Elements of Women in Leadership Roles

I wonder if there is a way to talk about being a woman in a male dominated field or an ethnic minority in an organization that is not very diverse, without receiving a negative, defensive reaction?  Have we evolved enough to have a conversation about what is prevalent without offending?  Whether we’re women or men, we have mindsets about women and men, and about careers in leadership.  Unexamined mindsets won’t close the gender gap at the top.

Yes, its true that women are generally groomed to be nurturing, caring and supportive and as tribes, we seek leaders who are risk-takers, aggressive, assertive, and confident.  How would an organization benefit by having a leader that is both confident and caring, assertive and nurturing?   Can women show all attributes of great leadership while remaining feminine?  Must we fold away our floral dresses and replace them with standard issue blue, grey and black suits to be taken seriously? No. I believe those who can turn those traits on and off – depending on the situation – can find great successes at executive leadership levels without masking their identities.

Women are constantly coaching ourselves on confidence. Why is this? Why is it that we need to see someone who is just like us, doing extraordinary things in order for us to believe that we too can do extraordinary things? What is it within the female culture that makes us believe the possible is impossible? There’s no denying that gender stereotypes exist. But is this because we women seek perfection more than our male counterparts? Is our fear of making a mistake really greater than theirs? Men fake it until they make it; women paralyze with over-analysis and self-doubt.

Dare to be bold.  Whether you are a man or a woman, if there’s a decision to be made, make it. If there’s something you want, go get it. If there’s an experience you want to have, go have it. If there’s something that needs to be said, go say it. What are you waiting for? An invitation isn’t coming and tomorrow doesn’t await us all.

People who live their lives with authentic confidence walk into a room with a swagger –  if you will, and are automatically perceived to be credible and are therefore, greater influencers and leaders. Generally speaking, swag is a term reserved for men. What happens when a woman walks into a room with confidence, direction and purpose?  Other women want to know her name and men think, “That’s unusual”.

It’s apparently difficult to spot women for leadership positions. In a McKinsey study in EMEA, researchers found that men are 3 times more likely to get promoted from individual contributor into management and then 2 – 5 times more likely to move from there into senior level and executive positions. To bridge this gender gap at senior level positions, women need more honest coaching about the true characteristics of leadership.

Leadership expert, Susan Colantuono, tells us in her book, No Ceiling, No Walls: What women haven’t been told about leadership from career-start to the corporate boardroom, that what’s missing in the career success equation for women, is not a lack of our capabilities or abilities, but the advice that we’re not being given. The elements of leadership for women begin with an initiative to lead ourselves. In order to move up in organizations, we have to use our skills, talents, and abilities to help the organization achieve its strategic financial goals and do so by working effectively with others both inside and outside of the organization.

She goes on to say that executive leadership should instill a culture that seeks to identify women in the organization who understand the business, know where it’s going, and are excited by their role in taking it there. These are people who already scan the external environment, identify risks and opportunities, make strategy and/or make strategic recommendations without waiting to be asked to do so. These authentic leaders can be scouted for and primed into senior level positions.

As Susan tells us, “It’s important for directors on boards to expect from their executives proportional pools of women when they sit down once a year for their succession discussions. Why? Because if they aren’t seeing that, it could be a red flag that their organization isn’t as aligned as it could potentially be. [When] CEOs hear comments like, “Well, she doesn’t have enough business experience,” they should ask the question, “What are we going to do about that?”

Take a look at yourself and your organization. Is there more room for women at the top? Are you a woman with a vision who seeks coaching and mentoring? Begin your climb by actively seeking and engaging with women whose lives inspire your own and take in the knowledge from leadership experts who can provide great insight on the behaviors that work to get yourself noticed.   If you run an organization that is gender-biased or lacks diversity, train your leaders to be on the lookout for talent and prioritize an action plan to develop future leaders.  In No Ceiling, No Walls, we are given the missing elements for preparing women for leadership roles and are presented with action plans to help executive management identify and grow talent within their organizations.

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