Women in leadership roles are still (sadly) so few and far between that we as women want to talk about it all the time. We want to know:
- How they got to the top, their struggles, how they do all the things we do and more, plus how on earth they also find time for a rewarding personal life,
- How they deal with stereotyping, prejudice, sexism, negativity and biases that we confront sometimes overtly and sometimes insidiously every day, and
- How they address combative negotiation techniques and aggressive communication styles that are common place in some organisations.
You bet, we want to know how those few at the top got to be at the top, because just maybe we want to give it a go too. Damn straight, most women I know would make awesome leaders! Given half the chance ....
While role models at the top are few and far between, here are a few light hearted reflections based on my own observations and conversations with many women over the years.
Before we get started, picture your career as a body of water – sometimes a river, sometimes the ocean and sometimes a lake, sometimes rough, choppy, flowing well or perhaps stagnant. You are in a row boat. At some point, you might just observe you will get where you want to go much faster and easier if you simply pick up your oars and start rowing!
1. Stop waiting until the time is right
Many of us like for the conditions to be perfect, for the kids to have finished school, for our own education to be over or for the uncertainty to be gone. I’ve written about this previously referring to both socialisation and brain biology - but another contributing brain biology factor could be the anterior cingulate cortex (affectionately nicknamed the worry-wort centre of the brain). It is responsible for weighing up options and is usually larger in women than in men. You bet, this overactive worry-wort centre could be at the heart of much of our need to fully prepare and for conditions to be perfect. So of course we wait, and wait and then wait some more.
The fix? Get used to taking action even as you feel uncertain. Learn to deal with uncertainty, the unknown and the ambiguous. Practice makes perfect and the more you practice being out of control, the easier it becomes. The right time, while not perfect, is now.
2. Stop waiting to be discovered
In an article entitled Big Bankers On How Women Can Get a Payrise published in the Financial Review in February 2015;
“ANZ chief executive Mike Smith , CBA chief executive Ian Narev and Goldman Sachs Australia chief Simon Rothery urged women to take more initiative in pushing for pay rises, job flexibility and promotions.”
Mike Smith talks about “bonus season” and a queue of men at his door asking for bonuses and payrises, but that women don’t do this. Why not? Is it a cultural/socialisation thing? Or are we waiting to be noticed for being good/complaint and doing it properly? Or is it that we’re worried if we do ask, we’ll suffer the negative consequences of unconscious bias? Unconscious bias might come into play say if a woman did ask for a payrise, there is the sting in the tail with both men and women judging women negatively when women talk about their successes or negotiate (too hard).
So have you ever worked really hard on a project; started early, stayed late, given your all, and only to find out that someone else got the promotion? That other person was someone who may, or may not, have worked as hard as you but what they did do was go to the boss every now and then and kept them in the loop about their work – and the wins in particular.
As women we need to stop waiting for others to notice how good our work is, and start articulating this ourselves. And its not like a kid bringing home a bit of artwork for the fridge – “look at what I did mum”. Instead we need to say “here’s what I did, this is why its good, and this is how it fits into our strategic plan.” Make it easy for your boss. Stop waiting to be discovered and start helping your boss help you.
3. Stop waiting for the universe to provide
I can almost hear 50% of you laughing smugly at this one, but with an increase in new age psychology and poplar books such as "The Secret" encouraging us to just put it out there to the universe, this one is pretty common - and especially with young women. I’m a yoga and meditation practitioner and teacher. You might imagine that this one would really “float my boat” (pun intended), but in my mind, this approach directly contradicts most wisdom tradition teachings because it encourages us to abdicate responsibility. By abdicating responsibility we don’t feel quite as disappointed when things go wrong or when they don't turn out the way we had originally planned. But think also – you don’t get to take all the credit when things go right either!
So instead of drifting down the river, stopping wherever the water dictates – pick up your oars and row to the shore when ever you want. Stop waiting for the universe to unfold and instead start designing your own destiny.
4. Stop waiting to be rescued
Yes, sometimes as women we still like to be rescued. Not that we’d ever admit this in public! But a solid diet of fairy tales, along with more than a few Rom Com movie sessions with the girlfriends, while good for bonding and fun, do despicable damage to our desire to design our own destiny!
I recently read “Good Enough for the Bastards: Courage, vulnerability and credibility” by Anita Krohn Traaseth. Anita is a highly successful business leader in Norway. Her story is about the girl next door and her journey and exploration of career, business, ambition, leadership, life, balance and ….. sleep. But the thing that struck me most is that Anita made her career happen. She schemed, strategised, battled things out on her own, asked for help, made mistakes, picked herself up again and kept on going with a clear understanding that there is no easy way, no magic carpet ride, just good old common sense, a great understanding of strategy and leverage and a “hold no prisoners” mentality that keeps her ruthless with her own aspirations even now. She has made her career happen. She didn’t expect it to be easy. She never expected anyone to help her make it happen. She always expected to have to work at it. So she just did. She rescued herself and is an amazing role model today.
Anita’s book is a great reminder that as women we need to get over the fairy tale endings and happy ever after notions. The time is very rarely perfect, work is never a talent quest with a winner taking all - and do you really think that the big ol' universe cares that much about your personal fulfilment? We need to understand that we women are resilient, strong, powerful, unique and amazingly talented individuals who each have a lot to offer and in fact can, and frequently do, rescue not only ourselves but also those around us. Just look at the number of women who work in the social-preneur space.
So strategic action is not only okay but is highly desirable and probably the best tactic you could ever adopt in managing your own career.
Viva la revolution! # Ambitionrevolution.
- I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy. I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain smart, strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.
- I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so.
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