I was recently interviewed by LinkedIn blogger Tony J Hughes. He asked me to reflect on what drives me to encourage women into the C-suite (Step Up, Speak Out, Take Charge),. He asked me what sparked my initial interest in the topic, and also my top tactics or advice for women who think they are ready to take the lead. Here's what I told him - plus a few extra tidbits that came up after his publishing date.
My mission is pretty clear and it started well before anyone might imagine. Yes, you may already know that I observed the different ways that men and women tackled ambitious goals and projects while working alongside various professions during my time in the Association sector.
But in fact it probably started in high school as I headed to boarding school at a newly co-ed school (at the time) that was still predominantly male. There was a pretty clear distinction in who dominated the power base at the school and ...... I didn't enjoy being relegated to playing second fiddle purely based on my gender, one little bit. Yet I wasn't quite "ready" to challenge the status quo either.
While I didn't know what to do about it then, it certainly sparked an interest in seeing women tackle exciting and meaningful work - with strategies to work through those roadblocks, brick walls and glass ceilings of bias, discrimination or even leaning out behaviours, that sometimes get in the way.
I immersed herself in the works of Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In; Tara Mohr, Think Big; Katty Kay & Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code and Carol Dweck's Mindset as a starting point. I also drew upon the latest research and findings in neuroscience to try and understand exactly what is it that keeps women "mired in middle management".
And finally, I examined the more unsettling research around gender bias and unconscious bias that keeps women out of leadership despite concerted efforts by women, business and governments to meet gender diversity targets.
Then voilà! The Ambition Revolution was born - one-on-one mentoring for professional women – to assist them with confidence, to help them remain strategic and focused on the end goal – elevating themselves more easily to “expert status” and enabling them to more easily execute those bold, audacious moves required.
It's your turn now
So if you're thinking about tackling something big, bold and audacious in the new year - maybe a promotion, maybe a career change, or maybe you want to head out on your own in a new venture - here are my top five tips for both men and women.
1. Stop being busy and start being strategic: As women we derive a lot of value in being busy. I suspect that sometimes being busy helps us see that we’re adding value and makes us feel less like a fraud. So we’ve polished up “busily doing the job well” to within an inch of it’s life and we imagine that it’s a sure-fire track to success. One of the key learnings is that being busy is going to make you miss the woods for the trees. Being busy keeps you side tracked. Being busy also wears you out. Work out ways of delegating, automating and systematising so that you can create time for strategy. And not just strategy in your work but being strategic about your career and leadership journey.
2. Put your hand up BEFORE you feel ready: The reality is that by the time we feel ready, it’s frequently too late.
- We know statistically that there are more women undertaking post graduate education than men, and yet it’s not translating to more women in leadership or increased salary for women. And the studying is just one aspect of where we over prepare.
- Remember the old Hewlett Packard internal research where women will only apply when they meet 100% of the criteria where as men are more likely to apply even if they only meet 60%? Yep, there it is again.
- We also know that, on average, women ask four times less frequently than men for a raise!! Yep, there it is yet again.
- Remember back in primary school in year 1 or 2, when the teacher would ask a question of the group? The boys in the class would all shoot their hand up to get the teacher’s attention even if they didn’t know the answer. Somehow they knew even then, that it made you look better to be proactive and have your hand up, rather than wait around until you thought you knew the answer. Perhaps they realised that by the time the teacher got around to asking them for the answer, they might have had the chance to puzzle it out or even if they got it wrong, there were no serious consequences. They might have looked a little silly (to the girls) but they actually didn’t really care about that either.
So volunteer for projects and roles slightly beyond your comfort zone and expertise. Just in time learning is equally valid as any other form of education and sometimes far more relevant. The entire discovery learning model is predicated on it! Don’t dismiss it.
3. Get comfortable with discomfort: We know from the science of training for any athletic challenge, that the training will be hard work and will possibly hurt. Whether you like “Biggest Loser” or not, it’s a great example that if you want to achieve great results you need to not only do the work, but put yourself out there.
Is it that the female risk brain is more sensitive and finely tuned? Is it that young girls are protected and nurtured, where as young boys are (figuratively) thrown out into the wilderness to fend for themselves? Or is it something else entirely?
Get comfortable with discomfort because it’s from that discomfort that you will learn a heap about yourself and grow. And the reality? Our brains light up like a Christmas tree when we achieve great results that we’ve had to strive for.
4. Learn the language of value: When many women describe their professional performance they frequently use language such as “loyal”, “hard working”, “thorough” and “diligent” – even at a senior level. Remember how we like to think in terms of doing good work and doing it well? The reality is if you can’t communicate in language that the C-suite understands, connecting with overall results, drawing parallels and linkages to the organisation's overall strategy, or even as to what keeps your CEO awake at nights, then you’ll be bypassed. This means thinking in terms of big picture and context and helping people to see how what you do contributes in those big picture ways.
Susan Colantuono, a career coach for women based out of the USA, talks about the critical “missing 33%” in female business education:
- Strategic acumen,
- Financial acumen and
- Business acumen.
Once again, don’t wait to learn it. Teach it to yourself. Learn the language of value and start using it immediately.
5. Don’t just sit there – do something. While strategic action is better than frantic action, some action is definitely better than no action. No action creates inertia and keeps you stuck in a rut.
It's just like a well worn track in the bush. It's much easier to stay in the rut than forge new pathways.
- Action is the fix for low confidence.
- Action is the fix for frustration.
- Action moves you in some direction and creates momentum. Even if it’s the wrong direction you can change course.
Many years ago someone gave me the advice that no decision is a decision. At the time I took this to mean that delaying on a decisions that was okay. Yet the reality is that action in any direction will cause new information to come to light and it's far easier to course correct (in most circumstances) than get out of a state of inertia.
So why is all this important?
Because Feminine Leadership is said to be the leadership style of the 21st Century. Collaborative thinking, emotionally intelligent approaches, looking at old problems in new ways, transparency and non linear approaches are all part of this.
So sometimes as women we need to "Step Up, Speak Out, and Take Charge" whether we feel ready or not, whether it's easy or not and maybe whether we like it or not. Because it's far easier to create a future you actually like, from the front, not the back. And its also far easier to change something once you actually have a seat at the table.
- 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 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