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What Women Want... at Work

Although many would say that this is the only way to break down the control of the male elite at the top of the business world, would you take a position based on filling a quota?
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If you work for male-dominated corporation, please share this post with the leaders of your company.

Talk has heated up around forcing companies to promote women into senior positions. Although many would say that this is the only way to break down the control of the male elite at the top, would you take a position based on filling a quota? This offer doesn't sound attractive to me.

What's fueling this movement? According to a recent article in The Economist, France will now force companies to increase the number of women on their boards to 40% by 2016. Spain also introduced a quota at 40%. Italy and the Netherlands will probably be next. Britain's government is threatening to make companies formally report their efforts to increase the number of female directors.

Here in the United States women still only hold 14% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies according to Catalyst. Catalyst has also found that among high-potential graduates from elite MBA programs, women still lag behind men in advancement and compensation starting from their first job through management positions. The Harvard Business Review found women representing just 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than 15% of corporate executives at top companies worldwide. Many feel that these dismal numbers reflect a need to force the issue.

Lawmakers aren't just screaming for social justice. According to analysts in both the United States and Europe, the more women in a company's senior management team, the less its share price fell in 2008/09 during the recession. In another study spanning the last 19 years, Pepperdine University found that the Fortune 500 companies with the best record of promoting women outperformed their competitors by anywhere from 41 to 116 percent. McKinsey also did a global study that showed significant difference in the financial performance of companies that have women in least a third of their senior management positions. Women leaders mean good business.

I'm still queasy about quotas.

I think the problem lies in the pipeline. If leaders say they don't have enough qualified women to promote, then they should work on how they 1) develop women and 2) create corporate cultures that appeal to top female performers. This process might be slower than imposing quotas but it is likely to get more buy-in from the women themselves.

Here are some ideas to share with your company's leaders:

1. What about making sure women are appropriately developed? A 2009 study of 376 organizations found that 50 percent more men get special attention than women, including mentoring and attending "high-potential programs." Women are quicker to look for another job than men when they feel frustrated and under-appreciated. Many are choosing to start their own businesses as soon as they have the experience and funds.

As a result, many women don't stay long enough in one corporation to earn the highest positions. If companies want to keep their best female performers in the Pipeline, they should look at how they select and develop women early on.

Also, provide women with a chance to network and give them on-going, real time coaching to help them navigate through an environment that doesn't always appreciate their leadership styles. Give them the right tools and they will rise to the challenge.

2. It's not just about developing women. Their managers need to be developed, too. Most leaders do not know how to manage high-achieving women. I'm not talking about a woman's need to juggle family and work responsibilities, though both men and women have this issue. I'm talking about what high-achieving women need even more than men to fully commit to their work. In their words, this is what women want at work.

Help us see how our work is meaningful. Even if our products are not that meaningful in the bigger scheme of life, we want to work for companies that care for their employees, respect the environment and support their local communities. We struggle with committing to a monetary goal or a drive solely focused on beating our competitors. We don't just work to make a living. We will align our energies with your penchant for profit when we can see the evidence of our good work in the world.

Continually affirm our contribution and value. Our sense of contribution to the organization is as important to us as our paycheck. We need to know how well we did in relation to the people we touch, whether it's our peers or our customers. It's not enough for us to know we have great knowledge and ability. We need to know if we have made an impact.

Give us frequent, new challenges. We love to learn and to apply what we learn to resolving new, complex challenges. Never assume our outside responsibilities will get in the way of a demanding new task. Let us make that decision. Then work with us on creating flexible work schedules. We can be creative in how we achieve goals. We abhor the "who can stay the latest" contests.

Design and foster a creative and collaborative environment. We love to work for leaders that create environments that provide an open flow of communications in all directions. Organizations are flatter today; let us help you design how work gets done by engaging everyone in the process instead of working through hierarchies.

I don't think we should go the quota route. What about taking the sensible route of engaging top performers today, including women, so you aren't struggling to retain them tomorrow? Helping women climb the corporate ladders makes good business sense.

Want to take the next step? There's a letter you can copy and send to your CEO at under Social Media.