Susan Major is the managing partner for the Global Technology Practice at DavenportMajor, an executive search firm. Earlier in her career, as an executive at Motorola, she introduced two-way radios, cellular handsets, and the first Motorola PDA.
Beatriz Infante is the CEO of VoiceObjects, a provider of adaptive self-service phone portal solutions. She has also been CEO of Aspect Communications and senior vice president of Oracle's Application Server division.
Lucy Sanders is the CEO and co-founder of NCWIT and is executive-in-residence for the Atlas Institute, a think tank for communications and computer technology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has also been an executive AT&T Bell Labs, Lucent Bell Labs, and Avaya Labs, specializing in systems-level software and solutions.
Claudine Simson is CTO of semiconductor maker LSI, and previously was CTO at Motorola.
Don't be afraid to wield power
Correll's study at Stanford showed that the core issue inhibiting women from using power is that stereotypes exist — not that women believe they are true. "I don't have to actually believe the stereotype that men are better at math than women for it to affect my own sense of whether I am good enough at math to continue on a career that requires mathematical ability. Instead, if I know or suspect that others hold this stereotype, I may come judge my own mathematical performance by a harsher standard, expecting that others might not accept me as mathematically competent," she said.
Sanders said in light of studies such as Correll's, women need to be encouraged to say, "'Yes, you can be CTO or CEO,' and not to back off. If that happens, we might see more women assuming those [executive-level] positions."
While the Stanford research may explain why some women shy away from taking on senior leadership roles, Infante said that women have to get over that fear. "I am who I am, and I am very good at what I am," she said. If you are, as she is, a "top ranked" engineer working on a project, the role carries a "great deal of power" that you should exercise, she added.
The other four women execs agreed with Infante that, at the end of the day, it's all about the bottom line and any executive — male or female — has to be unafraid to wield power in order to succeed. "Some people think 'power' is a dirty word. I think that power — if used well for a corporation and for people — is very beneficial," Sanders said.
The perception dilemma
However, women face unique problems when they assert themselves, Casey noted. "You have to be assertive to get people to pay attention and maybe aggressive, but then you become perceived as unladylike — and men get irritated by that," she said. "When you are direct and businesslike and speak your mind and tell it like it is and have all the attributes that you admire in a male executive, you get labeled as a troublemaker or a pain in the you-know-what," she added.
Women still have to walk a fine line between being too strong versus looking too soft, Major concurred. "It's different for men. They have no issues being [themselves] around women," she said. By contrast, Casey said, women have to be "insanely perfect and PC [politically correct] and savvy to survive in the corporate culture."