Women in Leadership Roles, tell me we’re making real progress … please

That may seem like a strange plea for me to make, especially on the same day that Nancy Pelosi delivers a gracious speech to Congress in announcing that she is stepping down after 20 years in her Democratic leadership role. Talk about an example of how women take on important leadership roles. Certainly compared to 30, 40, and even 20 years ago, seeing women in leadership roles is not uncommon. Very true, but when I came across the “family” pictures of the COP27 delegates in Egypt the other day, I was startled to see just how few women were in the world “family” of political and environmental leaders.

The center section of the assembled group, in which it is difficult to detect more than 3 (maybe 4?) women leaders COP27-1

The entire assembled group, in which I can spot 8 (maybe 9?) women leaders [Ignore the red circle around Rishi Sunak; the Daily Mail was proving that he really was there!]  COP27-DailyMail

Given how important climate change is to women, and how many strong, capable women of skill, dedication and integrity there are in the world, I was exceedingly discouraged by these photos.

I spent a number of years in leadership roles at the university in which I worked before I retired in 2010 (and then did one more year in such a role in 2015-16). Unsurprisingly, there were more men than women in leadership roles, but for a long time I didn’t pay much attention to that discrepancy. I had worked in a male-dominated environment for decades, I could talk about sports with equal enthusiasm (except for football), and, having spent most of my time in our engineering building, could swear with the best of them. In other words, I didn’t really see the big difference; interestingly, and I say with pride, it didn’t really exist in my unit. But it did exist in other units and at the more senior levels, even if the men themselves didn’t see it. Especially for women who didn’t feel comfortable or welcome when listening to the recounting of sports for the first 10 minutes of each meeting, or with being unintentionally spoken down to. And that difference intimidates and ultimately frustrates (and irritates) many competent women.

Too many of the nicest possible men, with the best of intentions, mansplain to women. Actually, they do it to each other, too. Just listen to the sports commentators who seem to feel that they have to have the last word in explaining what we’re all watching, even when their cohost has just explained it and we’ve all just seen it. But too often, if a woman expresses a strong view – one that needs saying and many around the table have been thinking – somehow this is going a little bit too far. Or a man around the table jumps in to say the same thing, with more perceived natural authority. It remains the case that in far too many instances, the expectations for what and how things are expected to be spoken are different for men and women, at least from some men’s points of view. When, one has to wonder, is that going to change – right across the board?

At any rate, seeing those group photos reminded me of these issues of my past and, as well, a PowerPoint presentation I came across while cleaning out some of the many old files on my computer a few months ago. I can’t even remember giving this presentation, but it does sound like me – and it does have my name on it – so I must have given it, presumably at a workshop for new and/or potential women leaders. I thought it might be interesting/useful to share some of these decade-old bullet-point thoughts; they seem to remain as relevant as ever. Most of these points should be just as relevant for men in the early stages of assuming a leadership role. You can see what you think; you’ll have to imagine me chatting away about each bullet point. I’ll spare you the intro slides and just get on with the main points. 🙂






I’ll add one further thought: Managing and leading with kindness and compassion is always a win-win, regardless of what Elon Musk seems to think!

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26 Responses to Women in Leadership Roles, tell me we’re making real progress … please

  1. heimdalco says:

    In my work environment as an OR RN, I was Nurse Manager for the Vascular & Plastic Surgery Services. For 2 years I also was Nurse Manager for the Neurosurgery Services. My role included many things … doing the annual budget for all 3 services, coordinating the services with the hospital & surgeons, ordering instrumentation & supplies, dealing with sales representatives, actually PARTICIPATING in the surgical procedures & teaching new OR personnel & student nurses. I agree with EVERYTHING you said in this post but the thing that I not only agree with most, but BELIEVE IN the most is this last line : “Managing and leading with kindness and compassion is always a win-win.” The majority of staff/ auxiliary people I worked with were female … which was positive but CAN have a negative side when you are in management. The most important thing to me was the kindness / compassion equation. People just respond more positively if they know you respect them for being new, still learning, the gifts they bring to the position. Years later some of the students nurses I instructed that now hold the positions I held when I was teaching them, have told me how much they appreciated & enjoyed learning under me & that they have passed the things they learned along to the students & new employees they are now teaching. That is my greatest compliment & achievement. If the men I worked with felt differently under my management they never said so. It may be different in the OR setting because we were all there doing a job with the goal of saving lives & seldom had time to worry about much else than working together…because we HAD to.

    I also found Nancy Pelosi gracious, dignified & professional while sharing a bit of her personal ‘self’ this morning. She had a difficult decision & I believe she handled it far better than most would have. I found it disturbing that almost at the same moment Kevin McCarthy was making a public statement that included, “We’ve fired Nancy Pelosi.” What a contradiction in ‘class.’ Also an example of how THAT particular male & those backing him deal with strong, capable female management.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thank you for all these important comments, Linda. You could write your own blog post on the subject of the challenges and rewards of management! Wrt Pelosi’s impressively gracious and inclusive speech earlier today, and your observation about Kevin McCarthy’s contrasting remarks, I was equally appalled/saddened to read that McCarthy and co’s stated TOP PRIORITY now that they control the House is “to probe the Biden’s”. With all the challenges facing their citizens, that is their top priority?! I weep.

      Liked by 1 person

      • heimdalco says:

        We weep together. Once again with McCarthy’s comments … every one of them … the republicans have missed the mark & I believe missed the messages the voting public have recently sent them. Voters apparently want less hateful rhetoric, less personal attacks, less division & less anger in favor of dealing … hopefully on a bi-partisan level … with medication prices, inflation, women’s health, equal opportunities for all in all areas of life, a solution to the epidemic of gun violence & so many other issues that could help us all live as comfortably as possible as a country. For the life of me I can’t imagine why that is so difficult to see clearly for one entire political party. Sigh

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bernie says:

      Linda, I held the same sort of role in Orthopedics (trauma, joints and peds) for 12 years. I also received many comments from those I taught and helped groom for these sorts of roles as I left. I am still friends with several of them. Kindness is a huge element but also standing your ground and not backing down to the pressure some men feel is necessary. I am sure you know the type of surgeon I am talking about. Bernie

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Victoria says:

    Thank you for all of this, Jane. As someone who also served in higher ed leadership (I was a Dean) I found your thoughtful analysis to be on-point, sadly. I also saw unnecessary pot-shots taken at women, from women, often leaving me to wonder, “where’s the sisterhood?”. I see you bringing that forward — thank you, thank you!
    I agree with the previous comment from Heimdalco’s – expressing appreciation for the kindness and compassion leadership goal. Yes, yes! I also appreciated your power point bullet that addressed the privilege of leadership “Leading is remarkably rewarding; you can make a significant difference in many different ways. Not everyone gets that opportunity.” Oh my…yes. The privilege to serve, lead, empower, encourage…and the moments where I felt I did that well? All of it was a harkening back to strong women who’d done the same for me…opening doors, yes, but remaining connected as guides and navigators. Big sisterly smiles to you, Jane! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for your valuable input, Vicki. I share your experience about there not necessarily being a “sisterhood” of women supporting each other just because they’re women. Actually, I don’t mind that; I don’t think men support each other just because they’re men either. And I’ve been mentored, encouraged, and supported by many men throughout my career, just as I’ve tried to provide the same to many young men as well as young women. That’s really my wish, that abilities and voices of all genders in leadership roles would be equally recognized and respected, and all around the table (and those they’re serving) treated with kindness and compassion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wynne Leon says:

    Great slides, Jane. This is such an important discussion – especially around leading with compassion and kindness. May we all learn how to model this, support this and push for this regardless of gender!! Thank you for your leadership!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Rose says:

    It’s sad to see so few women in those photos of COP27 in 2022. When I was a child, I was so sure, absolutely sure, that everyone would be treated fair and equally by the time I grew up. I couldn’t wait to grow up and see it! Recently I witnessed a very young couple having a discussion. She said, ‘you’re the man, you’re supposed to take care of me’. I nearly fell over in horror. I couldn’t believe that somehow, we still teach this in America.
    Nancy Pelosi’s speech was wonderful. I wish all of our leaders could live within these words, “While we will have our disagreements on policy, we must remain fully committed to our shared, fundamental mission: to hold strong to our most treasured Democratic ideals, to cherish the spark of divinity in each and every one of us, and to always put our Country first.”
    Thank-you for writing so perfectly about leadership, Jane. Your PowerPoint is relevant as ever. As other commentors mentioned, “Managing and leading with kindness and compassion is always a win-win”…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Rose, your hopes from childhood most certainly remain the foundation of the adult Rose! It’s baby steps, but we have come a long way in the past few decades. Maybe that young woman you overheard was speaking tongue-in-cheek?! Let’s hope. Re Nancy Pelosi’s speech, I was taken with so much of it, especially with her tone throughout. And the part you quote is one of the greatest highlights. We will live in hope.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Bernie says:

    One wishes we had moved further ahead in this field than we have. Politics seems significantly behind and then you look no further than how some strong females are treated and thrown out. Although then you look at my neighbour province’s female leader and you wish someone would throw her out! Bernie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Bernie, you make an important point about how toxic the political environment is for women these days. Men, too, but somehow women seem to be considered an especially easy target. And I couldn’t agree more about your neighbouring female premier. Shudder! 😳


  6. barryh says:

    Thank you for reminding me, Jane, just how obsessed so many men appear to be with sport. Always the conversation would start with the latest that had happened to each other’s teams. Lowest common denominator stuff, except that if you’re not really interested in that you’re ‘outside’ the group. So I understand that it would be even worse for women.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Margaret says:

    Such an interesting post Jane.
    Yes to leading with compassion and kindness, the benefits of which, in both giving and receiving, are many.
    Reminded me of limitations for me a couple of decades ago during a personal period of anxiety and stress, when the emotional demands of nursing and counselling were too much. I simply couldn’t ‘give’ any more. Burnout! Thank goodness I realised and took time out.

    I do think things are improving slowly for women. Sadly, I remember quite a bit of either condescension or sexual objectification from men ( not all ) in my career spent mainly in public services and local government. It’s as though it’s really difficult for some men to treat women equally, due to control/power issues. I think improvement is due to it being called out more frequently rather than simply putting up with it.
    On the contrary, those men who have power/control issues sorted have been tremendously helpful and supportive to me over the years – sometimes more so than other women, but this is another story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      It is interesting how we manage (or don’t manage) to navigate all the various challenges and opportunities in the workplace. Self care always has to be part of the equation. My experience was similar to yours in that a handful of men, not women, were instrumental in providing mentoring and encouragement.


  8. Ha ha, love your ending here, Jane. I think Elon is giving us all a lesson on how management should not behave. Extra credit points for you on noticing that men mansplain to each other too — a whole other subject! – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Progress has been made. More is needed. Wonderful last paragraph. Amen, amen!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Roy McCarthy says:

    Jane I wouldn’t normally read through the comments before chipping in with my own. I did so here and I’m pleased I did so. Your thoughtful post and the responses from your commenters are worth at least ten minutes of anybody’s day. That there are some men in leadership positions who are beyond salvation is clear and obvious. Only a day or two ago I read of a round-table meeting of lawyers where one turned to the only female lawyer presented and asked her to pop out to get him a sandwich. No amount of intelligent debate will influence certain individuals.
    I’m told that here in our reasonably enlightened jurisdiction (Jersey, C.I.) that, often despite appearances, there are still invisible barriers for professional women making their mark as opposed to their male counterparts.
    Coincidently I’m presently reading a novel set in the 1960s in which the protagonist is a newly recruited woman into the police force. Be in no doubt that progress has been made since then 🙂 Despite the group photos you show in your post I believe that the influence, moderation and pragmatism of those women in the ranks just below our ‘leaders’ will continue to grow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for this, Roy. You know what, I think you’re right. We’ll live in hope, hope that gender won’t be the differentiator and that competence, common sense, and compassion will win the day for all leaders.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Women in Leadership Roles, tell me we’re making real progress … please – Lively Foundation Blog

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