issues, the way people confuse race issues with black issues. Men need to know that women don’t want to be called bossy before it can effectively be banned.

Part of the reason why the wage gap still exists and women feel hindered in the workplace is due to an overarching social psychology that is delaying progress—whether it be consciously or subconsciously. Stereotypes still exist about gender and gender roles, which then effect our expectations and in turn influence the way we look at things. Here’s an example: Back in the 70s and 80s, women made up only 5% of all musicians in professional orchestras around the country, which made orchestral committees concerned that there was a bias in the selection process. So, they created a blind auditioning process. They put up a screen so that the judges were picking the best contestants solely based on what they heard, not what they saw—this increased the odds that women would get passed the preliminary round by 50%. Today, around 25% of orchestras are women. So the first thing that needs to change is perspective. Shelley Correll, a sociology professor at Stanford University, talks about how we think we’ve advanced, and we think that our brains have evolved, but then again maybe not…


So we need to start helping ourselves overcome these ingrained biases. In the case of the orchestra, there was a very literal solution in that they put up a screen so they couldn’t tell the difference, but for the rest of us, when that physical kind of alteration isn’t possible, the only thing to do is increase awareness and education about the issue, so we can consciously correct our subconscious tendencies.

A few weeks ago, some of the other interns and I watched a women’s leadership webinar and we all hands down agreed that it was awful. The instructor talked about how women should be more confident and assertive, but did so in a tone that implied women are naturally less confident and in need of specialized help. She oversimplified the issue, and talked in somewhat of a degrading manner. Gender differences shouldn’t be looked at as a disability, but a means for adaptability. Here are some of the responses from the other interns:


As the tectonics of social norms shift, the way we educate people about them should also cause a rumble. We should be promoting critical reflection, getting comfortable with the fact that some things just aren’t that simple, and posing questions that don’t necessarily have answers. Why is it that women say sorry far too often? Or how can men best approach their bosses to request paternity leave? But it should also explain that there is no perfect scenario—both men and women need to figure out what they want, and their best individualized solution.

Companies that have a progressive mindset about gender balance in the workplace have been proven to have a more competitive edge. Executives need to focus on better managing the differences in gender based leadership styles, such as negotiation techniques or career path needs, rather than ignoring them. This certificate program aims to tie together ideas with context, and theory with statistics, because it’s time for women’s rights to have a multivariable perspective. The next step in the fight for gender equality is universal awareness paired with heterogeneous networking. As strong and independent as we are, ladies, it’s time to include the boys.

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