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Where Were the Women?

Above all, women noticed that the quality of their own lives and the lives of those around them was deteriorating as organizations absorbed more risk and put more pressure on their people. It wasn’t just that people were working too hard and too long — although they often were. The larger problem lay with a system that had assumed a momentum of its own — a momentum that was out of sync with what most human beings require in order to live satisfying and harmonious lives.

Extreme demands were creating an extreme workplace, giving the most unbalanced and financially driven individuals an edge. These individuals in turn set the tone by hiring and promoting others who shared their values and their single-minded commitment to financial reward. Pay-for-performance contracts ratcheted up the intensity, with performance interpreted as the willingness to devote every waking hour to work. Talented people who valued balance, family life, or simply having sufficient time to make thoughtful decisions were seen as insufficiently tough or deemed to be underachievers. Not surprisingly, many women failed to thrive in this environment.

So…[questioning] whether more women in positions of power could have prevented the risky and grandiose wagers that led to disaster gets things precisely backward. Rather, the underrepresentation of women in senior positions was both a consequence and a symptom of a leadership culture that had grown increasingly unbalanced.

The inability of women to feel deeply engaged by this culture should have provided an early warning signal that trouble was brewing. But companies chose to view the retention of senior women as a women’s issue rather than a strategic or leadership concern. They compartmentalized the problem and so failed to see the link between talented women dropping by the wayside and a business culture focused on short-term and at times dubiously defined “results” to the exclusion of everything else. Both the goals and the methods of this culture were unsustainable. Companies were burning through profits as they burned through people.

— Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson

Copyright (c) 2010 by Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson. Reprinted with permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

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This Reviewer

  1. Harriet Rubin founded the Doubleday Currency business imprint. She has written four books, including The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women (Doubleday, 1997), which has been translated into 23 languages, and The Mona Lisa Stratagem: The Art of Women, Age, and Power (Warner Books, 2007). She has served on USA Today’s editorial board and is a consultant to media companies.

This Excerpt

  1. The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work (Berrett-Koehler, 2010) by Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson
  2. Sally Helgesen has written five books, including The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership (Doubleday Currency, 1990) and The Web of Inclusion: A New Architecture for Building Great Organizations (Doubleday Currency, 1995). She is a speaker and consultant, and has advised the United Nations Development Programme and led seminars at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Smith College. She is a contributing editor to strategy+business.
  3. Julie Johnson is president and founder of the Reid Group, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development of high potential employees, women leaders, and senior executives. She has been vice president of executive education at Merrill Lynch, assistant vice president of human resource planning at General Foods, and director of recruiting at Vinson & Elkins.
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