"This is a man's world, But it wouldn't be nothing, Nothing without a woman or a girl," said James Brown. It's getting better for women, but unpleasant realities remain. For several years now, females have been enrolling in college at higher rates than males. This trend even holds true for disadvantaged students. Yet one recent study found that women with the highest academic achievement are often punished for their success during the job search. How can you even the playing field?
YPO member Aimee Gilbreath has spent her career as a woman in a man's world. In the male-dominated sciences, Gilbreath graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in molecular and cellular biology, and went on to conduct biotechnology research for Motorola. There are far more men than women in business school, but she earned an MBA from Stanford. Gilbreath then worked for the healthcare practice at Boston Consulting Group, eventually rising to principal even though only 30 percent of the industry's leadership is made up of women.
Today, Gilbreath is the executive director of the Found Animals Foundation, a non-profit that works to keep pets in their homes with the humans who love them. She began as the foundation's only employee and has grown it into an organization with more than 70 full-time employees, hundreds of volunteers, and thousands of animals saved. She was given the "Woman of Philanthropy" award in the Comerica Bank Women's Business Award program. As the leader of Found Animals, she has helped the females on her team cope with challenges in the workplace.
On an episode of my podcast YPO 10 Minute Tips from the Top, Gilbreath shared her tips on how to achieve a workforce with more women:
1. It's a Man's World, Still
James Brown is still right: It is still a man's world. Gilbreath sees the path forward in recognizing it, instead of pretending otherwise. "It's still a guy's world," she says, admitting, "Being a female business leader in the world today has its pros and cons." She explains, "One of the advantages is that I feel I'm more comfortable showing emotion. I'm more having conversations with my team about what's going on in their of work, or about why they're having an emotional response to something that's going on. That gets us to deeper and better solutions." Despite any advantages that provides, Gilbreth still has to prove herself: "Especially when you're a woman running a pet organization, I have to work that much harder to be taken seriously and to be seen as credible." The business and non-profit worlds need to continue to evolve.
2. Don't Make Them Choose
More women than ever are graduating from colleges and graduate schools but still lag behind men in career development. "It's fantastic that there are more and more women graduates. Those women are and doing amazing things," Gilbreath says. But she continues, "Unfortunately, the board rooms and the senior management teams still are not moving at the same pace." Gilbreath has a theory as to why: "There are still a lot of antiquated practices that don't actually serve companies that make it really difficult for women, because at some point, they have to choose between and career." This is a lost opportunity for women and their companies, Gilbreath says, because "A lot of younger women start turning off the track before they're even in management because they assume it's not possible." Women in the workplace need leaders who will share all that's possible and work with them so they never feel they have to make such a stark choice.
3. Flex Time
As executive director, Gilbreath knows there are tons of ways to make it work for women with families. One of her favorite ways is flex time. "We have so many employees that are on some sort of work arrangement," she says. "It ranges from when they come in and when they leave to how many days a week they're in the office, etc." With all the technology now available, bosses and employees can still have a productive relationship even while they're apart. Gilbreath says, "It's about providing as much flexibility as possible about when people are in the office, as long as they're doing a good job." Men can benefit from flexible scheduling as well!
This is a key issue for Gilbreath. Women in the workworld don't have many examples of what's possible, and they assume the same will be true for them. But family and career can be coordinated successfully. " programs should start very early, so that folks can start thinking early on," says Gilbreath. She goes on: " should work with women at all stages in their career, helping them think about what they want and making sure they understand all the options for getting from A to B." The truth, Gilbreath says, is that "there's almost always a way to get it done." Mentors help young women feel supported and ensure they understand all the paths that lead to success.
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