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Beyond the glass ceiling

Book Review: How women in business can rise to top positions

The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead But Won’t Learn in Business School. By Selena Rezvani, Praeger (Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC), 183 pp. The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead But Won’t Learn in Business School. By Selena Rezvani, Praeger (Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC), 183 pp.

It doesn’t matter if you are a part of Generation X, Y, or any other generation—if you are a woman banker you will find wisdom in this book that will be helpful to your business career. Those of you on your way up the corporate ladder will benefit from the experience and lessons learned along that journey by female business leaders who have made it to the top jobs in their industries. For those of us with established careers, the book provides good reminders of the tools we need to keep our careers rewarding.

Tools for getting past barriers

When I began my career in banking 34 years ago, I never dreamt of becoming president of a bank. Not because I didn’t have the educational credentials, but because the simple truth was that, to my knowledge, there were no female bank presidents. 
 
Many of the lessons businesswomen of my generation, the baby boomers, had to figure out for themselves are shared with author Selena Rezvani during her interviews of 30 female CEOs, CFOs, COOs, chairs, presidents, and executive vice-presidents. Next Generation began as an independent study project as part of her MBA program. She was seeking a way to learn from the women who had reached senior positions.

Why is it important for one generation of business leaders to share their experiences with the next generation? As of 2009, women made up 46.5% of the total U.S. workforce, but only 15% of  them were employed as corporate officers with Fortune 500 companies and only 3% were the chief executive officer. The more alarming statistic is the fact these latter two percentages didn’t increase significantly during the three years studied.

I would dare to guess the ratio of women as CEOs within the banking industry compared to the total number of women employed in banking would yield no greater than the 3% for Fortune 500 companies.

What is the reason, after all the advancements women have made over the past 30 years that the top executive jobs in banking are still dominated by men?  There are a variety of reasons, but rather than analyze why these facts exist, Rezvani instead does an excellent job of focusing on the lessons learned by the 30 business leaders interviewed that can be passed on to the next generations to affect change.

Rezvani’s main focus is on the “soft” skills you don’t learn in business school. These skills include how to prepare to lead when leadership opportunities arise. Women, due to multiple roles as mother, wife, and employee, are excellent multi-taskers, but we don’t always acknowledge or understand what an important skill that is in preparing us for leadership in business.

One of the best suggestions for ways to learn leadership skills is by volunteering for non-profit organizations. These volunteer opportunities can teach you how to run meetings and lead groups of volunteers in the completion of a project. It can also provide a platform to develop and practice public speaking skills; basically, all talents that will help prepare you for senior-level management jobs.

Women are generally good communicators, but not as good as men are at networking within the business community. Almost all of the women interviewed noted the huge impact that networking had played in their career advancement. Rezvani provides numerous examples and suggestions of ways to engage in networking.

Women spend a great deal of their lives negotiating while shopping, as well as with their children and spouses. However, they are often timid when it comes to negotiating their own salaries and career advancement. Negotiating can be one of the most important skills impacting how far a women advances in her career. The women interviewed shared their real life experiences in negotiating their own careers, plus Rezvani provides many resources to help you improve your negotiation skills. This is one area of personal development in which all of us can benefit.

Rezvani provides much practical insight into office politics and how to successfully navigate through it to your personal advantage. In any office, large or small, there are unwritten rules and people who have more power than is officially granted through position titles. One of the best suggestions I found was to give yourself six months or longer when starting a new job to become familiar with how the organization functions. This allows time to identify how projects are accomplished and who the decision makers are within the organization. It is also important to know how to indirectly get ideas in front of the decision makers through their trusted advisors.

No book on women and careers would be complete without a chapter on the miraculous job working women do each day to balance work and family responsibilities. Although the balance achieved was unique for each women interviewed, the inner struggle to balance work and family is the one constant for all career women with families. The women interviewed were very open in describing how they personally achieved their own balance, but are quick to acknowledge there are no right or wrong answers to this challenge.
 
Genders’ management ratios continue uneven

Banking has always been a wonderful career for women but there is definitely a shortage of women in the top management positions. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics for 2010 in the Finance and Insurance Industries, there were 1,829,610 women employed with 25,234 as executive/senior level officials and managers--1.4%. By contrast, out of 1,245,538 men employed in this sector, 61,673 as executive/senior level officials and managers--nearly 5%.

However, if we all pass on the lessons we have learned in our careers to the next generation of women leaders, maybe it will keep them from having to devote so much time of their time to figuring out the system and instead focusing more on what they need to do to advance their career.

I just hope when young women are deciding their career options that they can visualize and aspire to being president of a bank. I would advise every one of them to read this book to get a head start on a wonderful career in banking.
 
If you'd like to review books for our online book column, or have recently read a book that you found helpful that we haven't already reviewed, please e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Jane Haskin

Jane Haskin is president & CEO, First Bethany Bank, Okla. Haskin, a member of ABA's Community Bankers Council, is a frequent reviewer for ABABJ.com.

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