I’ve often wondered why there exists such a huge disproportion in the ratio of men and women leaders in today’s business environment when the latest statistics on the world’s gender ratio indicates that it is almost even. Surely, in the twenty first century with all the opportunities afforded to women, we have come to a point where such inequities should be a thing of the past?
I was surprised to learn that based on research conducted by Statistics Canada, in January 2012 women in the Canadian Labour Force comprised only 35.4% of all management positions and only 22.9% of all senior management positions.In addition, women’s representation in Fortune500 leadership positions has stagnated in recent years.
Women at the Top – Women’s Share of Fortune 500 Leadership
In 2007, McKinsey & Company published Women Matter: Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver. This report demonstrated a link between a company’s performance and the proportion of women serving in its governing body. In Women Matter 2 (download it here), published in 2008, they identified the reasons for this performance effect by examining the leadership styles that women leaders typically adopt (refer to Exhibit 5 on page 6 of the report).
My colleague Jared, suggested that I write this article on being a women in business and the challenges I faced, how I overcame them, advice for young women in the business world today, etc. I have to admit that I have put writing this off for almost three weeks now hoping that it would go away or that I would suddenly have a great flash of insight and inspiration. But, it did start me thinking about how exactly I got to here, the hurdles I encountered, and about some of the right and wrong turns I took along the way.
Would it surprise you to learn that I discovered that I had been my own worst enemy along this career journey? I share these with you in the hope that this may help you to avoid some of the pitfalls that I fell into. I do sincerely believe that this applies to women of any generation as no matter how much we would like to think that we have evolved into independent, highly intelligent and extremely capable individuals, there are still moments when our own gender make-up pulls us back.
Allowing my perceptions to be facts:
Simply put, I perceived that men were better leaders and that a woman had to act like a man (be one of the boys) in order to make it to the top. Since I was neither, then I was pretty much out of luck.
What I failed to realize was that my perception became a fact, and based on this fact, I had given myself permission to under perform, way short of my full potential. I had unknowingly set a limit on my own expectations of what I could accomplish and created the perfect breeding ground for accepting my own underachievement. Since I perceived that I couldn’t do it, I actually couldn’t.
Minimizing my own business value:
As with many women, I completely undervalued what experience I brought to the table by not factoring in the performance of my daily routine outside the work environment – at home, rearing my children, working in the community, etc.
It wasn’t until much later that I drew the similarity between this and different business units in an organization and realized that being able to manage them successfully required leadership and organizational skills, the very same skills that I had developed for years very successfully outside the work environment. In fact, in doing research for this article, I was quite astonished to find that, according to Women Matter 2, on average, women use five of the nine leadership behaviors that improve organizational performance, more often than men. Not surprisingly, all five of these behaviours are strikingly similar to those that I had developed largely outside the work environment.
Focusing on objectives:
Way too often, I focused on my preferences instead of the objectives because I allowed myself to react emotionally. In fact, I didn’t even know it at the time and what’s worse, because emotions were a factor in many of my transactions, I often avoided making the tough decisions. I certainly didn’t have the skills or tools to help me avoid this particular pitfall. As we all know, business is all about focusing on and meeting organizational objectives and making those tough choices when needed.
It was only when I attended the SmartMANAGER training a few years ago that I learned a simple process to help me not only to focus on the objective, but also qualify that it is the objective and not my preference. It was like a light bulb suddenly went off in my head and I GOT IT!
How to Be Successful
Success for me is an ongoing process as I continue to grow, evolve and learn. These are three simple rules that I live by:
- Go with confidence: I seek out challenges and “can’t” is no longer part of my life. I do not allow anyone to influence me into believing that I can’t.
- Seek out ways to continuously grow: Self-awareness is knowledge and power. Understanding how I communicate enables me to adjust my style to my audience and provides me with the leverage I need to be able to engage and get buy-in. I will never stop learning.
- Claim my objectives: I take responsibility for the decisions I make and focus on the rights things. I don’t sweat the small stuff.