Empowering change through gender parity
Bulldog, aggressive, demanding, overbearing, too emotional, too excited, too sensitive, too manly, too caring, too…these are all phrases that female leaders encounter on their pathway to leadership. Each phrase chipping away at her way of existing in an increasingly complex leadership environment.
In the wake of Me Too, significant time and attention has been focused on the role of women in school, at home, and at work as conversations center around stereotypical gender roles and the treatment of women. The conversations around Me Too have continued to evolve and have moved from focusing on victims to focusing on the broader concepts of empowerment and equality leading. This fundamental shift has triggered a broader conversation about the continued under representation of women in the C-suite.
In their 2018 report on the share of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, Forbes highlighted that 24 of the top 500 companies employed female CEOs. The access and opportunity gap is apparent here considering women comprise a greater total percentage of the general US population than men, yet they hold significantly fewer c-suite positions than their male colleagues.
While women in CEO positions are on the rise, at the current rate of change it would take more than 30 years to attain gender parity in the C-suite. Women find themselves having a seat at the table in many more c-suite conference rooms, yet the lived experiences of female top level executives differ dramatically from their male colleagues. The challenges of ascending to the c-suite are much more complex for women as they must overcome the unconscious biases of their colleagues and boards who are influenced by perceptions of their limitations based merely on their gender assignment.
Turning the tide on this paradigm will land primarily on the shoulders of the women in c-suite leadership roles, they serve as the token woman in the room who bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. She is symbolic and, in many instances, serves to reinforce negative or positive perceptions of what women are capable of doing. The female leader who walks into the board room and takes her well-earned place at the conference room table in the c-suite carries with her the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of thousands of other women who are looking to her to be a guidepost of how to succeed. In light of this, how do we embrace and not alienate women in the c-suite?
Inclusion and belonging are the solution. Living out inclusion and belonging every day when it is differs from what has been the norm takes intentionality. It takes a willingness to lock arms with the female leaders in your midst to build a trusting relationship centered on mutual respect. While many corporations launch into diversity, equity and inclusion work with expansive policies and extensive trainings, I strongly believe the solution begins with something fundamentally simplistic. The catalyst for increasing gender equity in the C-suite begins by focusing on the need to REACH.
Sponsorship is a key component that supports the promotion of female leaders. What does this look like in action? It begins with recommending her to lead highly visible or organization-wide projects. When other names are being thrown into the ring, bring up the names of female leaders to ensure that they
receive equal consideration and opportunity. Being selected to lead a highly visible project of prominence within an organization provides female leaders the opportunity to have a seat at the table and to use her own talents, skills and expertise necessary build awareness of her value and qualifications.
Be open to the ideas that she brings and the perspective that she offers on complex organizational dilemmas. While the solution that she offers may be outside of what has been the traditional way of doing things, her unique perspective and approach could support shifting practice in a positive trajectory. She will look through a different lens, however different is not meant to threaten the contributions of others. The intent is to support growth and health of the organization.
Invest in those areas that research proves make a difference in growing female leaders through establishing formal mentoring structures. Build a coalition of support for equality to make gender parity in leadership the moral imperative of the organization. A key to opening leadership doorways to the c-suite relies on formal mentoring and coaching relationships. Corporations with established mentoring mechanisms or budgets to encourage securing executive coaching services support female leaders in amplifying their impact. These services are seen beneficial to the health and growth of the organization and as vital to building a leadership pipeline for sustainable and stable long term growth.
Take a moment to pause and ask yourself where most decisions are made for your organization and then look around the room to see who is around you when those decisions are made. You may find that important decisions are being made on the golf course, at the club, during happy hour, in the company suite for a sporting event, during the running club. If you find that this phenomenon is occurring, then consider how you can be intentional about providing the female leader in your midst with the same opportunities to be fully included as an equally respected colleague in the conversation. It may result in adjusting how work has always been done, but the results will have positive impacts in your organization.
As the female leader in your midst surfaces concerns, shares her own perspectives, or processes a challenging encounter with a client. Take a moment to listen with the intent to understand not to fix. Do the hard work of lifting up from your own perspective to try and take hers. Truly hearing a leader among you who is already in the minority in terms of representation provides a sense of validation and belonging. In that moment asking a reflective question and being a thought partner will build a strong professional connection furthering a trust bond.
The female leaders among us donot want to feel like a bull in the china shop, to feel as if they are repeatedly crashing up against invisible glass ceilings and walls…it is never comfortable to be THAT woman, the one who feels as if she is forcing herself into an environment where she is not welcome or wanted. On the other hand, the female leaders among us also do not want to be seen as the belle of the ball who is on displayas a trophy on the arm of prince charming of the C-suite.
The female leaders among us simply desire to be seen, heard, valued, and embraced for the value she brings to the organization. The first step is simple and intentional, it rests in being willing to REACH.
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