June 12, 2012 — A core goal of Catalyst research is to build awareness by busting myths about the root causes of gender gaps in opportunity, leadership, and pay. Our newest report, High Potentials in the Pipeline: Leaders Pay It Forward, hits the bull’s-eye! It sets the record straight about women helping other women to succeed.
In my own career, before I knew to call them Sponsors, they were my Fairy Godmothers—women who helped me by putting me forward for fantastic career opportunities and supporting me by always being there with thoughtful advice, confidential outreach, and backside protection. Three of the biggest breaks in my career—my first international assignment at Lotus, my first big Internet opportunity at Digital, and my candidacy for the Catalyst presidency—came through doors opened by women. One was more senior than I, one had been a peer, and one had once worked for me. Yes, there were wonderful men who did the same, especially early in my career when there were no women business leaders, but there were always women.
So, for decades I have cringed every time I heard people point to Queen Bees who held women back. I would always counter with my Fairy Godmother stories.
Today, with this release, Catalyst takes the sting out of the Queen Bee myth by presenting such facts as: 65 percent of women who received career development support are developing new talent (compared to 56 percent of men), and 73 percent of those women are developing other women (as compared to 30 percent of men). And 64 percent of those at the senior executive level are developing others (compared to 30 percent of individual contributors).
These Fairy Godmothers are motivated by gratitude as well as leadership. Two quotes from the study resonate deeply with me: “She’s taken such a vested interest in my career that I want to pay that back to others,” and, “The project [my sponsor helped me secure] was so successful that by the time we were done and I had advanced, I was able to promote a number of other people in the department because they had gotten visibility that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. These women are leading a workplace transformation by sustaining a virtuous circle of women helping other women.
My husband, a retired lawyer, likes to say, “For example is not proof!” I’m sure there are examples of Queen Bees out there, but facts now confirm that the significant majority of women executives are Fairy Godmothers. Not all women are developing women, but neither are all men. The main difference? When men don’t, it doesn’t reflect poorly on their gender. But when women don’t, it becomes an indictment of ALL women … as well as fodder for pundits who think it clever to perpetuate stereotypes that undermine the credibility of women as leaders.
There’s a special place in heaven for women who help other women. The facts are in. Pass it on, and pay it forward.