Women and Leadership
A few articles back I wrote about Women in the Workforce: Recent Trends, mentioning how women are working for major corporations but they aren’t leading them, with women holding only 16% of the director positions and only 4.6% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies. These statistics beg the question: What can women do to get “unstuck” from the middle of the pipeline in order to reach the higher levels? Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Know What You Want. How far do you want to go? All the way to the top? Whatever your next or ultimate career goal may be, you’ve got to name it and own it if you’re going to achieve it. The one answer you can’t afford to give is “I don’t know.” That tends to close doors rather than open them. Those three words (I don’t know) are like a gateway drug leading to all kinds of excuses for not getting clear on where you want to end up. In some cases, you may be reluctant to name your dream goal out of fear of failure, or how others might react – especially if you’re aiming for the top. And the more specific you are the better. It’s not about just vaguely wanting a seat at some leadership position. You must specifically name what you want next if you’re to have any hope of achieving it.
- Map Out Your Pathway There. When’s the last time you set out to navigate unfamiliar territory in your car without a GPS unit or system, or even an old-fashioned paper roadmap? Getting to your next or ultimate career goal requires a detailed map, a real action plan for getting there. This is nothing new – it’s how project management has been happening for decades. Now it’s time for women to specifically apply the same framework to moving their careers where they want them to go. It includes the right education, training, and experiences, but even more than that, it’s about credibility that you and your teams can get the results that earn respect from those in the realms in which you want to move. Part of this is making sure you intentionally build up a team of the right people to mentor, coach, and sponsor you as you make your leadership journey. Yes, you’ve got to put plenty of your own blood, sweat, and tears into the effort, but there should be a whole group of people contributing to the effort as well.
- Prove and Promote Your Value. If you’re doing everything right, then you know you’re adding serious value to the company. But just because you can see it doesn’t mean everyone naturally sees it as well. Let’s face it, it’s still a “good old boys” network out there in much of corporate America, so it’s completely natural for many of the very people you need to impress to not see it. This is where the process stops for so many women who aren’t used to self-promotion, but it’s what you must do at least to some extent in order to achieve a breakthrough. You networking isn’t just about meeting potential friends – a big part of it has to be intentionally focused on meeting the right people who can help move you forward. In the previous point, I mentioned forming a team of people to mentor, coach, and sponsor you. That last one, sponsor, is a very particular kind of person – the one that has influence and can advocate on your behalf, making recommendations and referrals. It’s an essential person to have on your team who will play a key role in helping your achieve your career objectives.
Those are the three key aspects of personal career development that I think can do the most good in helping more women achieve significant leadership positions in corporate America in the 21st century.