It is a simple rule that I think we should all live by in our professions: Women and men should be in top leadership positions in proportion to what is reflective of their industries.
When I was getting my Masters Degree in Social Work, a single statistic that I read stuck out to me. I can’t recall the stats on poverty or homelessness or child welfare, but I do remember this: “80% of the social work profession is made up of women, while only 20% are men. However, 80% of the leaders in the social work profession are men.”
When this was brought to my attention I was doing an internship where I had the opportunity to shadow the CEO at several State meetings over the course of the year — it was a great experience that shaped my path to later open my own company. I knew from looking around me everyday that the company was at least 80% women, though the CEO and CFO were men, as were the leaders of almost every major department. When we showed up to the majority of State meetings I was sitting among a sea of men. The women were at the office actually running the company day-to-day, but the top positions were all men. Huh. Odd.
But wait, we as women are trained social workers that have advanced degrees in how to advocate successfully for others and improve the social justice conditions of our society! Where did we go wrong? We spent years training on how to advocate for others but somehow missed that we also need to advocate for ourselves.
In Sample Supports we currently have a top leadership team comprise of 22 people — 17 of them are women. That is 77% women in leadership positions in an industry standard of 80%… Pretty good, eh? (And yes, that 3% difference irks me). I don’t feel as though I actively think about gender when I promote or hire and I have never actually ran those numbers until I started writing this blog. That said, I found myself smiling when I saw the alignment between what it “should” be in our industry and what it is in my piece of the world. This isn’t a question of holding the men down — if they have the skills then they should be in the leadership position. The ultimate question then is “Why don’t we as an industry see that the ladies have the same skills and should also be in those positions at a rate competitive to the industry?” It is a social justice conversation of raising the ladies up. Let’s train them, advocate for them and create an environment where they can look to examples and envision themselves to be the leaders that they are. When sitting at the decision-making table at work, we should all be asking “Where my ladies at?”….. and then we should go ahead and find them while pulling up a chair. I prefer my chair to be sparkly gold with a touch of hot pink, thank you very much.