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updated 5/22/2006 12:35:19 PM ET 2006-05-22T16:35:19
OPINION

There are 63 million working women in America, but fewer than 2 percent of the nation's largest companies have female chief executives. Though women make up 50 percent of the work force, women with families still perform 90 percent of the household chores and child-care duties. And among corporate women over 40, more than 40 percent have never married or had children. What's wrong with this picture?

In a time of corporate scandals and bankruptcies, wars and terrorism, isn't it time for a change to the male model of success? Isn't it time women stopped trying to be more like men and started trying to be more like themselves? Isn't it time women brought their talents to the party? Isn't it time to redefine what it means to be successful? Women — and men — shouldn't have to give up their lives for their careers. It doesn't have to be one or the other; it can be both.

From the soccer mom to the CEO, women (and often men) need to know how to use the skills gained in their traditional roles to carve out a successful career and a happy life.

The "Diva" proclaims, as Madonna does, "I always thought I should be treated like a star." The majority of women miss the point when it comes to negotiating salaries. In one study at Carnegie Mellon, graduates with master's degrees were polled about their first jobs. The study found that men were eight times more likely than women to have negotiated their salaries. By not negotiating her first salary, a woman stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60. Women, on the other hand, who do consistently negotiate their salaries make $1 million more than their more timid counterparts over a career lifetime.

The "Cheerleader," too, can be a good thing in corporate America. As one cheerleader dad pointed out, the average person can make a basket, the fundamental building block of basketball, but very few can do a back-handspring, one of the simplest skills required of cheerleaders! This kind of rigor is going to be needed in a global economy. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Citigroup's Sallie Krawcheck, "American Idol's" Paula Abdul, "CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric, Genentech's Myrtle Potter and actress Renee Zellweger all earned their stripes on a squad. Cheerleaders urge their teammates on. When the going gets tough, cheerleaders get others going.

Not everyone's cut out for corporate America, with its glass ceilings and old boys' networks. That's why the "CEO" admonishes, "When you hit the glass ceiling, move to another room," and why more than 50 percent of female Stanford M.B.A. graduates leave corporate America within five years of earning their degrees.

Today, women-owned businesses are increasing at a rate of 17 percent per year (1997-2004). They generate $2.5 trillion in sales, employ 19.1 million workers and spend an estimated $103 billion per year.

So, instead of asking, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" as Professor Higgins did in "My Fair Lady," we should be asking, "Why can't a woman be less like a man?"

Kathleen Archambeau is chief executive of Archambeau Associates and author of “Climbing the Corporate Ladder in High Heels” (Career Press, 2006). She directs corporate outreach at Holy Names University and teaches organizational behavior at the University of San Francisco.

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