Where Are the Women Leaders in Female Dominated Professions?

Back in March, Microsoft put out a YouTube video "What are you going to make?" to commemorate this year's International Women's Day. The video tells the story of how students are not being taught about female inventors, as a girl remarks;

you never hear a girl (being mentioned) in the conversation.

Then on April 3, The New York Times published an article; "The Tampon of the Future" which reveals how in the area of life-sciences, it is hard for women to be an inventor. It states that "more than 92 percent of patent holders are men" and that "90 percent of the partners in venture-capital firms (that provide the necessary funding for research) are male". In this climate, how can a female inventor find recognition and funding when men decide what is worthy of being funded? And with men making these decisions, who is going to champion what women need researching?

The article made me reflect on how invisible female leaders and inventors are in female dominated professions. In my own profession of counseling, psychotherapy, and coaching, which is approximately 90 percent female dominated, women have a much smaller voice as thought-leaders and theorists than men do. Most of the theories and modalities we use in our psychotherapy work have been invented by men and still today in our professional organizations and at conferences and workshops, I see how men and their ideas are promoted with greater ease and frequency than women and women's ideas.

As a thought-leader myself of the new mother-daughter relationship specialism, I know all too well how hard it is to be recognized as a female leader. Conventional wisdom will ask if I am the cause of my own invisibility, whether I have a problem with not "leaning in" enough or putting myself forward. And yes, I have struggled with this and there is an issue with women not being comfortable with self-promotion. But this is not the main problem. Not "leaning in" enough and being uncomfortable with self-promotion are symptomatic of a much deeper problem that underlies the continuing stereotype of men being perceived as natural leaders, thinkers, and inventors and women as natural listeners, caregivers, and followers.

We all know how this gender stereotype is voiced. It is voiced through men's ideas being picked up and discussed and women's ideas being silenced or dismissed. It happens through women's ideas being ignored until a man voices it, and then suddenly it is perceived as a great idea! It happens at conferences, like the one in Los Angeles in December 2013 on the "Evolution of Psychotherapy" which showcased five male psychotherapists and one female singer as keynote speakers. In this conference, and many others like it, men are given a voice at the podium to share their thoughts to lecture halls full of women, and unseen in the audience are women with equally important ideas who are not invited to speak. And it happens through statements like the one from Mr. Nadella, Chief Executive of Microsoft, who advised women to not ask for a pay rise and trust that their work will be recognized in the long run, as reported in The New York Times, October 9, 2014.

As women well know, it is extremely hard to keep "leaning in" and advocating for yourself when the decks are heavily stacked against you. We have to guard against our self-worth from being damaged by women's ideas being silenced, ignored, and dismissed. And understand that these responses are a reflection of the social environment we live in. For example, I am a woman who is championing a female only relationship, and by doing this I know that I invoke fear in some people who are afraid of women taking over control and men losing their power and place at the podium.

Changing the gender stereotype that reinforces the belief that men are natural leaders and women are natural listeners isn't just about empowering women to "lean in" more. Women alone cannot fix this. It requires society to wake up to its unconscious gender stereotypes and biases against women leaders and fear about women leading. It requires women to be comfortable with their power and men being comfortable with powerful women.