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Women in Leadership Roles

Interview with Margaret Heffernan

Short Bio:

Margaret Heffernan, born in Texas, serves as leadership model for many young men and women in leadership roles. As a successful leader, entrepreneur, CEO, and author, she positively contributes to the advancement of women in leadership roles. A full detailed biography can be read on Margaret Heffernan official website.

You were born in Texas, raised in Holland and went to university in the UK. From those experiences do you believe that women in leadership roles are faced with different challenges depending on their country of residence?

Definitely the situation for women in different countries varies enormously. In Holland, dual-income families are often regarded as greedy, working harder than they need to just for money. In the United Kingdom, I think men are more comfortable with women socially but British organizations have been faint-hearted about the value and importance of diversity. In the US, I think men can find it hard to have a true relationship of equals with women but organizations and indeed the federal government, in its support for women-owned businesses, has been more concerted in its efforts for women.

Generally speaking, the upbringing of girls are more inclined to value "softer characteristics" do you think that these values are an advantage or a disadvantage for women in their leadership careers?


What are, from your perspective, the biggest challenges for women in leadership roles?

There are quite a few:

  1. Stereotyping. At the beginning of her career, a woman is trivialized because she's young and pretty and treated as though that is all she is. Then she suffers from invisibility, working hard, preventing fires (instead of heroically putting them out) and doing too little to gain credit for her work. Once she begins to resent this and claim credit, she's often castigated for being too strident or pushy. By the time she has achieves a leadership position, she often behaves or is seen as a man.
  2. Exclusion from informal power networks - the golf club, the men's room, pubs, clubs etc. A lot of information is exchanged in these settings where women are absent.
  3. An assumption that women aren't ambitious.
  4. The discomfort some men feel reporting to a woman. Many have no difficulty with this but some just cannot handle it and will regularly challenge a woman's authority or expertise.
  5. A syndrome known as the glass cliff. In her eagerness for a "C" suite role, a woman may undertake challenges and positions far more risky than she is prepared to see.

How would you qualify the progress made to date with regards to how women are being perceived as an authoritative figure?

Mixed. As long as young men at Yale chant "No Means Yes" and IMF presidents are seen to have "trouble with women" and investment banks lose their women after a few years, it's clear that misogyny hasn't vanished and many men still have great difficulty seeing women as more than subservient.

Do you think that female leaders use an authoritative leadership style more often than male leaders as a mean to impose their authority?

I don't really know what an "authoritative leadership style" is. Successful leaders are given authority by those around them.

Books by Margaret Heffernan

Title Cover
Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril.
THE NAKED TRUTH: A Working Woman's Manifesto on Business and What Really Matters by Margaret A. Heffernan.
WOMEN ON TOP: Redefining power and the nature of success for the 21st century.

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