I moderate forums quite regularly for women that focus on the themes of vulnerability, building business acumen and authentic leadership. There is a consistent theme in the conversations I have before, during and after these forums. Frustration and exasperation that women are not advancing quickly enough into leadership.
The structural, system level reasons are well documented, however women tell me:
- I want to advance, but encounter barriers and exclusion due to implicit bias
- I am perceived to lack the confidence that men typically do in the workplace
- I want to show up authentically, confidently and courageously, but do not believe I will be rewarded for ‘being me’
Why do women feel like they cannot be authentic?
One answer is the issue of likeability. There is a catalogue of articles about the ‘Heidi/Howard’ story cited by Sheryl Sandberg in her seminal work, Lean In. Heidi who is an authentic female entrepreneur and go-getter, successful, wealthy, powerful and respected. Her success story, profile and achievements are reviewed by a group of students from NYU. Then her name is changed to Howard and the same group of students review her/his accomplishments. The students rate Heidi/Howard the same for competence, however Howard was rated as more likeable and someone that the students would prefer to work with. Heidi is ‘selfish and not the type of person you would want to hire or work for.’
It feels true, doesn’t it? It also feels awful and contributes to the exasperation and frustration that women feel. However, there is hope. Andersen Cooper from CNN recently reran the experiment with a group of students. This time around, students rated the female entrepreneur as more likeable and desirable as a boss than the male. Hooray! But why?
- Because in the 10 years since the original study, we have seen more women ascend to positions of power
- Women’s participation rates in the workforce are at their highest rate ever
However, the societal expectations of how ‘nice girls’ behave and as a result, the challenge of being an authentic leader, female or male, are not shifting quickly enough.
To put a completely gendered lens to this issue, I asked women;
- Can I really be me and still advance at work?
- Is my authentic feminine leadership style valued the same way as traditional male leadership styles?
Disappointingly, many women say no to both questions. Women are waiting for the right environment to advance to be truly authentic feminine leaders. I say wait no longer!
We expect a lot from women.
We want them to lead, manage, coordinate and juggle life, leadership and career. Often this results in women prioritising their career last in a long to do list. I want women to invest time and effort in themselves, their development and their fulfilment because I know, from my own experience, that understanding myself, my skills and how to use them effectively has positioned and propelled me into doing what I love and what the world needs. More women in leadership!
Get the career advice you need
In her Ted Talk watched over 3 million times, Susan Colantuono says get the career advice you need, not what you’ve always received! Here is some good advice;
- Traditional training, development & advice will get you to the middle, not the top
- Embrace your identity as a leader
- Identify and act to close your leadership gaps
Identify and act to build your leadership muscle
If you want to lose weight, get fit and be healthy, then you would identify and act, wouldn’t you? You might get a gym membership, start eating healthy or engage a personal trainer to help keep you committed, focussed and accountable.
Why not use the same formula for your career?
- Lose weight: lose the incomplete career advice, lose the lack of confidence.
- Get fit: practice self-awareness & business skills exercises and build authentic leadership muscles
- Be healthy: discover your purpose, your vision and values then build a career advancement plan
These are logical steps but require commitment, discipline, support and expertise.
This article was originally published by Advancing Women, and authored by Michelle Redfern
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