Why Women Executives Should Just Be Themselves

Many people think that to get ahead in the business world, women need to emulate men. But there's plenty to suggest that the real secret to leadership success is authenticity.

Traditional British baked beans
U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Robin Braun talks with retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jan Adams, right
Stephanie Oueda Cruz


SANTIAGO Putting on one face at home and another at work is passé. Increasingly, firms are looking for leaders including womenwho aren't afraid of being authentic, who can take off their masks and just be themselves. But for women, in particular, that may be easier said than done. For many of us, that involves getting over the idea that we need a "man costume," that we need to act like men, in other words, to be successful.

The reality is that women remain under-represented today in senior, corporate positions. They account for just 5% of the managing directors of Wall Street S&P 500 companies, according to figures recently compiled by the research firm Catalyst. And while 32 women headed Fortune 500 firms in 2017 a record figure the number fell to 24 (a drop of 25%) barely a year later. These are disconcerting figures. Furthermore, findings of the U.S.-based Network of Executive Women reveal that women in senior positions are four times more likely to leave their jobs than men.

People who are still wary of female leadership often cite the "Queen bee syndrome," which contends that women in senior management actively discriminate against other women in promotions. A study by the bank Crédit Suisse found otherwise, revealing a tendency among female CEOs to surround themselves with women in positions of responsibility. In fact, women are 50% more likely than men to appoint a woman as a chief financial officer.

The authentic leader accepts that they don't know everything and that they're not perfect.

Another misconception is that women have to behave like men to become effective leaders. Author Bill George, a professor at the Harvard Business School, popularized the concept of "authentic leadership." There is a lot of debate obviously about what exactly makes a good leader, but people tend to agree on things like honesty, responsibility, humility and courage.

What defines a leader, whether male or female? Honest leaders don't hide, not even when it comes to doubts or weakness. They aren't ashamed of having vulnerabilities or being frank about how and why a decision was made. Responsible leaders admit the mistakes they make and are upfront about mistakes made by colleagues — so that the whole team can learn and improve.


Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, speaks at the World Economic Forum annual meeting — Photo: World Economic Form

Authentic leaders are humble, accepting that they don't know everything and that they're not perfect. These are people more receptive to other views and willing to learn, and who know when to delegate or ask for advice without feeling guilty. And then there's courage — perhaps the most important attribute of all for authentic leaders, who aren't afraid to question the status quo and defend their team if necessary.

And then there's courage — perhaps the most important attribute of all.

Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, says it won't do any more to present leadership as a list of qualities. We ought to see it, rather, as being rooted in honest, maybe even flawed individuality. Being honest, she believes, is more important than achieving perfection. Another leadership icon is Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who has long advocated being OK with yourself, both physically and mentally. Take breaks, she says, to avoid a constant state of crisis.

Authenticity is valued all the more in this age of Internet, social networking and selfies. Younger generations want to know more about their leaders. If our leaders, both men and women, are honest, responsible, humble and brave, they will be better examples for progressing in the right direction.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!