After Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg told women to lean in, what's next?

Ever since Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg implored women to lean in, there has been a continued groundswell of discussion on the role women play in business, especially at the C-suite level. And while we are years past the “Mad Men” version of corporate America, where women tended to play subordinate roles, barriers remain.

In August, Google, likely the world’s most admired technology company, fired an employee for writing a memo that contended that the low number of women in technical positions was a result of biological differences instead of discrimination. If that wasn’t enough bad publicity for Google, a spreadsheet recently obtained by The New York Times noted that women are paid less than men at most job levels at the company and that the disparity widens as women move up the corporate ladder.

Why, in 2017, are we still dealing with these types of issues? Last year, a paper came out that analyzed 21,980 firms from 91 countries. It suggested that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions may actually improve firm performance. The paper, “Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey,” also called the relative small size of women in corporate leadership positions an emerging political issue. The study also pointed out that diversity in general probably leads to higher performance.

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It is widely held that men and women behave differently in leadership roles. In a 2001 paper that appeared in the Journal of Social Issues, entitled “The Leadership Styles of Men and Women,” the authors allude to agentic and communal characteristics. The former are ascribed more strongly to men than women, and are described as assertive, controlling and confident. Meanwhile, communal traits are more strongly ascribed to women and are characterized as affectionate, kind and concerned with the welfare of others.

Having been in the workforce for some time now, there is a constant theme, to some extent inflamed by Hollywood, that arises when women exude those agentic traits. They are referred to by a certain pejorative that men never have to deal with. It’s a crying shame.

That’s why it’s actually bittersweet for me that this issue is partly dedicated to influential women in hospitality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatic to highlight their accomplishments, but it should be for that—not because they are women. Still, there remains a societal need to spotlight women as a cohort, and we as media are not immune to it.

Let’s use this as a teaching moment. You’ll see our great list of women in hospitality; women in leadership positions who are helping define their companies and take them to new heights. But let’s celebrate them not as women, but as what they are: brilliant leaders and executives who should be judged by their drive and results, not by their sex.

Sheryl Sandberg asked women to lean in. Some, I’m sure, have listened to her appeal. The question now is: “Great, but why should it matter if it’s a man or woman leaning in?” Success and results should be blind to gender.

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