In Career Coaching, Leaders, Leadership and Management Development, Leadership Coaching, Leadership Training, Leading

Female Leaders in 2020

Why women make great leaders, but still face barriers

It’s not a secret, but maybe a mystery as to why women in leadership positions are still treated differently from their male counterparts. It’s 2020, so why is there a difference between men and women when it comes to professional careers? In 2019, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to 29%, the highest number ever recorded (Grant Thornton, Women in Business 2020: Putting the Blueprint into Action 2020). Even with the rise of female leaders, this past year, the higher up the corporate ladder, the fewer women.

We know, a great leader possesses many attributes, individual abilities, strengths and personality traits, it shouldn’t be a gender thing, but it’s yet a huge factor.

Let’s explore a few of the barriers females on the leadership trajectory face.

  • Confidence

It’s a known fact that some women doubt their capabilities. As a result, they tend not to apply as readily as their male counterparts for senior leadership roles, because, in their own mind’s eye, they must be able to tick every box of the requirement to be considered. Whereas men appear to be more self-confident; they’ll go for the position even when they don’t meet all the relevant criteria. Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, said ‘Even when women are ambitious, the socialisation of perfection often leads them to be risk aversion’.

➥ The Takeaway – Society continues to teach females from a young age; they must achieve perfection; it’s their key to success. Conversely, they teach young males to aim high and keep going until they make it. It makes me wonder how anyone can achieve a level of competency without actually ‘practising’ and executing the tasks, be it in the ‘classroom or the boardroom’?
When practice makes better is the thinking behind men applying and securing roles beyond their capability, I have to say, I agree with the sentiment. Conversely, it’s the indoctrination of people’s thinking and subsequent behaviour that causes barriers when in a hiring process. Is it older men who are part of the problem? Is this thinking being absorbed through osmosis into the younger generations? Possibly when you take a broader look at leaders. Is this thinking systemic, learnt behaviour, a generational curse of sorts?

  • Fear of the unknown and leaving one’s comfort zone

A lot of women have sophisticated business ideas and career plans, coupled with the emotional intelligence to navigate the complexities of leadership, so what holds some back? Based on research, women don’t pursue vice president, president or C-level positions as vigorously as men, due to reported risk aversion as mentioned earlier, placing a value on work-life balance or a desire to avoid politics. It’s the fear of leaving their comfort zone and getting into new unknown areas and thought of where things might go wrong, in other words, women subconsciously or consciously view it as a fail, less than perfect before they’re sat in the seat.

➥ The Takeaway – Take advantage of opportunities aligned to your skills, ambitions, values and beliefs. Focus on what you do well, your experience, knowledge, plus where and how you’ll make an impact. It’s not all about the narrative created by self around ‘failure’ and self-doubt. In reality, it’s these thoughts that reveal areas of personal learning and growth. Deal with the ‘gaps’ as such and stop giving yourself a hard time. Be mindful and seek out the support in whatever form needed and fail as much as possible!!! Without it, how do we learn, develop and grow into authentic leaders? Isn’t that the message to future leaders, women and men alike oppose to perfection? Should that be the next generational curse? After all, women are human, and despite our superhero powers and capes, even She-Ra has an off day occasionally.

  • Role congruity

Role congruity theory makes it difficult for women to succeed as leaders if their behaviours are not perceived to be congruent with their genders. Imagine a woman as a military leader, a man as a nurse, both capable, and qualified. Still, not typically considered nor associated with the roles. Again learnt societal behaviour and thinking leans toward the argument that suggests the barriers are deep-seated in people’s mindsets based on the shared loose sample, but for some, it’s life. So why shouldn’t a woman be considered just because a man has typically been the leader in a company or industry? No reason. It’s one’s filters which have to change.

➥ The Takeaway – Michelle Obama, Jacinda Arden, Malala, Gretna Thunberg, Valentina Tereshkova, Katherine Johnson, CJ Meadows, Chanda Kochhar, to name a few, they’ve managed in spite they’re different paths, all leaders, all-female.

  • Lifestyle choices and gender stereotypes

Is it all about family choices and caregiver priorities? The role model is still present. Very few would doubt a man’s ability to lead a company because he just became a Father, yet a high percentage would of a woman. Research shows that women often are the primary caregiver for their families. Being a caregiver can provide an environment where one can use and deepen many of the necessary leadership qualities, such as:
empathy, focus on teamwork, mentoring of team members, training and coaching multitasking, logistics, project management, crisis management, P&L, mitigating risks, critical thinking, horizon strategy, feedback and wellbeing to mention a lot.

➥ The Takeaway – Continuous use of skills from the workplace/boardroom transitioned or learnt in the home environment whilst continuous improvement and development of crucial EI skills. If you can deal with a toddler having a meltdown in the supermarket with a primary schooler in tow and or a pubescent tween, you can deal with most situations in the boardroom— transferable skills. Recognise and appreciate.

  • Potential Employers

A story for you…A Mom of a young child who applies for a leadership role where travel is extensive is told she didn’t qualify for the position. Why? The decision-maker thought she wouldn’t want to travel or commit to the assignment. Not once asked how she felt about travel or how she’s managed in the past or would going forward? Assumed based on their filters fuelled by stereotypical roles in society, another factor as to why women can be limited.

➥ The Takeaway – As the old adage goes, ‘Don’t make an ASS out of U and ME, but in this case mainly you. For those who assume the role as an interviewer, please be mindful of treating people as you find them and not society’s perception of a person’s position within the workplace or at home based on gender, no stereotypes, no assumptions, no judgements. Engage in an open question conversation to find out about an individual, their life and how they manage it, surely that would support making informed decisions about a person’s ability to perform and deliver in a role. There are many great FTF’s out there too. (Full Time Father’s).

Facing Barriers

The key to facing all these barriers is confidence in all your resources and abilities. Don’t be hesitant to speak up about your career ambitions, bet on yourself and be yourself. To overcome structural barriers, it’s also helpful to have a mentor, coach or sponsor. A mentor helps you to grow in your current position and can guide you along your career path, a coach supports and challenges your who, how, where and when and keeps you accountable and aligned to your career goals and objectives through co-created strategies. A sponsor is an advocate who supports you towards your next position on your career ladder.

➥ The Final Takeaway – Push through the stereotypes, develop a strategy, in other words, line up your ducks and go for it. For women who are already in situ and for the men who understand and believe in what women bring to senior leadership or any other role, do what you would have wished for yourself on your way. Please lend a hand and a listening ear to those on their leadership journey. Leadership takes many forms from entry to C-suite, after all, it’s a journey for all of us. Let’s remember to look backwards to see who’s behind us when we get there to lend a helping hand. Pay forward.

Connect the dots to unleash your potential.

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