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Women In the Workplace: Happiness Is Not the Issue

For the past two weeks, I've posted highlights from my recent conversation with Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth professor Ella Edmondson Bell, author of the forthcoming Career GPS: Strategies for Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape, about the challenges that women face in today's workplace and what women can do to better succeed in business. In this third and final installment, I gave Bell the chance to respond to a question raised by my fellow BNET Insight blogger Sean Silverthorne.

BNET: A recent post citing Sylvia Ann Hewlitt's research that 84 percent of executive women compared to only 40 percent of men have seriously considered leaving their jobs in the past year sparked a big discussion about why women are unhappy at work. I was curious if you agree that women are often more unhappy at work than men, or if you had any other comments on this.
Bell: I'm not sure if women are unhappy or if they feel they're not being given the same opportunity. If they feel that they aren't being appreciated and aren't being heard, and if they feel that their contributions aren't considered important, I don't call that unhappy. I don't like that particular framing. I think unhappy needs to be really, really unpacked. It's the fact that [women are asking], "Am I being appreciated for what I bring to the table? Am I being heard? Am I being solicited? Am I being challenged?" That's a lot deeper than being happy. Happy is far too simple for me.
I think that if a woman is being challenged, if she's being affirmed, if she's given the chance to use her creativity, her innovative mind, if she's able to show off her skills, if she's able to show that she can develop people, then I honestly believe that -- at least the women I know in corporate America -- then they feel that they're on their game.

I wonder when men leave the workplace, do we say well, men are unhappy? We don't say that with men, do we? But it's very easy to toss it out there for women when there are a whole host of issues that have nothing to do with happiness. It's about being valued and being compensated for being valued.

The other thing is, when women say they are unhappy, particularly women who are corporate leaders, why aren't we taking the time to find out what does that mean? How do I translate not being happy so that I recognize the things going on in my company? The bottom line is that in less than 5 years, women are going to be the backbone of your company because of the demographics. So if women are unhappy, excuse my language, you sure as hell better start finding out why if you want to be competitive and want to be around in the next 20 years.

BNET: Any final words of advice for women in the workplace?
Bell: It's your time. This is the moment; seize the opportunity. That does not mean it's not going to take hard work, it's not going to take creativity, it's not going to take sacrifice; but if you make up your mind, if you're determined and you really develop yourself, you can do it in this day and age.

Photo courtesy of Mark Washburn.

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