Like many people, I looked forward with great anticipation to watching the Summer Olympic Games. Every evening, I was awed by the extraordinary discipline possessed by these athletes and drawn to their compelling stories. Given my background in leadership development for women, I was also keenly interested in the accomplishments of the women athletes in these games, of which there were many:
- Forty-four percent of all Olympic athletes were women (a record number), and 34 countries had teams that included more women than men.1
- For the first time, the U.S. team had more women than men, and the women earned more medals than men (58 compared to 46).
- With the introduction of women's boxing, women were able to compete for the first time in all the same sports as men.
- These were the first Olympic Games in which every country had women athletes on their teams.
The Games of 2012 have been dubbed "the women's games." Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympic Committee, noted during his opening speech that these Olympics represented "a major boost for gender equality." I couldn't agree more. The Olympics have leveled the playing field for women in sports.
But what really struck me was that, for the most part, women were welcomed, embraced and widely supported -- not simply because they were women, but because of their talents and abilities. This is a model and a mindset that every organization and institution would be wise to adopt. Forward-thinking companies (like forward-thinking countries) value women for their individual capabilities and performance. Many other companies, however, have been slow to invite women onto the executive leadership team (not unlike Saudi Arabia which begrudgingly allowed women on its team in order to compete). In our work at SHAMBAUGH, I hear a lot of leaders and organizations talk about including more women in the senior leadership ranks, but I still don't see enough action.
These Olympic Games also demonstrated the power of sponsorship. SHAMBAUGH helps organizations develop and implement intentional sponsorship initiatives designed to help women gain greater visibility and access to advancement and growth opportunities. A similar type initiative occurred at the Olympics when the International Olympic Committee declared that every country participating in the Games must have at least one qualified woman on their team. In addition, the seven pioneering women who were the first from their Muslim countries to compete certainly must have had strong advocates every step of the way in order to reach their goals.
For me, one of the highlights of the Games was watching men and women teammates cheer for one another. From swimming and diving to cycling and gymnastics, the genders supported each other in the pursuit of a common goal -- to represent their country to the best of their abilities. This is the same as my goal for the business environment: to have men and women leaders come together in solidarity to support one another and work together for the common goal of organizational success.
While the Olympic Games are over for another two years, the Summer Games of 2012 will be remembered for setting a new mark for women athletes and their male counterparts across the globe. My hope is that this will be the beginning of a new era of moving beyond gender in all professions -- treating men and women as equals, leveraging each individual's strengths and talents, and encouraging each to perform to her/his full potential.
What is your "takeaway" from the Summer Olympic Games?
SHAMBAUGH's leadership and organizational development, employee engagement, and coaching services in addition to SHAMBAUGH's Programs for Women, and our Women In Leadership and Learning (WILL) Program (view video highlights of SHAMBAUGH's WILL Program) have been successfully impacting the careers of women leaders for more than 17 years. To learn more about SHAMBAUGH's integrated and holistic approach towards developing and advancing women leaders in the workplace visit www.shambaughleadership.com