Where Do All of the Good Women Go?

Every morning, I sit at my desk as Global VP of Public Relations for AIESEC International to do my daily news scan. I am instantly flooded with new articles about women not being represented enough in the top leadership positions; blog posts on how women need to take every opportunity they can at work; and reports on how to encourage female Millennials because we’re facing a leadership gap.

I then take a look around me.

In my office, there are women everywhere. Out of twenty-two full time staff on the global executive team of AIESEC, eleven of them are women – three of them are at the upper management level. Around 50 percent of our 100,000 members are women. As an organisation we are rich with “up and coming” young female leaders.

Even down at our national level where we have offices in 124 countries and territories, young women are consistently represented in the highest leadership positions. “I decided to run for President of AIESEC in India because I had something to offer and I had a vision for where I wanted the organisation to go” says Ramita Vg, Global VP Product Development for AIESEC International. “I never questioned myself because I would only be the second female President. I did it because I felt responsibility for the organisation.”

So if at a younger age our women are still striving for these upper leadership positions, where do all of the good women go?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg ignited an international conversation about women and ambition with the publication of her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Her argument that women need to overcome internal barriers in order to advance as leaders has provoked significant debate. Skeptics claim that Sandberg’s message simplifies a complex problem and ultimately blames women for not making it to the top; supporters believe she is inspiring women to aim higher in their careers and offering practical advice to help them succeed.

From looking at the way our young women advance in AIESEC, we can pinpoint to four possible reasons why they do not make it to the upper leadership roles:

1. They are satisfied enough not to apply for these positions.

It is not always a natural next step to apply for a higher position within an organisation or to seek out more responsibility in a higher labeled role. Regardless of being a male or female, if someone is feeling happy, challenged and fulfilled in a particular position, they may not have the urge to apply to a higher position. It may be that they are already happy in their current role and in the impact they are creating. Generally, when people are happy they do what they can to keep that feeling.

2. They choose to have other priorities.

Not every woman will decide to put her career first. This comes down to what the individual defines as success; as their end goal for their lives. Some will choose their education level; others will decide that attaining a certain position will determine their success. For some the salary they make and the materials they own determine their success. Some women will decide that having a family and children is their idea of success. Each woman will have their own definition of success, and this does not always coincide with taking leadership roles within an organisation. There are certain tasks and behaviors that upper level management roles will demand that are unable to be balanced with other priorities. Maybe what needs to change is the way we view leadership roles and what is needed to fulfill them? If you were to ask someone what a typical day looks like for a C-level executive, they will most likely describe it with long hours, back to back meetings and an overall demanding lifestyle. Maybe the typical life of an executive needs to be redefined so that the opportunity can be taken by more individuals than just those who strictly prioritise work.

3. They are not in the right environment.

A woman may be skilled enough to take on a leadership role, but if the environment around her does not encourage and support her to do so, it could never happen. This is down to the system and people that make up the work environment she is in. If the system is not open, progressive and does not embrace diversity it is very hard for a woman to push her way through it. If the people around her are not encouraging, and are not showing and supporting her through the path of advancement, she may never know the opportunity is open for her. Creating an environment that supports any skilled person, no matter their gender, to take on a higher position is the responsibility of the company or organisation.

4. They hold themselves back.

Do women question their abilities to take on larger roles and responsibilities? Does the male-dominated boardroom intimidate them? We can think of many questions when we look at the substantial drop in female leaders as we move up the corporate ladder. Is there a change in their ambition as they get older or are there other factors stopping them? In her books Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and Lean In for Graduates, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, states that women often do not aspire to more in their careers and in their leadership journeys. Maybe it is because they don’t think about it, or they don’t believe that they could actually succeed in reaching the goals they set for themselves; as women tend to not believe enough in their capabilities. After determining that they want to be a leader, women need to lean in and take every opportunity regardless of their fear of failure.

PwC is one global company that identifies with the Lean In movement and is committed to supporting an environment that will help women to achieve their full potential. The firm believes that it will take a collaborative effort of companies, leaders and from women themselves to start to close this leadership gap. According to U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner Bob Moritz, “Leaders profoundly influence the aspirations of the people who work with them, which is why ambition requires mutual accountability. Companies have a responsibility to provide opportunities and support women as they explore career possibilities and life choices. That’s why PwC is leaning in.”

On 24 April from 4:30pm GMT, PwC will be hosting its first-ever global forum on women and leadership. The event is part of “Aspire to Lead: The PwC Women’s Leadership Series,” which includes a number of programs and workshops designed for college students who are looking to build their leadership skills.

Sheryl Sandberg will share her perspective, and answer questions on the challenges women face when transitioning from campus to career in a special live webcast. The event will be broadcast live from Facebook’s campus in California.  A replay will be available shortly after the live broadcast and translated versions of the webcast will be available the week of 5 May.

We encourage you to participate in this discussion by tuning into the live webcast or watching the replay at www.pwc.com/aspire. In addition, this webcast is open to anyone, so please share this unique opportunity with those in your personal, school and professional networks.

Maybe if we can get young women to start planning their career goals now, we have a better chance of helping them get there – and hopefully gain more good leadership that the world desperately needs.

The topic of women in leadership sparked a conversation throughout our office that we want to continue – stay tuned for more content coming in the next few weeks!

Solving Youth Unemployment in Europe

“There are 26.2 million people unemployed in the EU today – an increase of more than 9 million people from 2008. This trend has significant economic, political and social consequences for Europe. The challenge for European leaders is to solve this puzzle and to help citizens find sustainable and long-term employment opportunities.”

(www.iiea.com – The Institute of International and European Affairs)

Sustainable and long-term employment opportunities do not include just generating new job posts, but also educating and preparing youth to be ready for responsibilities these job posts bring. Nowadays Millennials complain about the lack of open job posts, while businesses argue that Gen Y lack the needed skill sets.

Who is right and who is wrong?

Rather than taking one side, let us consider the fact that there is a gap in expectation setting from both sides: what young people want from their employers vs. companies’ expectations from their employees and the type of employee they would be more likely to hire. Imagine what would happen if we aligned supply and demand – the kind of the jobs young people are looking for and developing the set of characteristics young people need to perform in their dream jobs.

What is also often disputed when talking about youth unemployment is the mindset young people born as Gen Y share – they are ambitious but not humble; they expect excellent conditions from the get go; they are not prepared to start from scratch and work up the ranks, rather demanding everything right now. How can we make sure young people understand what is needed in order to land their dream job? How can we shift the current mindset?

As often happens, challenges arise from more than one source; it is the combination of everything mentioned above. On one hand, the education young people are acquiring is leaving them unprepared to deal with today’s job market reality. They lack practical knowledge, skills and strategic thinking, which are usually not acquired through formal education. And on the other hand, employers seek young people who are ready to dedicate themselves to work, learn and advance but who nevertheless have some previous experience or at least certain set of characteristics and skills. Do we as young people know what these characteristics are? And are we developing them?

On April 7th in Warsaw, Poland, Europe Youth to Business Forum will gather all stakeholders important in solving the issue of youth unemployment – young people, educators, government and business. They will have the opportunity to discuss and generate ideas on how collaboration can lead to solving this challenge in the region.

Join us on livestream (bit.ly/EuropeY2BF) and contribute to flipping the switch on youth unemployment in Europe!

Five reasons why we need to talk about the future of leadership today

1. The turning point is approaching: post-2015 Development Agenda

The year 2015 is approaching and with it the turning point for the current Millennium Development Goals. All eyes will be on the United Nations and the post-2015 developmental agenda. It is the right time to start thinking about what the future holds beyond 2015. Leadership nowadays is culture-oriented and issue-based, striving to be not just a concept, but a socially responsible solution for the challenges the world is facing. Once we define challenges we want to tackle in the future, we can be set to shape the type of leadership young people will need to be able to solve world’s burning problems.

2. Keeping up with the swift pace of changes in the world

The world is changing at an unprecedented pace and it is necessary to have a visionary outlook in order to predict challenges and start generating possible sustainable solutions. Today’s professions did not exist 10 years ago and we probably have not yet anticipated the professions of tomorrow. However, by ensuring we are developing experts aware of the world they live in, we are one step closer to being in charge of our future, keeping up with the evolution and not falling behind.

3. Value-based leadership development among Gen Y

Technology has changed the way we perceive the world and has influenced the lifestyle of a new generation – Gen Y. It has created interconnected, intertwined society, but has also contributed to information overload, or in other words “information glut” and “data smog”.

T.S.Eliot once asked “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Technology did not only change our lifestyle, but also a much deeper aspect of society – the one comprised of values. Since the values that guide people have shifted, we have to ensure that the values the world is built on today, will not endanger any aspect of life in the future. While it is encouraged to live in the present, shortsightedness can prove fatal, as seen by the state of the climate change today.

4. Generation Y to lead the world in the future

Representatives of Generation Y will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2030. It is crucial to understand the way they think, work and act in order to provide the right opportunity for them to develop skills they will need in the future and in order to ensure the right kind of leadership is in store for tomorrow. If provided with an interactive and informative learning platform, young people will be able to develop their potential to the fullest and use it to contribute to their society.

5. Understand. Define. ACT. (in that order)

We should define the type of leaders we want to develop in the future. The first step to developing leaders is knowing what kind of leadership we would like to see in the future. Dynamic? Collaborative? Impactful? Inclusive?

It is important to remember that leadership is not an end goal, but a solution. There are no easy fixes for the challenges we are facing. But the best way to tackle them is to invest in youth – young leaders who will one day decide about the future of our world. In order to achieve that, it is necessary we begin today.

What type of leadership would you like to see in 2030?

Join us on our official Facebook channel www.facebook.com/GlobalY2B and watch live on February 25th, as we discuss the future of leadership on Youth to Business Forum Top Leaders Edition.

The Power of Understanding Different Cultures

AIESEC believes in developing socially conscious leaders of today who are passionate about the world and solving its issues, to leave behind a positive impact. We envision “Peace and fulfilment of humankind potential”, but how do we achieve this “peace” that we envision?

Simple. We send young people on exchange experiences.

Here is only one of the 26,000 stories we create every year!

La’ala and Tünde – A friendship forged through an exchange of cultures

La’ala is an Exchange Participant who recently went on exchange to China; she believed teaching kids in rural areas would bring about a new perspective and meaning to life. What she didn’t know was that the people she would meet while on exchange would leave behind an even greater impression on her than the kids.

Tünde is an Austrian Exchange Participant whom La’ala met and taught classes with during her internship.

La'ala and Tunde - 2 different cultures on exchange

Now, La’ala and Tünde come from completely different backgrounds – one is a Muslim; the other is a Christian. What lies in the beauty of this friendship is that these two exchange participants managed to find a connection in spite of their “differences.” La’ala said, “the topic of God came up and we just got lost in it, sharing similar perspectives and agreeing that religion is just a way of life”.

This friendship developed through exchange is just an example of how we are truly one as humankind. It’s not about anything else other than being connected – to recognize that we have differences- in culture, religion, and more – but also to find similarities through those differences.

The answers to the problems the world faces today are simple; they do not revolve around complex chemical weapons and war plans to solve issues and achieve peace. It simply lies in the love and friendship we make with another to fulfil our potential as human beings.

This experience has prompted La’ala to come back to Bahrain and take on a career of being a schoolteacher through which she aims to pass upon her learnings that she received while on exchange to her students. The exchange experience has also inspired Tünde to deliver a sermon at her local church, sharing her experience in hopes of inspiring her community to develop more awareness about other cultures.

Have you had a similar exchange of cultures? Where did you experience something like this?

 

If you are looking to go on an internship that will provide you with a different cultural experience, please go to opportunities.aiesec.org and check out all our available internships or read about other cultural experiences at culture-shock.me

AIESEC – 65 Years of Developing Great Leaders

For 65 years AIESEC has been impacting young people around the world. And yet we are often referred to as “The World’s Best Kept Secret.” Until Now!

With a midterm ambition to provide life-changing leadership development experiences to 1 million young people before the end of 2015, the organisation is thinking big and making the brave decision to dramatically evolve. Economical, social and technological change demands responsible and entrepreneurial leaders who are both adaptable and globally minded. By its international nature, AIESEC has already succeeded in bringing together over 1 million young and talented minds to build a road towards a better future, where cultural and social boundaries are overtaken by international exchange of experiences and ideas. Understanding the world is the most powerful tool to change the world and this is what AIESEC aims to do.

This is why we do what we do. This is our contribution. Join us, and impact the future.