Women Leadership programs. What I think is wrong with this picture.
During the long weeks of lockdown, I started looking for different options on how to invest my free time besides reading and watching series on Netflix.
My initial idea was to join an online program to gain new skills or deepen my knowledge in certain areas so I have been browsing the executive education offerings from reputable universities across the US and Europe. Obviously, Google has all my data and browser history so the universities started targeting me with ads offering Women Leadership programs online.
Fine, that’s how it works. I click. What I found interesting was the curriculum of these programs and the way they are being marketed.
For years women have been bringing to light the lack of inequality, opportunities, and existing bias in the workplace. We know that the current societal system has been built on the basis of men (white men specifically) having all the power and opportunities and in recent years we have seen a broader conversation of how the rules of the game should change. That has been made very clear by many protests, research, movements, and organizations that are loudly demanding equality on pay and opportunity for women.
So here it’s why I’m so surprised… why is it that elite schools both in the US and Europe are promoting Women Leadership programs in a way that seems to imply that women are the ones that need to learn how to navigate the current “network” or how to step up their game? Why are elite schools pushing women to get further prepared to survive in a system that doesn’t work especially when research has shown that there is bias against prepared, capable and ready-to-lead women anyway. Women are promoted after they have demonstrated capabilities instead of when they have potential as their male counterparts do.
Isn’t it time to have elite schools create “Men Leadership programs” so they can understand the advantages of bringing diversity to an organization? Isn’t it time to have elite schools create programs like “Changing the system: from a patriarchy ruled society to a more inclusive one” or “The name of the game is diversity not picking from the same pool”?
Why is it that the same institutions that conduct research, employ and form brilliant minds and have renowned alumni that work in the women rights spheres are the same ones perpetuating the myth that women need to get even more prepared to play a game that was not created for them to win or excel at?
We have prepared ourselves, we work hard, we network, we lead in many different ways and we are still being measured by prevalent biases added to our “over-emotional” tendencies, our capability to bear children, and whether we smile or not. It doesn’t make sense, in my opinion, to have Leadership programs for women to help them navigate the business environment; how is that different than just a regular leadership program? Why do we have to teach verbal and non-verbal communication to women and not to men? Why do we have to think about our career and mission and how to navigate our network in a different way than a man does?
When I see these programs I see that these elite schools are talking down to women not because of the fact that they develop these programs, but because of the fact that the content assumes that we are not capable of fending for ourselves. It is patronizing. It also feeds on the insecurity that women carry as they feel they are the ones with the problem and if Elite schools A & B put this program it must be something I need. However the problem is not the lack of preparation of women, the problem is the lack of openness on the system to bring women in (or any diverse talent btw) Until the game changes no one but those who created it can win.
Elite schools, please don’t prey on the impostor syndrome that women carry on their shoulders every day, don’t get greedy for our money. Putting a woman professor in charge of these programs doesn’t make it less patronizing. Design a diversity leadership program for men. Use your resources and marketing to innovate and create a new, fair organizational culture and help fix the system.
That’s what we expect from you.