In the past, I wrote rather regularly about women and leadership. In the recent past, I focused especially on how being a mother impacts being a leader.* Specifically, I proposed that pregnancy and lactation are major explicators of why the large gender gap between leaders at high levels persists. Why the gender gap in leadership persists despite twenty-five years of constant and considered efforts to close it.
My primary point remains still politically incorrect – even taboo: the significant sociobiological differences between men and women, again, especially as they emerge during and after the period a woman is pregnant. In brief, first I highlighted the certainty that women are primates. Second, I highlighted the probability that primate parenting bears on why, in 2019, only 6.6 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies were women. (This figure is an all-time high.)
The subject came to mind again this week, when I read an article by Sarah Menkedick in Time, titled, “Postpartum Anxiety Goes Undiagnosed.” Seems that approximately 6 percent of new mothers have postpartum depression. But, additionally, approximately 17 percent of new mothers have postpartum anxiety. In other words, almost one quarter of new mothers are affected by being pregnant in ways much more likely to hinder their leadership journeys than to help them. Given that approximately 85% of American women between the ages of 40 and 44 are mothers, we are talking here about a very large number of American women for whom becoming a mother could well handicap forever their chances of becoming a leader.
The point I make does not, nor should it imply paralysis. It is what it is – women bear babies and breastfeed them, not men. But it does imply redirecting our attempts to support equity between women and men at the highest levels. It implies the emphasis should be less on redesigning organizations and more on reconsidering those who people them. ——————————
*See, for example:
Also see, Barbara Kellerman, “Leadership and Lactation” in Sherylle Tan and Lisa DeFrank-Cole, eds, Women’s Leadership Journeys, Routledge, 2029.