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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
Summer 2007

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

In this issue, you'll find:

  1. The Glass Labyrinth
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops

1. The Glass Labyrinth

Being a woman leader is like entering a labyrinth made of high dense hedges. You want to get to the other side of the yard but suddenly you turn a corner to find yourself in a dead end. You turn around to try another path which works for awhile until you again run into a dead end. Imagine that before you start into this frustrating labyrinth, you climb a ladder to a platform where you can see all the twists and turns and dead ends. After this overview, you enter the labyrinth knowing where to go and how to avoid the dead ends. The walk through the labyrinth is now so easy it is as if the labyrinth is made of glass with every path and dead end completely transparent.

Writing in this month’s Harvard Business Review, Alice Eagly and Linda Carli take us to the top of the platform of women’s leadership to outline our walk through the labyrinth of success. They cite the research that only 2% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women. While many writers have speculated on the question of whether women get discriminated against or whether women just decide that they don’t want the work load that goes with the C-suite jobs, Eagly and Carli say that the real reasons women have stalled on the way to top leadership positions are more complicated that either of those explanations. They contend that women’s careers often get stalled because of the sum of obstacles in a complex labyrinth of leadership blind alleys.

  1. The first blind alley is the double bind women face in trying to find a leadership style that is feminine but not too feminine. If women use a “communal” style of leadership, being compassionate for others, rather than an “agentic” style conveying assertion and control, they get criticized for being too relationship oriented and not getting down to business. A reverse style is interpreted as not caring enough. It is as if a woman leader can’t win. By the way, both men and women equally criticize the leadership style of women leaders. Acting warm and friendly is rated as important to leadership. Men who show warmth and friendliness are often promoted faster than men who don’t because those leader behaviors are seen as favorable in any leader and unusual in male leaders. However, women often don’t get credit for acting that way because “women are supposed to be warm and friendly anyway.”

  2. The next double bind for women leaders is how to handle self-promotion. While men can convey status and competence by reminding others about their accomplishments, when women do the same thing, they are seen as pushy and self-centered. On the other hand, exhibit too much modesty and you will not get noticed when it comes to promotions and interesting projects.

  3. Another obstacle for women leadership is the desire to have a family life in addition to a work life. Jobs that require long hours over normal work time can make demands on any workers with family responsibilities. However, when men excuse themselves to pick up children from day care, they often exit to good gossip about what heroic they are as while women leave a room of shaking heads about how distracted they are by those pesky kids.

  4. A more subtle dead end in the labyrinth towards success is the underinvestment in social capital that women make. Social capital is the building of networks and alliances with clients, co-workers, vendors, etc. There are several reasons for this problem. One is that women are not aware how many executive decisions are solidified at lunch, on the golf course, or at the after work watering hole. Many women often measure their own success by working hard instead of working smart, thinking that chit chat about the local football team and “hanging out” with co-workers is wasting time, instead of being one of the ways that team spirit is built into the workplace. Even women who know they should hang out may find a time management conflict between those activities and the need to leave work on time to meet family responsibilities. Those time constraints may put limits on a woman leader’s career success. Studies are now showing that approximately one-third of career success depends on technical skills and competence and the other two-thirds depends on your social intelligence, how you relate to others in the workplace.

What Can Women Do to Walk the Glass Labyrinth

  1. Finding your own style of leadership takes education, time, and some trial and error. To educate yourself read articles like the one by Eagle and Carli. You might be able to take a course on leadership from a local MBA program without enrolling in the whole master’s program. Observe successful women leaders in your field and try out their behaviors to see if they fit your personality. Hire a coach to teach you some tricks like bridging between warm and decisive leadership styles by asking employees and colleagues to participate and collaborate in decision making.

  2. Take opportunities for self-promotion by volunteering for tasks and committees that showcase your skill and mention that is why you are volunteering. It will not be seen as bragging if you say, “I used to work in a city planning office so I might have some contacts that will be useful as we design our new building.” Be sure to update your resume every six months to remind yourself what your skills and history are. Keep a log of accomplishments and use the information when appropriate such as during your annual review.

  3. Don’t complain about your home life at work. When you need to leave a meeting early, say, “I have an obligation,” not, “I have to take my mother to the doctor’s office.” No one cares what you are doing. Rather they want to know if you are going to turn in your part of the report or if you are available for next week’s meeting.

  4. Find ways to increase your investment in social capital by getting to know your co-workers in the work context. Don’t skip leadership retreats. Make an appearance at social events like the holiday party. Go out to lunch with people that are interesting and influential when you have the opportunity. If your workplace has a gym, workout to see who you can connect to around health and fitness topics. Connect with other parents, male and female, around family issues without getting too personal by scheduling a speaker for a brown bag “lunch and learn” on a parenting topic. Parenting experts and counselors like to donate their time in the community as a way to market their practices. Join your local or state professional association and participate so that you have connections of value outside your own company. These networks help the organization that you currently work for and help you when you a looking to change jobs.

What Employers Can Do to Help Women Leaders Walk the Glass Labyrinth

  • Hire more women to head off the problems of “tokenism” in positions of leadership.
  • Encourage both men and women to take advantage of family policies.
  • Give family oriented employees more time to climb the ladder of success.
  • Encourage sane working hours for everyone including yourself.
  • Reduce the subjectivity of performance evaluations.
  • Welcome qualified women back after family leaves.
  • Examine and update your family friendly policies such as family leave, child care on-site, EAP help with recommendations for elder care, etc.

The Last Frontier

Let me add my two cents on how women can deal with the glass labyrinth. To me the last frontier of work-life balance for women is how we mange our home life. We need to make some decisions that match our work life decisions and vice versa. Here are some examples:

  • How large is your home and what standards do you have for upkeep. If you have a lot of knick-knacks, you have more dusting work. Carpet in the kitchen is harder to keep clean than sheet materials or wood. Shower stalls are harder to keep clean than tubs with shower curtains. Pick these materials and you will have better work life balance and fewer home/work conflicts. Never in a decorating magazine have I ever seen remodeling or redecorators say to the readers: Busy women leaders need to have their home environment support their souls instead of becoming a second part-time job that starts at 6 o’clock. My ideal house has a switch that when flicked starts a suction that takes out all the dust and dirt without disturbing anything and without any cleaning chemicals.

  • What parenting choices support your career? I’m not suggesting that you neglect your children to be a workaholic. What I am suggesting is that your parenting choices will affect your time management. One family I am currently working with have three children enrolled in fall traveling soccer teams. The family spends every weekend on the road leaving no time for completing weekend chores, relaxing in their expensively furnished home, or spending couple time to refresh themselves before starting their work week. Both the mom and the dad are resentful of their work load at the office instead of examining how their choices of work and home conflict.

  • What kind of contract do you have with the other people in your home about the division of labor about keeping the home running? If your kids want pets, would you pick dogs that shed on black velvet pillows in the family room or can the kids pick a breed of pet to take care of that teaches the kids responsibilities without adding work to your list.

  • How do your career and home management plans intersect with your mate. I am still amazed that I meet couples who got married without ever talking about their hopes and dreams and how to weave together career opportunities with home responsibilities. Women leaders will never be able to take care of leadership… until work-life balance becomes a degendered issue.


Once you see the obstacles to women’s leadership success from the top of the labyrinth, you can walk through it as if the walls are made of glass.

Susan Robison


Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. I. (2007). Women and the labyrinth of leadership. Harvard Business Review, September, 62-71.

2. BossWoman coaching

About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.

If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.

She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don’t work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

3. Up and coming workshops

I am currently accepting speaking invitations for work/life balance workshops for the winter of 2008. Contact me if your group needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.

Title: “Living Well While Doing Good”
Date: October 21, 2007; 8-12
Place: AASHA annual conference; Orlando, FL


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BossWoman e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

© Copyright 2006 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without the publisher’s permission.

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