Women's Movement Has Not Broken 'Abiding Tyranny of Male Leadership'

Last Updated Apr 27, 2010 1:32 PM EDT

I suspect Barbara Kellerman's keypad was a melted mess after she fired off this blog post on the failure of the 50-year-old women's movement to do much good in terms of promoting women to leadership roles.

Writes Kellerman, a lecturer on leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School:

"I'm sick of hearing how far we've come. I'm sick of hearing how much better situated we are now than before. I'm sick of hearing how women are closing the gaps.... The fact is that so far as leadership is concerned women in nearly every realm are nearly nowhere -- hardly any better off than they were a generation ago."
The best intentions, countless mentoring programs and family friendly workplaces have not done much to move the needle, she says, producing a long list of dismal statistics showing that when its comes to leadership roles, it's a man's world. Still.

What needs to be done now, Kellerman writes in her manifesto, is that men and women need to operate from a new mindset and do the following:

  • Acknowledge, openly, loudly, and with forethought that the paucity of women leaders is equity denied and socially expensive.
  • Stop touting "gains" that are no such thing.
  • Launch corrective measures involving, simultaneously, institutions and individuals.
  • Initiate change from the top, "and also from the middle, and from the bottom."
  • Make it socially and politically, professionally and personally, unacceptable to tolerate significant imbalance.
The sad truth is, she concludes, "that so long as equity remains a concern as opposed to a cause, so long will women who want to lead have an albatross on their back."

Kellerman has clearly reached the boiling point, and I wonder to what extent her frustration mirrors the views of men and women in general on the equity issue. She clearly thinks we've settled for too little progress over too long a period. What's your view?

The Abiding Tyranny of the Male Leadership Model -- A Manifesto
(Suffragette image by Jeremy Burgin, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.