One of the reason for the discrepancy between women’s graduate degrees and women in leadership positions results from women being less willing to stay in a culture that seems unfair or unsatisfying. There is nothing inherently wrong with this tendency. To the contrary, I have nothing but respect for someone—man or woman—who has the self-awareness to know that she would be happier in a different environment and makes that happen.
The next step in achieving true equality in leadership positions is to start creating environments with positive cultures that value the vast array of assets that women, in particular, bring to the table. Women often have attributes that create positive cultures that lead to success. I have found that if I am on a team made up of mostly women, they are often very successful at creating a cohesive, cooperative unit that can tackle any challenge effectively. They listen to one another, collaborate, ensure that each person gets good opportunities, and do not focus on who gets credit for the success of the project. The result is a loyal group that is willing to enjoy successes and suffer defeats together—making the environment more satisfying and fulfilling. And make no mistake, the men on these teams enjoy the positive aspects of the resulting culture as much as the women. These teams work as hard, as innovatively, and have as much intellectual horsepower as any teams I have ever worked with. But they build a culture that generates more energy than it takes—making it a sustainable and satisfying place to spend a career.
The most successful companies and firms of the future are going to be the ones that figure out how to maintain and harness the incredible amount of leadership potential that is currently walking out the door on an all-too regular basis, because the environment takes more energy than it gives. Just saying, “she wasn’t cut out for this place,” without evaluating whether perhaps it is the “this place” that needs improvement is short-sighted and companies and individuals who default to saying that without further analysis do so at their peril.
Women, find each other and work together. Take your strengths—your intelligence, creativity, compassion, and leadership—and create great cultures that drive great results. Employers, hire, and promote these women. Otherwise, your competition will.