The last few weeks have seen us exploring the issue of being visible (or not) in the leadership talent pipeline.
- Why executive women need to create a visibility strategy
- Stereotypes, advertising and being prepared to stand out
- Visibility, vulnerability & vitriol - when visibility makes you vulnerable
However, we can’t talk about the issues of visibility in the leadership talent pipeline for women without addressing age - and for women, and the gender bias around aging couldn’t be more obvious.
Young women are dismissed as "likeable" and "pretty" but lacking in credibility. (The most memorable line from my own career 20 years ago was "lets give the little woman something to keep her busy". But that's a story for another day.)
While the older a woman becomes, the more “invisible” she becomes, with some arguing the mysterious magical tipping point of 50 years old - despite this being an ideal age to be leading.
The opposite is true for men who are perceived to become more credible and more influential with age. (Hmmmm, just like fine wine or an aged cheddar).
In addition to the bias that surrounds aging for women there is the issue of socialisation, where more mature women have not been socialised to self promote. In research released in 2014 revealed that senior women executives still struggle with some of the career advancement challenges that women in middle management do. The research was the result of a survey of 326 senior women leaders across North America and the challenges that arose were:
- advocating for themselves, and
- expressing their expertise
Let's face it, we're far more likely to suggest that a junior colleague should nominate for an Award than we are to nominate ourselves.
Women have been socialised to believe that doing the job well, rigorously and thoroughly is a fast track to success and that our results and good work should speak for themselves. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we got the wrong memo.
Additionally, younger generations have grown up in the era of the rise of the celebrity and self promotion. While more mature generations may not be as comfortable with self promotion, younger generations are executing self promotion strategies, advocating on their own behalf and claiming expert status far more skillfully and effortlessly - whether we like it or not.
Standing out for the right reasons
As women with leadership aspirations, in addition to doing the "good work", we also need to stand out, become more visible and create impact.
If you're beginning to feel less than worthy because of your age, don't worry. Recent research demonstrating that in fact women over the age of 55 are better suited to lead organisational change than many of their male counterparts. According to Jessica Leitch, people and organization consultant at PwC -
“Historically women over the age of 55 would not have been an area of focus (for HR managers), but as the research suggests, this pool of talent might hold the key to transformation and in some cases, business survival ... "
So how do we become more visible?
How do we create impact? How can we stand out? We need to learn -
- to self promote,
- be able to articulate our achievement’s back up into the business with key messages about value, and
- we need to advocate on our own behalf, not just on behalf of our team or junior staff as is frequently our want.
And what else?
Nuance is key - because when we hit up against stereotype and biases we run the risk of being criticised rather than elevated. So ensure that your visibility strategy includes multiple and varied ways of articulating the same three elements - the problems you solve, the difference you make and the value you add to the business.
Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution #visibility #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes