It’s Still a Man’s World

Women in Leadership | BCBusiness

Women are still underrepresented in leadership roles—so what needs to change?

Fresh off a panel discussion at the CFA Vancouver Society’s Effecting Change 2013 Women’s Symposium, Copperleaf Technologies Inc. CEO Judi Hess talks about the challenges of rising to the top in the business world.

What does it take to become a CEO in a man’s world?
Number one is: be yourself. Because I really think authenticity is key in a leadership role. People will ferret out if you’re not authentic. And women do things a little differently than men and that’s OK—that’s not a problem.

Be confident. Women undervalue themselves all the time. I see it every single day. You probably think you’re not as good as you are and you certainly won’t say that. Men, for the most part, think they’re way better than they are. You really have to temper that. If you want to become a CEO, you have to take those risks and gain that confidence to move your way up and put yourself out there, and that’s always a challenge.

Men are very confident and men do very well. Statistics all show it: men are in the majority of leadership positions. And I’m not trying to overtake men; I’m just trying to get the fair share—what our fair share is.

Number two is this 10,000-hour rule. It’s the Outliers book by Malcolm Gladwell—he talked about if you want to be an expert, you have to put in your time.

Why do you think it is that women have a harder time than men adhering to this 10,000 hours?
If you look through the career of women, women are bound by rules that men are not bound by. Society puts rules around women and women put rules around themselves, and that inhibits their ability to fully devote themselves to a career. Some of your key time to build a career to be a CEO are, let’s say, from 25 to 35.

Child-bearing years…
What does that coincide with? Having children, for women. Women feel compelled to do more of the housework, more of the social planning, because that’s what women do. And we feel that we have to do an overabundant amount of that work as well in terms of childcare.

If you’re at home looking after the child and your husband’s working, guess who’s getting their 10,000 hours in? It’s not you. And you’re now sacrificing your ability to make the positions that you want to make.

Then women are saying things like, “I won’t take that on because I have all these other responsibilities.” It’s fine to do your fair share—I’m all for doing your fair share—but I don’t think society should expect [women] to do more than your fair share of all those activities.

Women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes today, so we are not being paid at the same level as men because men are assumed to be better—because men are more confident, because they have more time. You can see, it’s a whole chain of events that are intimately connected. You have to break yourself out of this cycle to really make that difference and you have to understand what you’re worth.

Do you still think that in 2013 the business world is a man’s world?
Of course—just look at the statistics. Everyone can say it’s not, but it is. Women have to want it, and women have to change some of their priorities. Women have to develop that confidence and, of course, they need the ability and they need to put the time in. But is it definitely a man’s world. And I’m not crying a river about it; I’m just stating a fact that no one could dispute. But I think we would be better off if we had more women. In my particular field, in high technology, there are not a lot of women at all.

What do you think we can do—in technology and trades—to get more women into those sectors?
A lot of it is role models. If you see women having success in these various fields—if you can see yourself in that, then you will be attracted to that. I think we need to promote the women that are highly successful in these fields so people can see that women have made a huge difference and women are contributing immensely and being very successful.

It’s hard to change the whole way women are socialized from small children. It’s hard to change that women don’t usually pick engineering or stick in math. Sometimes those are thought of as male things, and they’re not attractive for women.

The world wants to see you as a nurturer, so it’s a bit challenging. And they want to see men in the role of leader. That’s how the world wants to see you. Overcoming that is not my project. (laughs)

What role do men have in changing this? Are they able to help?
Absolutely. The reason I am where I am is because of men. Every single time I got promoted, I got promoted because a man promoted me. There were no women to promote me, so it had to be a man. They can be tremendously helpful. I don’t think of men as evil, or anything like that; men are, for the most part, great. They’re just really confident beyond their abilities. We need to practise some of those things. You need to be authentic, but you need to push yourself in some of these directions if you really want to be successful and take on those types of roles. It’s all there for us—we just have to let people know that it is possible.

What’s the best piece of advice you would offer a young woman entering the workforce?
I would say, forget about work/life balance; there isn’t any work/life balance. There are work/life choices, and that’s not my quote.

I think you really need to focus on understanding what you need to be good at and being really good at it—doing a great job. You have to do an amount of self-promotion. You do need to advocate for yourself. And I think that’s an important thing. You need to make sure that people are aware of what you’re doing, and I think you need to take some risks. Just know it’s all possible—it’s really up to you and how you want to prioritize and where you want to get yourself.