Women and The Vision Thing

by | May 30, 2012 | Blog, Career, Jessica Chivers | 0 comments

woman_standing_out-300x211The old proverb about there being more than one way to skin a cat came into sharp focus recently as I observed my three year old daughter’s response to a hungry, bad-tempered troll lurking under a climbing frame at the park. The troll was me. I yelled that I wasn’t going to let her cross my bridge and if she did, I’d eat her up if one big gollop. Clever little Artemis decided to offer me some chicken and strawberries which I accepted and then couldn’t be nearly so grumpy. She asked if she could cross and I found I had softened and let her pass. And the so the game repeated with different food offerings and safe passage each time.

Rewind two years earlier to when my son was the same age and his approach was completely different. His instinct was to do battle and beat the troll. It never occurred to him to step into the great big smelly troll-shoes and try to satisfy his needs. My daughter, it seems, is higher on the EQ scale and has the ‘rule of reciprocity’ practised to a tee. These things will serve her well. Indeed collaboration is the key to many a success in personal and professional pursuits.

But here’s the thing – and by curious coincidence a journalist from the Daily Mail has just called to ask me to comment in a similar vein – always being seen to take the collaborative approach may dent our careers.

I read a paper in the Harvard Business Review recently called “Women and the vision thing” which asserts that women are still in a minority in the upper echelons of business because of their perceived lack of vision. Researchers Ibarra and Obodaru analysed the responses of over 22,000 evaluations of nearly 3000 executives enrolled in courses at the Parisian management institute, Insead to get to the vision conclusion. What’s really interesting is that “envisioning” was the only leadership dimension that male respondents rated lower for female leaders than male leaders (women evaluators believed the women execs were better equipped than the male execs on this dimension). What’s really galling is that for seven of the other nine leadership dimensions both male and female respondents rated women more highly than men. And yet we live in a world dominated by male leadership. I shan’t put an exclamation mark there, it’s too serious a matter for that. I continue to feel choked every time I read a paper like it.

Back to collaboration. The Harvard paper offers three explanations for women’s low visioning scores, one of which is women developing corporate visions with their teams and not being credited with having created it. Whether a women creates a vision by herself or with a team is irrelevant, the point is women can do this, do do this and I’m sure there’s a paper out there that shows women are equal or may be superior in producing high level strategies that prove fruitful for their organisations.

So what’s my point? Collaboration is usually a winning strategy in life, but sometimes we need to demonstrate to others our individual contribution to a task/cause/project, in order to fuel our success. “We” is a great word but sometimes it needs to be “I.”

I’ll leave you to think about what that means in your life.