Female leadership is a consistent area of interest to employers and employees across all sectors and levels. We have seen a dramatic increase in demand for training, mentoring and development programs, for female youth programs, assisting girls in building confidence and capability to support them in recognising their leadership potential from an early age. Equally we have seen expansion in the volume of women seeking external mentors to guide and develop them on their path. These women are identifying the need for support to continue their career trajectory through times of transition within their career and life phases. Women, more than men, are on the quest for support to create balance through life’s challenges.
Working within female and male dominated sectors we see common trends for women aspiring to or undertaking leadership positions, which are consistent with those of the likes of Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, actively researching and positively impacting the field of female leadership.
Several points of importance are relevant for employers, women themselves and parents of future female leaders. To follow are seven points for consideration when focusing on increasing awareness, building competence and continuing development in women.
1. Perception vs Reality
We are all victims of the trap between perception and reality in some aspect of our personal or professional persona. Interestingly, women tend to rate themselves lower in assessments and do not embrace their personal strengths as readily to maximise their professional potential. Evidence supports that men tend to back themselves or even overvalue themselves. For example, Sheryl Sandberg notes in Lean In that men are more likely to apply for roles when they do not have 100% of the criteria required, whilst women will resist, aiming to develop the missing criteria first.
Tip – Seek out feedback from trusted leaders and seek to develop a sense of self inclusive of others’ perceptions. Seek to build an optimistic and accurate impression of your broad abilities.
2. Imposter Syndrome
Women have a tendency to question themselves, feeling they are a fraud or not as accomplished as others in the area. As such they will tend to distrust themselves, and potentially not vocalise their opinions as freely. They tend to resist opportunities where they feel they could fail and believe generally that they do not have the capacity to deliver.
Tip – Positive reflection and networking will allow individuals to create a better understanding of their unique value. Mentoring based on selfgratitude with neutral coaches who are skilled in questioning to create understanding can be useful.
3. EQ vs Technical
Globally, we have a comprehensive understanding of the greater impact of emotional intelligence or interpersonal capability outperforming technical competence. Interestingly, whilst surveys reiterate that women are viewed to demonstrate greater emotional intelligence in leadership, aspiring female leaders will not always acknowledge this. On occasions, they will utilise external barriers, such as technical knowledge, to stop them seeking lateral roles, progressing into new industries or assessing management opportunities. Research also supports that external decision makers are more likely to doubt a woman’s ability to deliver in a new role.
Tip – Recognise the agility of competence in the modern workplace. Exceptional leaders know their limitations, seeking out experts in their field to offset them. They understand the value of effective networking and develop skills in tangent skillsets during their progression journey.
4. Careers are a Broad & Wide Web, Not Linear Ladders
Climbing to the top of the career ladder is in the past. The modern workplace demands innovation, creative presence, energy, tenacity, resilience and drive. It seeks individuals who are prepared to take risks and see lateral growth rather than limiting moves. As many women remain primary carers, female entrepreneurialism is seeing dramatic growth. Women are using their skill set rather than their past knowledge whilst they care for young children or elderly parents.
Tip – Embrace movement in your career; rather than seeking the comfy seat reach out to the unknown and engage risks through projects, new tasks or roles, in a measured and meaningful manner to gain confidence in agility.
5. Justify the Greater Good
Research demonstrates that women are more confident defending the communal good and so should utilise this skill when seeking promotion, growth and development. Women will be more comfortable articulating the value of their responsibilities through outcomes for the team, company or shareholders above personal accomplishment. As a leader, she should be clear about her responsibilities and build confidence in presenting her views. She will however generally feel more comfortable presenting outward value.
Tip – While sharing the value to the broader group, try to develop language that includes your involvement. This will create a more natural way of developing skills to communicate personal value in a purposeful way that results in the greater good.
6. Visual Confidence
All aspiring leaders need to look the part. For men, a dark suit, light shirt and standard tie will cover most professional needs. For women, appearance is an entirely different ball game. Essentials for success include:
- Know your industry
- Know your body type
- Request others’ opinions
- Dress to flatter and project confidence
- Be targeted and careful with your choice of colour, jewellery and accessories as it must suit the sector.
7. Network, Network, Network
Engage in dedicated mentoring, networking, industry and community groups whilst also building a dedicated network of female professionals who can assist you to reach for your aspiration. These connections will help create purposeful relationships, increase knowledge and provide opportunities to give back. Diarising and prioritising events will assist women in building their external presence along with their professional competence.
Tip – Utilise social media to network in a more flexible manner. Aim to build up towards larger events. Start with one to two beneficial events per year with long-term goals; then move to once a month. Work with those you know to understand what opportunities may best suit you. All aspiring leaders need to build skills of reflection, development, competence, attitude and appearance. The variation for female leaders is in the way we view ourselves in comparison to men in our workplace. The voice of many is that sisters must unite to work towards support not destruction of other female professionals. Through unity we can make change live for ourselves, our family, community, our industry and our world.
Sandberg, Sheryl and Nell Scovell, Lean In, Print.
Grant, S, 2016 ‘Sheryl Sandberg And Adam Grant On Why Women Stay Quiet At Work’, Nytimes.com, np., 2016, accessed 7 November.
Sandberg, A 2016 ‘Adam Grant And Sheryl Sandberg On Discrimination At Work’, Nytimes.com. N.p. accessed 7 November.