Why is it important to have more “mutmacherinnen”—empowered and empowering women—in the company? It’s 2018 and this month we’re celebrating International Women’s Day. The first Women’s Day was celebrated 109 years ago in the USA. And today? Few women apply for highly paid and prestigious jobs, and fewer than 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Fewer than 21% of Fortune 1000 board members are women and, depending on which study you read, they still receive just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. What’s more, twice the number of women in the hi-tech sector in particular quit their posts compared with men—not good news considering this industry is shaping our future like no other.
By Dr. Laura Wendt, Manager Diversity & Inclusion, A.T. Kearney
mutmacherinnen are therefore needed more than ever! That’s why I’m now going to share with you three strategies to change the status quo this year as well as the stories of two mutmacherinnen who have made a lasting impression on me.
Strategy No. 1: Encourage role models—find your own personal mutmacherin!
Could it be that just looking at a successful woman can have a positive impact on other women’s performance? Studies show that when there is a scarcity of female role models in a company, women believe that they have no real chance and this leads to them either not applying for higher-level jobs or quitting their careers prematurely. They also assume that there is greater competition among women and this can likewise have a negative impact on the work culture. However, women in management positions seem to have some sort of magical attraction for other female talent and inspire them to climb the career ladder through their sheer presence alone.
Are there still no female role models in your company? Then let me suggest a simple trick. Take a look at a photo of Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton or Wonder Woman! As part of an experiment, women had to give a speech in front of a committee. Before they began, they were asked to cast their eyes on a photo of an empowered woman, a photo of Bill Clinton or no photo at all. Those women who had previously seen a strong woman gave longer speeches that were considered more eloquent. Hence Strategy No. 1: Before every presentation or pitch you give, get out your iPhone and take a quick look at a picture of your own personal empowered female—your own mutmacherin!
When it comes to role models, Marley Dias is a true mutmacherin for me. At the age of just twelve, she took it upon herself to create role models, for she discovered that almost all children’s books were about white boys and their dogs. So she started a campaign: #1000BlackGirlBooks—to collect 1000 books that feature a black girl as the main character and to donate them to local communities. She wanted to show other African Americans that their stories are also worth telling. In the meantime, Marley has collected more than 9000 books and she has also published her own book in which she describes how anyone, regardless of their skin color, age or gender, can make the world a little better.
Strategy No. 2: Female empowerment—join forces!
Countless studies show that women tend to underestimate their abilities. They tend to believe that they are not yet ideally qualified for a particular job. They don’t want to disappoint anyone. Fascinatingly, studies in which men and women take part in a quiz on scientific reasoning repeatedly show that women underestimate their performance while men overestimate theirs. In fact, they do equally well. Unfortunately, this means that women rarely throw their hats in the ring when posts on upcoming projects and opportunities for higher-level positions open up. These women need a friendly “push”—and women actually find it easier to encourage other women and to believe in the abilities of other women. Hence my Strategy No. 2: Once a month, get together with a few other women for a kind of female empowerment session at which each woman talks only about their own talents, abilities and potentials. Ask around your company and your networks—keep your ears open. As soon as an executive needs one of these qualities, introduce the executive to the right woman to provide it. This strategy has already led to a number of promotions.
My second mutmacherin is Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, now 84 years old, who set up her own software company, F. International Group, back in 1962—one of the first startups in the UK. She created a “business sisterhood” by recruiting women who had left the computer industry to get married or have children and built up a “home office organization” with them. When writing to potential customers, she changed her name from Stephanie to Steve in order to get a foot in the door. Who’d have thought that the flight data recorder—the black box—of the Concorde supersonic passenger airline was programmed by a bunch of “housewives”?
Strategy No. 3: Train the spotlight—report on female success stories!
Back to the women who are currently leaving the hi-tech sector. This has nothing to do with a lack of interest or ambition—on the contrary. To put it bluntly, women in this industry are more often judged on their appearance, personality or gender and are told, for instance, to focus on sales and marketing instead. What’s more, their chances of finding venture capitalists who are prepared to back them are very slim. Studies show that such financiers are more likely to be convinced by pitches given by men, especially if the latter are good-looking. What’s particularly ironic in this context is that women’s contributions to open source software are far more frequently taken onboard than those of men, but not if the sex of the programmers is known! Why does the working world still prefer to work with “Steve”—even in 2018? The byword “Perception is reality” has long been familiar in the field of psychology: Seeing is believing and our perception becomes the reality of us all. So why don’t we hear more stories like Stephanie Shirley’s? For if the mere addition of “female decoration” to a programming classroom already leads to some students associating women with a career in IT, what would be the impact if more school leavers were to hear about Stephanie’s supersonic aircraft housewife programmers? And this brings me to my third strategy: Let’s open our mouths and talk about women’s successes! Far too rarely do we hear the stories of proud and successful women who have gained joy and autonomy through their work and have used their influence to bring about a positive change in our world.