By: Diane Francis
In 2013, women continued to command the heights of business and politics—consider Angela Merkel’s resounding re-election, Christina Lagarde’s leadership at the IMF and Marissa Mayer’s innovations at Yahoo!—but one executive, Facebook COO and director Sheryl Sandberg, stirred and shook the sisterhood more than most with her controversial book Lean In.
She wrote that ambitious women must deal with our own shortcomings; that if we want to get ahead, we must put career first; and if we want to have children, we must find a collaborative partner. (Without help, women with children do three times as much childrearing as their partners and two times the housework, an obstacle to professional success.)
“There is no such thing as work-life balance. We all make trade offs every single day,” Sandberg said in a television interview this year. “Companies expect workers to always be available,” she said. She also noted that the nature of parenting has changed, that her mother’s generation didn’t organize play dates or help with homework. “Parenting is now more intense, harder,” she concluded.
Parts of her message were tough to take. She pointed to studies showing women underestimate their capabilities and men overestimate theirs; that 57% of males
negotiate the salary for their first job and only 7% of women do. “No one gets to the corner office sitting on the side, and they don’t get promoted if they don’t understand their success,” she wrote. Women must be more assertive and confident and demanding. We must lean in, but there are cultural as well as personal impediments to doing so.
A Harvard University case study, highlighted in Sandberg’s book, explained how in 2002, two sets of students were shown the biography of a hugely successful venture capitalist. One group of students was told the VC’s name was “Heidi” and another was told that the entrepreneur’s name was “Howard.” They were surveyed and all students agreed that the VC was competent and admirable, but those who were told the name was “Heidi” said they would not want to work for her; those told it was “Howard” said they would. Sandberg postulates that it may be years before attitudes and outcomes change dramatically, but a shift will come one woman at a time.
So along with parents and teachers, women at the top, those who have already “made it,” must be sensitive to existing challenges and mentor those who are younger and ambitiously trying to find their way.
Sandberg is correct: the biggest impediment to success is attitude. Women must overcome family, social, cultural and gender factors that impede or inordinately influence and hold us back. These include husbands, political leaders, parents or other role models who are unsupportive, such as backward teachers or religious leaders and harmful media, music, fashion or movie-industry practices aimed at sexualizing us.
Given what we’re up against, not just here at home but around the world, it’s important to highlight and celebrate the successes of those women who’ve made it, and that’s what Women of Influence strives to do.
Focusing on bringing women together and profiling inspirational role models, Women of Influence is contributing to an important cultural shift in the workplace. The 25 women profiled in these pages have not only made a significant difference in their respective fields, they are exceptionally influential within and beyond those domains. They serve as important role models for other women and girls.
This year, in order to showcase them, we did something new. The fact is that we know these women are exceptional, but they are often reluctant to share their personal magnitude, so we asked each to provide the name of their personal champion, knowing their champion would tell us just how great these women are. These champions included those who gave them their first jobs, were current bosses and other to-be-expected associates. What was striking about this was that some winners provided the names of co-workers who report to them. In other words, women don’t necessarily draw inspiration from those above them in a hierarchy, but from everyone around them.
Diane Francis is a noted speaker and author whose Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country, was published September 2013, by HarperCollins.
The women you see on this cover were chosen after an online and social media contest. The Women of Influence community voted for the woman they would most like to see gracing the front of this issue and representing her category. The 25 winners profiled within these pages, however, were selected in a more scientific fashion.
Candidates for the Top 25 Women of Influence were approached and asked to submit quantifiable and measurable information about their influence. They were then ranked on many factors, such as:
◊ The number of notable positions held
◊ Number of board directorships
◊ Their contribution to their organization’s success
◊ Increase in compensation in the past year
◊ Recent awards and promotions
◊ Number of employees managed
◊ Number of deals led and/or closed this year .
The process is deliberate and fair, designed to identify the most influential people within the current year. This approach means the ranking is measurable, quantifiable and credible.