Being a female leader in the corporate world brings both challenges and opportunities. After more than five decades of efforts to bring women to a place of equality with men in matters of leadership, the landscape in most places is still heavily male dominated in leadership. In this article, we look to explore a few of the challenges women face in leadership, and the unique opportunities woman have to address these issues now in their careers.
Questioning Your Competence
Studies show that women must work twice as hard as men to prove their competence in order to qualify for leadership. And if she is already in a leadership role, a woman has to constantly show that she is in that position by merit and not because of some positive discrimination plan which favors women. Organizations often hire men for what they think they can do, but hire women for what they have actually done.
This “organizational” lack of confidence in women leaders can also be coupled with the fact that women often allow their own self-doubt to undermine their confidence. This recent McKinsey report found that women are truly limited when their competence is questioned…by their employer and themselves.
With all of this in mind, women must take more pride in their achievements and learn how to promote themselves. To seek more opportunities and more respect in the workplace, they need to be more proactive in showcasing their strengths and accomplishments. Companies like LMVH have well understood this need and regularly offer Self-Marketing coaching sessions to their female executives among its Maisons (EllesVMH program).
The primary strategy many women employ when aspiring to leadership in a male-dominated workplace is to adopt male attitudes and attributes in order to fit in. They become quasi-male because they feel that their natural tendencies have no place in that environment. But Mayra Attuy, a marketing head at Verizon Media, disagrees with that approach. “…emotion, passion and compassion (are) valuable assets, not things to be ignored or hidden” she says.
Women need to learn to trust their own voices because they do bring something valuable to the table. The Innoveve firm, founded by Fabienne Jacquet, helps organizations unleash innovators’ feminine skills to encourage innovation and growth. Emotion, passion and compassion are not (and should not) be the exclusivity of women, they are traits that all great leaders should possess.
Women tend to be less risk oriented than men and that prevents them from taking action or assuming leadership in situations where they are fully qualified to do so. A Hewlett-Packard report on the organization’s internal hiring practices discovered that women only allowed themselves to apply for jobs if they met 100% of the criteria, while men would apply if they only met 60% of the conditions. This difference in attitudes towards risk and action-taking reflects in the number of women versus men who get hired into leadership positions.
If women want to get more, they need to put themselves out there more often, the study concluded. Women should not wait to be asked or invited, they need to raise their hands for leadership roles and take risks.
Creating Informal Networks
Informal business networks and relationships are often where professional alliances are solidified. Men typically have no difficulty meeting at pubs or clubs for a drink, where they have the opportunity to speak informally to advance their goals. Women do not do this enough. Most times, there is no real attempt at sisterhood among women in a business environment possibly based on a competitive office dynamic or even responsibilities outside of the office that pull them from work and don’t allow social work interactions.
As we interact with our AcePoint Consulting clients, we’ve noted this issue and think it is a real problem that narrows women‘s access to opportunities for leadership and self-development. If informal relationships in the professional environment can’t develop naturally, then we always advise exploring the multitude of female networking groups that exist in every community.
W.IN Forum NY, a networking organization, was created by Catherine Barba to give women and minorities energy and confidence to become the most innovative and inclusive leaders they can be. Martine Liautaud founded the Women Initiative Foundation in order to promote the advancement of women in the workplace and in the economy by offering mentoring and training programs. She for… S.H.E (Sharing, Helping, Empowering) is a network of active French-speaking women living in New York, founded by Valerie-Anne Demulier and regularly invites guest speakers, organizes workshops and discussion meetings, entrepreneur gatherings, and networking events. Women need to seek out these positive mentoring organizations in their own communities to build their networks and learn together how to succeed in their industries.
Although there are also many systemic issues that limit women in the sphere of leadership, this article has intentionally focused on four areas women can immediately make changes. And a good place to start would be with the third point on the list….go out there and start taking action!
Contact us if you are interested in promoting women in your organization or growing your influence as a female leader. AcePoint Consulting provides a multitude of individualized programs to assist you and your team.
Continue the dialogue and reach out to us for help on how to build a sustainable high performing team and set yourself up for collective success. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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