Training women for corporate combat

The business world isn't all that different from the military. You need to be on the front lines to get ahead.

The Pentagon made it official today, lifting its official ban on women in combat. It could make it easier for women to eventually get some of the top jobs in the armed services. Is there, we wondered, a corporate analogy?

Here’s a little advice to all you women out there in corporate America. “Manage lots of money, not lots of people,” says Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. She recommends women in finance, tech or any other sector avoid the Ps: Personnel, Public Relations, Purchasing.

Kanter says you gotta go where the action is. “This is why women in combat is so important. If you are restricted from the heart of what the enterprise does, you’ll never get to the top,” she says.

And you need to be in the spotlight managing money, taking risks and innovating. Bob Damon, a senior executive of Korn/Ferry a global search firm, says you can’t be top dog without proving you are up to it.

“You have to put yourself in roles that give you experience on the firing line,” he says.

Catch that? 'Firing line.’ Just like there are lots of women in the military, the ranks of Fortune 500 companies are filled with female workers, but they still make up a very small minority at the top, says Debbie Soon. Soon’s with Catalyst, a nonprofit advocacy group for women in business. Soon says what women could really use is more women who are higher up the corporate chain to help them.

“People who are in a high enough position to influence the kinds of jobs that you get, the opportunities you get, who will personally vouch for you and even sometimes make those opportunities happen,” she says.

Without that support, Soon says it will be hard for women to rise up the ranks.   

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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