Balancing Act: Female leaders creating appealing workplaces

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Want to see what the future could look like for working mothers? Look inside a company run by one.

Go ahead, point out that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, hasn't exactly made life easier for the working mothers at her company by banning telecommuting. But if you look at the more than 8 million companies owned or led by women, you will find leaders creating workplaces where I'd want to work.

Many of these bosses are leading their companies much differently than men. They are socially conscious, interested in mentoring, willing to grant flexibility and making an effort to pay fairly. They are using a style of leadership that's appealing not only to women but to men, too.

And their companies make money.

Sure, there are great male leaders. Ask a room full of people whether they would have wanted to work for Steve Jobs and most hands would shoot way up without hesitation. Not mine.

I would rather work for Christine Day, CEO of Lululemon Athletica, a mother of three who wears exercise apparel to corporate meetings. Ms. Day is considered one of the most successful female chief executives of a public company and has tapped into what women want, not just in the workout products they buy, but also in the place where they work.

After a 20-year journey through the ranks of Starbucks, Ms. Day uses a collaborative style of leadership to empower her employees.

Today, 50 percent of Lululemon's board and 80 percent of the senior leadership team are women. Ms. Day gave a pay increase to all employees making less than $85,000. She initiated a flexible return-to-work program for all new mothers in the headquarters and stores. And, she encourages her employees to exercise, participating alongside them in fitness classes whenever possible.

"We've developed a very high performing company," she recently told Katie Couric. "There are things I've done that change the way we work."

Everyone has heard the claims, the theories and the speculation about the ways leadership styles vary between women and men. Men are considered more strategic. Women are more nurturing, natural problem solvers, good at developing others and building relationships.

Many female CEOs are better about giving flexibility, providing on-site child care, allowing pets at work and offering training and opportunities to advance. That trend will be increasingly important with women-led businesses expected to generate one-third of new U.S. jobs by 2018.

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Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegal@gmail.com


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