Ultimate Irony: Qualities That Make Women Such Great IT Leaders Also Hold Them Back

Don Tennant
Slide Show

Five Tips to Really Negotiate a Higher Salary

Here’s an irony for you: Some of the qualities that make women such effective IT leaders are the very same ones that contribute to the gender inequality that those women suffer in the workplace.

This month is Women’s History Month, and its observance has sparked a lot of important discussion aimed at identifying and addressing the factors that continue to slow the eradication of what can only be described as an institutionalized injustice. An article posted yesterday on CNN.com, headlined, “Working Women, Know Your Value,” was especially thought-provoking. The article cited Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose new book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," suggests that women are being held back by their own natures:

So why do so many accomplished women get snared in the vicious cycle of not getting paid properly for the work they do? The problem, Sandberg's book points out, is internal. Women can get squeamish about negotiating for money and don't know how to effectively advocate for themselves. We are hard wired to make nice, not make people uncomfortable. Discussing money, for many women, feels exceptionally awkward.

Part of the problem, then, is that some of the feminine qualities that make women such effective leaders — like the tendency to promote collaboration and the progress of the group rather than focus on one’s own advancement and reward — handicaps women in a working world where male qualities continue to dominate. As a consequence, part of the reason why women aren’t getting what they deserve is that they’re not demanding it.

To overcome that handicap, women need to recognize the true value of the qualities they bring to the table, says Vickie Milazzo, a highly successful entrepreneur and author of the book, “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman.” Milazzo cites 10 feminine strengths that women need to recognize themselves so they can in turn demand proper compensation for their value:

Women aren’t afraid to take action. Successful women know how and when to take action. They know that success is not about what you do when the road ahead is golden and every dip and turn smoothes your way. It’s about how you respond when you hit the biggest, nastiest roadblock of all time. By taking action every day, you develop the habits and discipline to make your vision a reality. When you focus not just on the idea but on making it happen, you stay in motion, not merely dreaming your passions but living them.

Women aren’t afraid to ask for help. Since they were little girls, most women have automatically reached out to friends when they needed help, advice, company, or a listening ear. That impulse isn’t surprising; after all, women are usually more communal and collaborative than men. And because women have often had to fight for everything they’ve achieved in the business world, helping each other has become a common practice.

Women are highly engaged. Women are the tycoons of commitment. Regardless of their profession, all women are CEOs—Chief Everything Officers. They manage careers, households, children, meals, shopping, event planning, and more—simultaneously—while doing everything in their power to make sure that not one single ball drops. The “edge” that this type of engagement gives them is a huge asset when channeled professionally. During good times it gives women extra fire, and during bad times it keeps them going when they’d rather throw in the towel.

Women are enterprising. Because women do think differently and indeed process the world differently from men, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they can take a supposed “lost cause” and save it, or make an already-fantastic process or procedure even better. Being creative and entrepreneurial is in our DNA—just ask any woman who has managed to successfully navigate the complex world of office politics to get the promotion she deserves.

Women are great relationship-builders. Most women want to give their all to every relationship they have, be it with a coworker, significant other, child, family member, friend, client, etc.—and when they can’t, they often feel guilty. Our complex society of family, friends, career, and spiritual and social obligations constantly pulls us in different directions. This bombardment does lead some women to over-commit, but when tempered to a manageable scale, a natural willingness to build relationships set women up for great success today.

Women are natural multitaskers. Chat up any group of women with a variety of talents, emotions, and intelligence and you’ll find most of them are juggling a dozen different projects, a handful of important relationships, and at least one pressing dilemma. Women excel at multi-tasking—a true leg up in a world that is constantly asking us to do more, more, more.

Women know how to collaborate. The rising use of Wikis and other collaborative software indicates the rapid acceptance of a growing need to share knowledge, ideas, and energies. Office technology has advanced to provide a platform for sharing, reviewing, editing, and completely rethinking documents or graphics. As our workforce has gone global, software has permeated the vacuum created when we are unable to meet simultaneously. And all of these things play to women’s communal natures.

Women know the importance of mutual support. According to a landmark UCLA study on managing stress, the bonds women form with each other also benefit their health and longevity. The hormone oxytocin, enhanced by estrogen and released as part of their stress response, encourages them to gather with other women. The bond that forms helps to fill emotional gaps and lowers the risk of early death. Men experiencing stress go into a fight-or-flight response. Women’s broader response system may explain why they consistently outlive men.

Women understand the power of giving. In business—and life in general—the best long-term strategy isn’t to get ahead and stay ahead of everyone else. Instead, it’s to partner with others—to give everyone a piece of the pie and build up the people around you—so that everyone has an incentive to win. When you give other people a bit of advice, a word of encouragement, a few minutes of your time, or even a sought-after opportunity, you’ll usually see valuable returns.

Women know how to trust their intuition. Women’s intuition is actually a scientific fact. Women have a larger splenium of the corpus callosum which accounts for greater interconnectivity between the left and right hemispheres of their cognitive brains. Some scientists believe this broader connection enables women to access both sides faster and easier than men. Women are not more “right-brained,” as is the myth; their brain functions are actually more holistic and generalized. Women fluently engage the limbic brain, where higher emotions are stored, and the instinctive brain, which is responsible for self-preservation. This holistic combination of emotion, instinct, and cognition equates to women’s intuition.

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