The Wall Street Journal has a special report today on how to address the inability of more women to make it to the top of corporate America. It’s worth reading for its many observations-for one, that women need fewer “mentors,” that is, people who provide advice and encouragement, than “sponsors,” people who actually have the ability to put younger women in the running for challenging jobs. I found particularly interesting the insights of Indra Nooyi , chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo. She said one crucial difference for men and women as they make their way up is the way they are given criticism. She says male culture allows one man to say to another, “You screwed up, man.” And the other guy will answer, “You think so? Tell me what I did wrong.”
She said men are less likely to be that blunt with women-although they’ll shred them behind their back. So instead of getting helpful advice, women just get denigrated. Obviously, that needs to change. But she adds that women need to change, too. She says women are less comfortable both giving and receiving tough criticism. So women managers are seen as less direct, especially with other women. And women who receive tough feedback can feel they’re being treated in an unsupportive way. Nooyi herself says she is unusually blunt and as a young executive was the person in the room to declare that the plan before them was “crap.” She was advised to keep her directness, but tone it down. She seems to be saying there’s a third way-blunt but not cruel-that needs to become part of both male and female managers’ lexicon.