As we all know, women consistently shy away from leadership positions. This has been the case and it is important that we seek gender balance within our organizations. A few years ago, when I was in grad school I saw how few women were stepping forward into administrative roles. In 2014, my graduating class only had a handful of women and most stated that they were seeking positions that would keep them within the lower levels of government. This is a problem that is not being solved. So, how can we start getting closer towards a solution?
I am a big believer in mentorship, both in and out of the workplace. Mentoring young women is an excellent way to teach new skills, including leadership development. How else can you develop an emerging leader’s knowledge, skills, and networking savvy?
By identifying learning goals, leveraging relationships, encouraging active participation, and measuring results, a mentoring program that draws on your current pool of talent can provide a solution no classroom can deliver. When a recent hire or veteran employee enters a new organization, the speed with which they assimilate by gaining knowledge, building relationships, and applying prior learning to their new environment creates human capital ROI. The ability of a management team, not solely the manager, to render mentoring support becomes the driving force for the trajectory of the employee’s performance.
Leadership Development: Let’s Support Our Future Talent
Leadership development is intended to enhance the qualities of leadership within individuals or organizations. Some may believe that leadership development fails or neglects to come close to its actual intentions. However, the primary reason leadership development can fail is because leaders cannot be trained, rather they must be developed. This holds some semblance of truth because not every man or woman may be a natural born leader. However, since males and females have different strengths and weaknesses it would be ideal for leadership development to cater to the needs of not only each gender but also each individual. Superior leadership skills include understanding how to nurture an individual, which is also a vital component of developing others, in addition to building relationships, self-development, and displaying veracity. Traditionally, women have rated higher than men in leadership competencies. For example, women are better at taking the initiative. Women have also scored higher at collaboration and teamwork. Men have been rated higher in developing a strategic perspective. So, what does all this really mean for the future? The best response is that it signifies the importance to develop and foster innovative, critical thinkers for leadership to continually evolve and grow, including women.
Cultivating Women’s Leadership
We need to continually focus on cultivating our female leaders. Mentorship and coaching are some of the best and most popular ways to do so. However, I am consistently advising while providing both services to boost one’s confidence. Leaders cannot develop their full capabilities unless they believe that they can. Moreover, confidence is the single most necessary quality in the workplace. How can an employer be interested in a candidate if she isn’t projecting confidence? When we are cultivating our female leaders, this becomes even more important. Most workplaces have become equally competitive, which means much of that competition is from our male counterparts. If women don’t have the confidence to show an employer and their colleagues that they have what it takes to get the job done, then they are not going to be viable candidates for advancement, managerial, or executive positions.
While as women we may want the top jobs, but do we believe that we can actually do the job? As young women, we enter the workforce filled with confidence and seeking the top positions, however after a few years our confidence begins to drop off and we are no longer seeking those top positions. What is even worse is that as young women establish their careers, the confidence that they can achieve those goals drops in half. I can understand why. I have been called aggressive and pushy among other things. Once that occurred I went backwards, shut my mouth, and had an anxiety of speaking up for fear that I would be called names or belittled. It was once I took a step back that I realized the problem wasn’t within myself- the problem was in the workplace culture and I should be supported equally in my aspirations and goals. To make matters worse, I was berated during a mass conference call when I asked a question. Following that, I stopped speaking up altogether and wasn’t sure I earned that position on the proper merit. I knew what Imposter Syndrome felt like. Shortly thereafter, I decided to leave and start my own company. Thanks to my mentors and a very supportive business coach, I moved past those fears and into who I am. I spend my days teaching women not to let structural issues in the workplace damage their careers and encouraging them to dig deep and find their own confidence.
Unfortunately, most workplaces aren’t supportive of these ideals and women still fear leadership positions. My message is that you need to find an encouraging mentor or coach as well as a workplace that will support your desire for advancement. I don’t advise my clients to plan their careers according to societal expectations or what a study states about leadership. You can break expectations, even your own if you continue to work towards a goal in a supportive environment that will develop you, your confidence, and your skills. Please remember that you don’t have to want to be a CEO to be successful; just remind yourself that you can be that and much, much more if you put your mind to it.