Where are the female voices in business?

Woman with megaphoneI have been asked numerous times recently about my view of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  Unless you’ve been on a severe media diet over the past six months, you’ll know that I’m referring to the Facebook COO’s book espousing her view of what women need to do in order to achieve positions of leadership in business.  And if you know me, you’ll know that I rarely weigh in on gender-based issues (recent post on making great presentations notwithstanding).  However, this one keeps drawing my attention, but maybe not for the obvious reason.

Here’s the thing.  While I think Ms. Sandberg has many good things to say about what women ought to do differently in what, sadly, is still a hugely male-dominated work world (at least at the top), for me that’s not the point.  In a nutshell:

Why couldn’t one of the world’s most high-profile female business leaders have written a book about…. business?

In related news, the always provocative Danielle LaPorte recently posted a photograph of the business section in an airport bookstore.  What she noted was that of the 47 books available, 45 were by men.  The other two? Books by women – about how women need to be like men to get ahead.  And my good friend Michael Bungay Stanier, when assembling the speaker list for his upcoming Great Work MBA program, discovered that it was quite difficult to find diversity of perspective (gender-based or otherwise) in the realm of business book authors.  So while I’ve by no means done statistically significant research, it’s getting pretty easy to see that the world of business thinking is missing a point of view or two. 

It’s not that there’s aren’t gender-based issues.  There are.  It IS harder to juggle multiple roles, to break through glass ceilings, to elbow into the boys’ club, to bulldoze ancient gender stereotypes – I’m not denying any of that.  But if that’s all women write about, I think there’s a problem.  I really believe that the biggest opportunity for women who want to rise to senior leadership positions is to get taken seriously as business thinkers.

By the way, the only publisher I could find that seems to be making inroads in this area is the one that happened to publish my bookBibliomotion.  Check out their author list – there’s some great stuff in there.

As a former marketer, I completely understand the temptation to create something provocative that has a big and well-defined audience.  But, at least in my view, if strong, smart, high-achieving, high-profile business women only use their platform to engage in the gender conversation, we’re not making any headway. And by “we,” I mean everyone.

If you have thoughts about this whole “Lean In” phenomenon, and why there are so few business books written by women, please post in the comments below. 



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There are 10 comments.

Lynn Harris —

Good point you make Karen – we do need more female business-thinkers. Shame you don’t weigh in on gender-balanced leadership a bit more often, you obviously have good stuff to contribute.

Karen Wright

Thanks, Lynn! You’re certainly a strong and positive voice in this subject area!

Dr. Chris —

Well said Karen!! My mom is very passionate about women in leadership and is in the process of writing her own book to be a thought leader in finance.

It seems to me that the barriers to business leadership, whether writing a book or managing a division within a company, are simply bigger for women than they are for men. This phenomenon equates to a smaller number of women pursuing these goals because of less chance of success, when they are clearly as capable as men.

Is this viewpoint too simplified? IAU (I appreciate you), as always.

Alyson Soko —

Wonderful article. Business is business regardless of gender, and it would be wonderful to see a book written by a woman (a la Jack Welch and others) that spoke to business issues and practices as opposed to “Women in Business”. Well said.

Alice Fong —

Nice! It seems we may need a change in how we currently view how things are. Changing ourselves to be something we are not is not natural, but changing the system to accept the values “we” (with your definition of ‘we’) have to offer would make business and life so much more rewarding and satisfying.

Example, men organize opportunities to mentor each other at churches, work, social gatherings/organizations etc…, if they are not able to help someone out they reach out to others who could. We can influence change around us and in time it will ripple out. If we all took one sister to mentor/coach it could start that cultural change on how we define ourselves in leadership. Then we’ll make headway and engage the gender conversation in a positive way. As my mentor puts it, managers don’t grow overnight. She’s right! 🙂

Karen Wright

Love it, Alice – I do agree that how we view things is a huge determinant of our belief in what we can change or influence. And imagine if each of us just had an impact (intentional and direct) on one other? Amazing!

Karen Wright

Thanks, Alyson, I do agree. The one woman I’d like to hear from is Indra Nooyi, of Pepsi. Maybe when she stops being CEO she’ll write that book we’re hoping to see from a prominent woman leader.

Karen Wright

Thanks, Chris – not too simplified, necessarily, but certainly true and yet only one piece of the puzzle. And congrats to your mom!!!

Chris Holliday —

This is why we are friends! When a senior Pepsi executive came down to Frito-Lay in the early 90’s and spoke to a group of ambitious women in marketing, most of them came away dismayed. You mean we actually have to do the work? All of it? To me it seemed like a no brainer–do the job, like anyone else, regardless of gender. That’s how you get ahead. In this instance, write a book about business. Just like anyone else, regardless of gender. It’s so obvious to me, I don’t get why it’s even an issue.

Karen Wright

Thanks, Chris, and agreed – there shouldn’t be different rules or expectations solely on the basis of gender. I think that one of the worst time periods in my corporate career were those days when there was reverse discrimination – when women (and minorities of all sorts) actually got preferential treatment, rather than the “if all else is equal” approach. But, to be fair, I don’t know whether any of the book authors I’m talking about have any sense of entitlement or expectation of preferential treatment. However I also don’t know what they think about major business issues. Perhaps one day…..Thanks for weighing in!

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