Women in leadership roles in business continue to be a topic of much discussion around the boardrooms and water coolers of companies large and small. Smart companies know that women leaders bring a lot to the table. Yet a study conducted by UC Davis in 2011 reveals that women occupy only 9.7% of the board seats and top executive positions in California companies.
What’s wrong with this picture? And what do women themselves need to do to change it?
Women leaders in business sometimes feel compelled to duplicate the male leadership model. Big mistake. If you do that, you are sacrificing your own strengths and personal power. If you’re feeling that kind of pressure to conform, remind yourself to read situations and rely on your own emotional intelligence rather than fitting into some template others have created for you.
Here are three ways you can lead from your strengths and stay true to who you are at the same time.
Shine your light
Speak up. A key mistake many women make is to sit back and let others do the talking. This is particularly easy to do when you’re surrounded by strong personalities, male or female. If you keep your head down in meetings and speak only when spoken to—that’s got to change. Plan ahead for important encounters, whether it’s a staff meeting, a client presentation or a one-on-one with your boss. Jot down talking points in advance. Anticipate topics of discussion that might come up and be prepared to offer a suggestion or idea. Volunteer to participate in presentations. Raise your hand and ask questions at company meetings.
Stand out. Before you can move up, you have to get noticed. Women often play it safe, try to blend in and not make waves. A better strategy is to model the behavior of people who have already arrived at the place you want to go. If your company has a formal mentoring program, get involved. If it doesn’t, take steps to find a mentor, someone whose accomplishments and behavior you admire. Hire an executive leadership coach and use the tools he or she provides to create the kind of image that will get you and your accomplishments noticed.
Shine your light. It’s a mistake to think that just because you’re doing your job, and doing it well, someone is going to notice. You have to be responsible for launching your own public relations campaign. This does not involve obnoxious bragging about every job completed or milestone reached. It does involve letting your boss and others in the company know when you’ve made an important contribution. Copy your boss (and even her boss) on important memos and progress reports. If others consistently take credit for your ideas or your work, make it a point to let people know what role you’ve played. For example, if Joe takes credit for a successful client presentation and fails to mention that you did most of the groundwork, follow up with an email to your boss: “I really enjoyed collaborating with Joe on the XYZ account. I’d like to work on more projects like this in the future.”
Women have certain innate strengths, such as creativity, collaboration, and communication that make them highly effective in their approach to work. Women in leadership roles tend to come from a more interactive, cooperative mind set, which creates a stronger spirit of teamwork among their peers and subordinates. Identify your unique talents, understand what you bring to the table, and then make sure your voice is heard. Leadership is yours for the asking.